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Jonathan MurphyHead of Programme, inter paresParliaments in Partnership, euGlobal Project to Strengthen the Capacity of Parliaments, International IDEA, Brussels, Belgium, j.murphy@idea.int

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It is an honour to introduce this second issue of parl. The quality and breadth of the articles demonstrates the prescience of the founding editors’ conviction that there is both room and need for such an interdisciplinary addition to the field of parliamentary studies.

Before exploring the diverse content of this issue, I will highlight two key points that unite these different contributions. The first is the increasing scholarly and practitioner awareness of the keystone role of Parliaments in representative democracy, and thus the importance of grounded and practice-oriented research on parliamentary institutions. It’s crucial that this enquiry involves not only scholars but also parliamentary officials, who underpin the institutionalization of parliamentary norms and processes that create, protect, and enable the expansion of parliaments’ role within democratic governance. ijps is to be commended not merely for declaring a commitment to practice-oriented scholarship but for actively involving parliamentary practitioners as authors and reviewers, as we see in this issue. The section on Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in this issue contains two important practitioner contributions which I discuss below, one on the Irish Parliament’s Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisors, and the other on the impact of gdpr on parliamentary oversight. Both provide insight ‘from the inside’ into challenges addressed in the contemporary functioning of Parliaments, that would not be easily accessible to external researchers.

The second point that stands out in reviewing this issue’s contributions is growth and innovation in parliamentary work, running contrary to the regular assertions – going back at least 50 years within scholarly literature – of the declining relevance of Parliaments (Polsby, 1975), based on a variety of evidence: from the complexity of modern governance and thus the impossibility of a body comprised of elected amateur generalists to make a useful contribution (Bryce, 1971), to a declining number of appearances of prime ministers in Westminster-model chambers (Crimmins and Nesbitt-Larking, 1996), to declining levels of public trust in parliamentary institutions (Dustmann et al., 2017). However, as noted by Elgie and Stapleton (2006), while some parliamentary powers and practices may indeed have become less salient, they have been replaced or complemented with additional remits. This is normal in any democracy, which in order to remain relevant must experiment and adapt to changing state and society.

The articles in this issue demonstrate both experimentation, typically in increasing Parliaments’ role throughout the policy cycle (phenomena such as pre- and post-legislative scrutiny), and the diffusion of new practices beyond the traditional silos of historically determined constitutional frameworks, such as growing attention to executive oversight even in countries with traditionally powerful executives. Further, there is a trend towards much more systematic work by Parliaments, particularly in parliamentary committees. A crucial underpinning for this to take place effectively is the development and specialization of the technical expertise of the parliamentary administration.

The two full length articles in this issue address different themes but again are tied together by their focus on emergent areas of parliamentary work; the first, a survey article by Stavridis on parliamentary diplomacy and the second, a study by Högenauer on the relationship between EU Member State Parliaments and the European Parliament in scrutiny of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Stavridis begins by addressing the definition of parliamentary diplomacy (pd), highlighting the key problem – that pd has highly divergent definitions among both scholars and practitioners. He notes that the concept of pd has developed and transformed over time; the term originally was used interchangeably with the term ‘conference diplomacy’ (Kaufmann, 2016) without necessarily any direct connection to Parliaments or to parliamentarians. Parliamentary diplomacy in a form more recognisable today developed around the turn of the 21st century, although emphasis was often on lists of activities rather than any particular strategic orientation. From the 2010s, examples grew of parliamentarians engaged in focused engagements with clear intended outcomes, such as former European Parliament President Pat Cox’s diplomatic efforts in Ukraine, aimed at securing the release from prison of leading opposition figures.

The article moves to discussion of the relationship of parliamentary diplomacy to state diplomacy and how to assess parliamentary diplomacy that doesn’t coincide with official state perspectives. This discussion forms the basis for an interesting section exploring ‘dark pd’, in which the author cites various examples of where mp s may have ‘gone rogue’ in their pd activities, such as participating in observer missions for sham electoral events. The author lists examples where parliamentarians from various far right and far left factions have used parliamentary diplomacy to advance specific ideological agendas.

Stavridis concludes by arguing for further exploration of the interrelationship between democracy, foreign policy and diplomacy. He poses a number of questions for further study, including parliamentary diplomacy of non-democratic states, parliamentary ‘para-diplomacy’, for example by Parliaments in putative irredentist states, and the potential for creation of an Observatory on parliamentary diplomacy.

Stavridis’ review of the literature on parliamentary diplomacy is an invaluable resource for studying parliamentary diplomacy. At the same time, there is room for further research on institutional parliamentary diplomacy; that is the conscious effort by Parliaments to support international parliamentary strengthening, whether through bilateral peer-to-peer support, through multilateral parliamentary organizations, or in collaboration with democracy-building organizations. Such a focus will also enable enhanced understanding of the role of parliamentary administrations in supporting institutionalization of international norms and best practices for democratic Parliaments.

Högenauer’s article continues to build on her scholarly focus on European Parliament relationships with national Parliaments, with the focus on parliamentary oversight of the Brexit negotiations. She finds that national Parliaments were generally willing to take a back seat to the European Parliament on Brexit, for a variety of reasons, the most salient perhaps being that the 27 remaining states had a clear common interest in protecting the bloc’s interests vis-à-vis the departing British. Further, the nature of the Withdrawal Agreement eventually negotiated was such that, unlike in the case of ceta, national parliaments did not in the end have to approve the agreement, whereas the European Parliament did. It would be interesting for further research on this topic to explicitly compare national Parliament and European Parliament engagement in the ceta and Brexit processes.

Within the Parliamentary Procedure and Practice section, the article by English and Kennedy regarding the development since 2000 of the Irish Parliament’s legal service, the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers (opla), both provides a detailed roadmap of how the Office has grown and developed over the past two decades, and also illustrates with clear examples how the Office has both enabled parliamentarians to more effectively use their lawmaking powers, and also helped Parliament to use its oversight powers in a measured and constructive manner, after the Public Accounts Committee was rebuked by the courts for mistreating a witness. The opla was able to work with the members to establish oversight processes and witness questioning protocols that are measured and appropriate.

English and Kennedy’s article is nicely counterposed with Lazarakos’ contribution in the same section, on the impact of gdpr on the oversight work of the Hellenic Parliament. In Greece, the relevant national data protection legislation and administering authority have attempted to find a balance between the need for members to access sometime personal data to properly carry out oversight – for example on state appointment processes – while protecting individuals from wanton intrusion into their personal affairs; much as the Irish courts had to determine when the actions of the Public Accounts Committee crossed the line beyond legitimate and focused oversight questioning of witnesses; as Lazarakos notes, “it is necessary to determine whether the means of parliamentary control actually serve the purpose of parliamentary control”.

The issue’s contents are completed with reports on two recent conferences, and reviews of three recent books on parliamentary themes. Clar reports on a May 2021 conference on parliamentary engagement on climate change organized by the EU-funded inter pares project.1 The conference, which attracted participants from 60 countries, explored parliamentary innovation in climate change, organized by the different areas of parliamentary responsibility. He urges parliaments to grapple with some of the underlying challenges in effective climate action, including political will, social awareness, socio-economic dynamics, and political feasibility. Borbély reports on the Parliaments in Change – Changes in Parliaments also held in May 2021, cosponsored by the Brill Publishers (Leiden) in partnership with Ludovika University of Public Service in Budapest. The conference served both as public launch for this journal and also commemoration of the first session of the freely elected Hungarian Parliament in 1990. A wide range of international speakers addressed the broad theme of parliamentary adaptation in a dynamically changing political, social and economic environment.

The book review section provides further evidence of the vibrance of parliamentary scholarship, reflected respectively through Rizzoni and Gianniti’s, and Garcia Roca’s reviews of two major contributions to the parliamentary literature by Elena Griglio on Parliamentary oversight of the executive, and Benoit and Rozenberg’s co-edited Handbook of Parliamentary Studies. The issue concludes with Noémi Sebők’s thoughtful review of Bar-Siman-Tov’s edited collection on Comparative Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Omnibus Legislation.

References

  • Bryce, J. (1971). The decline of legislatures. In British & French Parliaments in Comparative Perspective (pp. 2132). Routledge.

  • Crimmins, J. and Nesbitt-Larking, P. (1996) ‘Canadian Prime Ministers in the House of Commons: Patterns of Intervention’, Journal of Legislative Studies, 2 (2), 14571.

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  • Dustmann, C., Eichengreen, B., Otten, S., Sapir, A., Tabellini, G., & Zoega, G. (2017). Europe’s trust deficit. Causes and Remedies. London: Centre for Economic Policy Research.

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  • Elgie, Robert and John Stapleton (2006). Testing the Decline of Parliament Thesis: Ireland, 1923–2002. Political Studies, 54(3), 465485.

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  • Kaufmann, J. (2016). Conference Diplomacy: an introductory analysis. Springer.

  • Polsby, N.W. (1975) “Legislatures” pp 257319 in Fred I. Greenstein and Nelson W. Polsby, eds Handbook of Political Science, Boston, Addison-Wesley.

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  • Venice Commission (2014), Report on The Scope and Lifting of Parliamentary Immunities, accessed at https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2014)011-e.

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It should be noted that the author of this editorial heads the inter pares project.

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