Reinforcing understanding and democratic accountability

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

As a diplomat, I meet “face to face” and interact with counterparts from many government departments, agencies, civil society, business and economic actors. In doing so, I aim to improve bilateral relations between the Philippines and the European Union. However, we must promote direct dialogue between elected officials through the inter-parliamentary exchange to build solid ties and bring European and Filipino citizens closer.

When parliamentarians from different countries come together to discuss issues, they can share best practices and learn from each other’s experiences. This helps to promote greater accountability, transparency and participation in governance, ultimately leading to a more robust and vibrant democracy. Moreover, by engaging directly in constructive conversations, parliamentarians can work towards shared goals and overcome differences that might lead to misunderstandings and conflict. Parliament-to-parliament dialogue also helps promote greater understanding and empathy among nations and can lead to stronger international partnerships. In addition, it can encourage a greater understanding of different cultures and perspectives.

Parliamentarians are also closest to and most familiar with the everyday concerns of their constituents. As a result, they are most likely to understand of the impact of specific policies (including those from third countries) on the citizens that elected them and are best placed to act as their voice.

In this sense, I am encouraged to see that several opportunities have taken place, or will take place, for Filipino and EU parliamentarians to engage in a direct dialogue.

In October 2022, a delegation from the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives traveled to Brussels for the 12th EU-Philippines Inter-parliamentary Meeting upon the invitation of the chairperson of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (DASE), MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Daniel Caspary. The Delegation, headed by Senator Sonny Angara and Deputy Speaker Ralph G. Recto, discussed important issues such as trade and investment, the status and potential renewal of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences-Plus (GSP+), opportunities for OFWs in the EU and the training and certification of Filipino seafarers.

In February, a delegation from the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, led by MEP Hannah Neumann, visited the Philippines. It held meetings with the Senate committee on justice and human rights and the House committee on human rights. MEPs also met with the Secretary of Trade and Industry, the Secretary of Justice, members of the Commission on Human Rights, United Nations representatives, civil society organisations, trade union representatives and journalists. All these meetings allowed the EU parliamentarians to increase their understanding of the human rights situation in this country.

Later this year, the European Parliament’s DASE Committee will reciprocate the Philippine Senate and House visit by traveling to Manila to meet their counterparts here and continue the discussions from the previous meetings on all crucial topics for EU-Philippine relations.

While the briefings and cables on the developments in the Philippines that my colleagues and I provide to the EU institutions in Brussels are one of the core sources of information for shaping EU policies towards this country, I do believe that these direct engagements between our parliamentarians add an indispensable extra dimension to the bilateral relationship. A short explanation of the role of the European Parliament in the EU institutional framework will allow me to explain why.

The European Union has an executive body, the European Commission, and two legislative institutions that act as co-legislators. The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the EU and represents the interests of EU citizens. The Council of the European Union, colloquially known as the “Council of Ministers,” is composed of the representatives of the EU member-states, which represent their national interests. Their roles differ somewhat from the Philippine legislative institutions. Still, they are comparable to the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. Both institutions have a close, dynamic and collaborative relationship in EU policymaking.

The European Parliament shares decision-making power with the Council of the European Union in several areas of EU external relations, such as trade agreements. It also has budgetary (the “power of the purse”) and oversight powers. It can approve or reject the EU’s budget, notably its external spending. This means that the European Parliament has the ability to shape and influence EU external policies. For several important issues that matter so much in EU-Philippines relations, such as the renewal of Filipino trade preferences on the EU market under the GSP+ scheme, the European Parliament has a key decision-making role.

Inter-parliamentary dialogue is a critical component of modern governance and diplomacy. It is heart-warming to see that my Filipino and European colleagues and partners alike share this conviction. By promoting collaboration, understanding and empathy, parliamentarians can work towards a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic world. We have seen this in the EU-Philippine context, where inter-parliamentary dialogue already had an important constructive impact on our bilateral relationship. To be continued!

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Luc Véron is the Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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