Parliamentary Friendship Groups
Strengthening and highlighting the role of Parliamentary Diplomacy
By Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias
The following speech on strengthening and highlighting the role of Parliamentary Diplomacy within Parliamentary Friendship Groups was made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, before distinguished Members of the Hellenic Parliament.
We know that Parliament is based on the principle of government and opposition. These Committees here are based on the principle of our common national interests – to the degree that we achieve it – our common outlook on foreign policy and the outside world, and the effort to meet, as best we can, the common goals based on the common denominator we can find.
I thank you very much for the invitation. I hope I am useful to you today. But I hope even more that our Ministry is useful to you over the coming years – and, after today, in an enhanced manner – and can contribute and assist, with texts and thoughts, in the great task you are undertaking.
As you know, the Foreign Ministry has four Ministers at this time. It has hundreds of worthy diplomats, but for me, our having MPs and the Parliamentary Friendship Groups with third countries is like having three hundred Ministers of Parliamentary Diplomacy and many more voices that we can organise.
“They play a very big role, these committees, in the development of interpersonal relations. For me, from the perspective from which I see the functioning of foreign policy, they are important.”
In the 19th Century, parliamentary diplomacy had not been developed. It was mainly a diplomacy of the so-called Assemblies, until the League of Nations was formed and, for the first time, institutionally brought together a diplomatic assembly, in order to gain a voice in the Parliaments. And still, today, there is the need to create and bring together Parliamentary Assemblies in international and regional organisations. Some organisations have them. Certain distinguished academic colleagues of mine, such as David Held, have proposed as a second decision-making mechanism at the UN, for example, beside the General Assembly; a General Assembly made up of representatives of Parliaments. You know that, once upon a time, in the European Union, before the European Parliament was elected it was made up of representatives of the national parliaments.
Since that initial era of the League of Nations, the beginning of the European Union, we had the creation of Parliamentary Committees in most of the Parliaments in the world. We have committees that talk to one another, as well as to ministries. They play a very big role, these committees, in the development of interpersonal relations. For me, from the perspective from which I see the functioning of foreign policy, they are important.
The Parliamentary Assemblies of the international organisations, the Parliamentary Friendship Groups among states – too, as a rule, but I will propose multilateral committees to you – makes it possible for more people to meet, serious and politicized people, certainly, to develop personal relations and talk about things that are sometimes difficult for Ministers to say to one another. That is, the potential to discuss, to raise certain issues in a friendly but frank manner is very great in the Parliamentary Assemblies of the international organizations and in the Interparliamentary Assemblies.
Today, of course, we are in another era from the one where the Assemblies of the 19th century or the first Interparliamentary Committees of the 20th century appeared. You know that, in what we call internationalization – I adopt the term globalization – we have a very complex diplomacy. It is not just a single diplomacy between two states. If you talk to older diplomats, they will tell you, “We didn’t travel so much. We took a trip every two, three, six months,” whereas I, for example, just last week I took eight flights to different countries, together, of course, with diplomats accompanying me or going on their own trips.
The second thing we have is that, beyond the intensification of diplomatic contacts, we have many, many players. Among those, in my opinion, following the central state mechanism of President-Prime Minister-Ministries, the most important is Parliament.
The Parliament has, in my opinion, a mediating role between the demands of the movements, the activists, civil society, social organizations, intermediary organizations and the Foreign Ministry, at which the expression of opinion is carried out in the manner that strictly perceives the state’s interests, so it cannot function precisely on the basis of the outlooks of movements and activists.
In my opinion, the agency that mediates between society – in its will to act, to express an opinion – and the hard core of the state is, precisely, Parliament. The role of Parliament for us is developing, moreover, very, very much, not just because the number of subject-areas is increasing and it has a special role as a player, but because today, to a degree, internal-external relations are limited.
I’ll give you an example, without wanting to open up a certain issue. For example, you know that the Greek state demands that any name taken by our northern neighbour, FYROM, should be for all uses, domestic and external. You know that they think they can separate these. But, if you look at it practically, they cannot be separated. The northern neighbour country has, for example, two million automobiles, of which a million and a half travel abroad. In Europe, for example, we move around with IDs with Latin characters. IDs are domestic documents, but they have become international documents. Or today, in the era of increasing post-graduate degrees, national degrees are used for additional levels of studies, to an extent in the international space.
So, I want to say that the relationship between domestic policy and foreign policy, domestic symbolisms and external symbolisms, are inextricably linked with one another; they are not separated in the manner they were in the past, and, by extension, the role of a national Parliament is not simply domestic, only referring to international relations, but international relations are being upgraded more and more, and the importance of Parliament for us is growing. And also growing is public diplomacy and Parliamentary Diplomacy and the citizen diplomacy that is linked to Parliament.
What I want to say is, at a time when the role and importance of foreign policy is growing stronger, the role of the major player in foreign policy, which, in my opinion, is Parliament, and in particular specific committees – the dozens of Committees you have created for Interparliamentary contacts – is growing in strength and being upgraded.
In our opinion, Parliaments make foreign policy and should make foreign policy and create networks of friendships and interconnections and also take on a coordinating role. Moreover, however, we believe – and I believe this personally – that Parliament has many, many functions with regard to foreign policy. It controls the domestic policy of the core of the state mechanism – that is, Prime Minister, Foreign Ministry and other Ministries that also play a role in Foreign Policy – supports, to the degree it wants to, the official foreign policy, but also shapes its own way to make foreign policy.
I think that we must safeguard the autonomy and unified voice of these Parliamentary Committees in international external policies, bearing in mind, of course – not ignoring, but not being subservient to – the importance of these positions we have.
I also think that Parliaments can become agencies for expressing what we call national issues. The Chinese call them core foreign policy issues. There are various names, but this term has been established. One could say, the immediate issues we have in our environs.
But at the same time I want to tell you that my experience – and from what I have studied, and I am not very specialized in this – from the other Parliaments is that it is important not to limit yourself to narrow issues that interest our country. In foreign policy, to develop and gain a role, it is of great importance to defend general principles, universal human values; to show solidarity with the needs of the everyday citizen who lives in the world, to bear in mind peoples who are fighting for basic rights or to satisfy basic needs. To the extent that one adopts and fights for a broad range of issues, one also becomes more convincing with regard to what one wants to express concerning one’s own space.
This means that, certainly, as the Foreign Minister I will always be pleased if your Committees support our views on foreign policy, but I will be equally pleased if I learn from you, because you have another perspective, you are closer to society, you meet with other types of personalities and social agencies while exercising the duties of the Committees founded by Parliament, and, by extension, you have a lot to tell us. That is, to the extent possible, we should have our experiences, our concerns and our worries, and hopefully we can use them correctly and gain something.
So I want to say that we have a sequence and an interaction in foreign policy, of course maintaining the special role of the Foreign Ministry. I believe that your Committees must be autonomous, but also be helped by the Foreign Ministry to maintain their special character, which I just described. Because, as I said, my basic outline is civil society, social organizations, activists. Over or next to or under, as you will – I’m not interested in the geography of the configuration. There is the central Foreign Minister and, of course, the Prime Minister, the instructions of whom the Foreign Ministry follows, and between these there is the Parliament, which mediates.
And don’t forget that, from the nature of its activities, the Parliament is a deeply democratic organ and has a profoundly democratic function, as individual and party opinions come first, which isn’t the case at a Foreign Ministry. That is why certain conversations can take place more easily between MPs and society.
Now, I am pleased – and I say this as a MP, as well – that with the new Presidium of the Parliament these Parliamentary Groups we, at least I, requested are becoming active from the beginning of the year. They are Parliamentary Groups in which you have put forward, through your participation, the sectors of interest in the same manner as I would rank them. That is, the largest groups are China, the U.S., key players in the European Union, Serbia, Turkey and other countries in the region.
For the countries farther removed from us, I see there are as few as three members. These friendship groups can record issues we have with other countries and help upgrade our foreign policy. Moreover, they can open the way for relations with countries with which we do not have intensive relations or we don’t pay enough attention to due to our pressing day-to-day issues.
The identification of the interests of a country with which we do not have intensive relations will also be a gain for us. And you can, because it is easier for the MPs – through your Parliamentary missions – help us identify the intentions and desires of third countries that are important to us on our major national issues or on problems that we call global.
Few Foreign Ministers speak – I often do, at least in the organs I participate in internationally, but not everyone does – the language of forthrightness, of truth and of clarity, but in a diplomatic manner. Sometimes they can be decoded through the parliamentary contacts you will have.
Now, practically, I believe that these Committees have the undivided assistance, and must have the undivided assistance, of the Foreign Ministry. I think that, along the way, we could shape special relations between the president or presidium of each Committee, and, if possible or necessary, other MPs, and the corresponding Directorate of the Foreign Ministry.
It is obvious that the Foreign Ministry helps through its Directorates and through its Embassies. Consequently, every time a Committee travels abroad, contact should be made with the Embassy, and our Embassies assist every Parliamentary representation and provide dossiers with all of the documents we consider necessary for a successful mission.
It is a fact that there are matters that are not always for general disclosure. However, on special issues I think there can be at least oral communication regarding what one should be careful of, where the negotiations stand in general.
Allow me to say, for your information, given that I am here, that we have had interesting developments in recent days. We put together a new trilateral. The trilateral is a special institutional system we have with two third countries. Today, as a rule, the second country is Cyprus. Cyprus and Greece are member states of the European Union, and we mediate for and defend the well-meaning interests or outlooks of our partners. We are trying to systematically develop economic, social and political relations, particularly with regard to regional problems.
These trilateral systems are highly complex. That is, the first level is the high-level diplomatic personnel, the second level is the Secretaries General, the third is the Foreign Ministers, and the fourth level is that of the Prime Ministers or Presidents of the states. Recently, for example, there was the President of Egypt, Mr. Sisi.
We also had trilaterals in the past, when we had cooperation with Egypt and Israel. We are now initiating a more systematic cooperation with Jordan. We have had the first meetings of the Secretaries General, Political Directors, as well as the Ministers, on Monday. We are also looking at – we have agreed on – moving ahead to a trilateral with Palestine and, additionally, with Lebanon.
Moreover, we have agreed with the Arab countries, with whom we have trilaterals, that, towards the end of the year, we will hold multilateral meetings with all of these Arab countries participating in trilateral configurations on issues of security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It might be interesting for you to consider, as a follow-up to or herald of future trilaterals, the formation of trilateral Friendship Groups, as a new institution, in tandem with the bilateral Friendship Groups. These trilateral Friendship Groups would contribute and lend depth – particularly more sociopolitical depth – to the trilaterals we have begun to develop.
Late this past Sunday evening we had the beginnings of a quadrilateral among the Balkan member states of the European Union: Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. Croatia is still in the process of forming its government, but high-ranking diplomats participated in the meeting. We agreed to continue at the Informal Council meeting – the ‘Gymnich’ meeting, so called because the first such meeting took place in Gymnich – on 5 and 6 February.
This is an initiative of ours that I hope will be fleshed out more strongly in the future, for a kind of cooperation between four member states of the European Union, a type of cooperation we didn’t have in the past. There was an effort in the past for a trilateral with Romania and Bulgaria and for common policies aimed at stabilizing the Balkan peninsula and Southeast Europe.
Moreover, we have intensive cooperation with Cyprus, which I imagine has and will have its parliamentary dimension. We have intensive contacts with member states of the European Union, but the parliamentary system also has the European Parliament, and one must look there at how exactly to separate the bilateral issues that don’t strictly concern the European Union from the issues of the European Parliament.
It is very good that there are certain countries – I would say there are fifteen at this time – with whom we are developing special relations, like, for example, China, the United States of America, like Russia. The expansion and intensification of our relations with these countries is of very great importance, on the level of Parliamentary institutions as well. I say institutions because these countries, most of them, have either unique parliamentary systems, like the Peoples National Assembly, with three thousand MPs, which meets once a year in China, or a two-house system and subsystems, like the U.S. Congress, which has the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Consequently, I would urge the Presidium of Parliament and you, beyond the bilateral Parliamentary meetings, if we can, to open new roads or to follow the multilateral special processes followed by Greek foreign policy, and for this to be expressed through the parliamentary process as well.
Thank you very much for your attention, and I hope to be made even wiser by your observations today and in the future.
I repeat that this is a subject on which – beyond, of course, one or another disagreement on practical issues of foreign policy – we have common concerns, and the role of the opposition-government principle is less intense and strong that in the regular Parliamentary Groups.
Thank you very much.