During the last years, Parliaments have dramatically extended their circle of interest in the foreign field. Issues of foreign policy have frequently been subject of discussion, either in committees or during a parliamentary plenary session. In addition, parliamentary delegations participate in the work of parliamentary assemblies of international organizations. The potential influence of national Parliaments in the legislative output of the European Union and by extension in the construction of Europe is also important.
The role of Parliaments in the formulation of foreign policy is a quite complex issue. It’s the subject of various scientific fields and concerns many other bodies of public life. It can be studied through compensated prisms, within the field of constitutional law, political science, and international relations.
The duties and actions of Parliaments in the foreign area are condensed into what we call parliamentary diplomacy and there is no precise definition of this concept. However, its interdisciplinary character makes it easier to approach in two levels of analysis. The first, related to its legal nature, deals with the examination of the “institutional competence of regulated Parliaments in the area of international relations of the country”. The second level, related to its political nature, refers to the “broader political role of Parliaments in the implementation and formulation of a country’s foreign policy”. If we’ll combine these two levels, we can introduce an initial description of parliamentary diplomacy as “the activities carried out by Parliaments in international relations, both within the limits of institutional competence and as a central factor of internal political scene.”
The wider role of the Parliaments in the system of a country’s foreign policy varies, depending on the historical origins of the country, its political system and the overall position in the international arena.
A first set of parameters relate to the form of government that defines the role and authorities of various institutions. Several authors consider that one-party or authoritarian regimes act in foreign policy in a more or less arbitrary manner, undisturbed by any internal reactions. Some others argue that in democratic regimes the powers of legislators are substantial, since the possibilities of governmental control are wider. However, they add that Parliaments are more vulnerable to handling foreign affairs, internal pressure of public opinion, the need for transparency, and great influence of the media.
Foreign policy is exercised by the Executive (government), in a way more or less monopolistic, as a remnant of the culture of absolutism and centralism. Τhe political forces agree on foreign policy issues, so that their implementation will be more effective. In addition, the Parliament shows its interest through parliamentary control, frequent meetings of familiar committees and by enhancing the involvement of parliamentarians in foreign affairs in case they have transferred to similar government positions. Thus, there is convergence or divergence of Parliament by governmental choices.
A significant parameter influences the parliamentary diplomacy and is the essential content of its foreign policy, i.e. the national priorities and international weight of every country. Of course, countries with a high position in the international community emphasize both on the development of diplomatic services, and the relevant parliamentary committees. This category includes the U.S., which have developed very strong parliamentary congressional committees to monitor governmental options.
Finally, the intervention and involvement of Parliaments in foreign policy issues occurs at two levels:
(a) At the institutional level, especially in three particular contexts:
• In the legislative process: with the ratification of international treaties and enactment of laws relating to the sovereignty, security, and state security.
• Under the usual parliamentary control: the use of means at their disposal (questions, the preliminary, committees, censure).
• Within the broader political role: the holding of meetings and discussions on foreign affairs on various occasions (e.g. submission of program statements, pre-agenda discussion and approval of the budget).
(b) At the diplomatic level: There are four areas of intervention of the Parliaments:
• In bilateral diplomacy, which aims to strengthen cooperation with other Parliaments and thus to strengthen the ties of people. The development of this sector contributes to the broader strengthening of relations between Greece and other countries.
• In multilateral diplomacy, which is developed in Parliaments through parliamentary delegations, either in parliamentary meetings of international organizations (Council of Europe, NATO, OSCE, BSEC), or in international parliamentary bodies (Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy) in conference diplomacy, usually held at the level of Presidents of Parliaments and parliamentary delegations and meet the needs of both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Such meetings are regional in nature (e.g. Mediterranean, Balkans, Ionian Sea, Central Europe, etc.) or focus on topics such as organized crime, human rights, etc.
• In European meetings, which may resemble those of diplomatic conferences, but have a peculiar character. They operate in a manner more or less institutionalized in practice and in the procedures and practices of the European Union (e.g. conferences of Presidents of Parliament, meetings of European Affairs Committees of Parliaments, etc.) in the Inter-parliamentary Friendship Groups.
• At the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Union (P.AD.E.E) of Greek nationality association composed of ethnic Greek parliamentarians around the world.
According to the analysis above, we can conclude that contemporary forms of parliamentary diplomacy operate within informal groups, such as inter-parliamentary cooperative or ad hoc inter-parliamentary ones and they will become the sophisticated tools of progress and maturation of inter-parliamentary cooperation in a world that needs to be globalized, above all, interdisciplinary, intercultural but mostly participatory.