Department of Political Studies - University of Catania

Jean Monnet Chair of European Comparative Politics

Jean Monnet Working Papers in Comparative and International Politics



The University of Reading

"Parliamentary Diplomacy": some preliminary findings

November 2002 - JMWP n° 48



There has been a significant growth in the number of transnational parliamentary bodies recently. National parliaments have also become more active in international relations. This phenomenon, which remains under-researched at the academic level, has been conveniently dubbed ‘parliamentary diplomacy’. This paper offers a preliminary analysis of what parliamentary diplomacy actually means, based on a number of recent research on Euro-Mediterranean issues.  It concludes that parliamentary diplomacy is not the same as parliamentary accountability in foreign and defence policy, although the two are connected. It argues that there are many realities of parliamentary diplomacy. Finally, it also calls for more academic research on the subject.


During 2000-2001, I carried out a study on the parliamentary dimension of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, thanks to a Jean Monnet Fellowship held at the European University Institute in Florence. The following year (2001-02), I studied the role of parliaments in the Cyprus Problem, thanks to a Marie Curie Experienced Researcher Fellowship (European Commission, Brussels) and a Leverhulme Trust Research Grant (London) held at ELIAMEP (Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy) in Athens.  Both studies contained an important common characteristic: there appears to be plenty of empirical evidence of parliamentary inputs in world affairs, as well as a significant growth in the number of transnational parliamentary bodies. A phenomenon that has been conveniently dubbed ‘parliamentary diplomacy’. Finally, there appeared to be a clear gap between the practice of parliamentary diplomacy and its theoretical conceptualization, especially in the academic research field.

This paper builds on the above studies by trying to make some theoretical sense of the concept and reality of ‘parliamentary diplomacy’. It explores its many expressions and tries to offer a typology of the many actions that parliaments take in international affairs.

The paper consists of 4 sections: the first puts the question of parliamentary diplomacy in its wider context by considering a number of recent developments in national and international politics, in particular in the fields of democracy and democratisation. The second section then discusses the concept of parliamentary diplomacy. In the third section, there are empirical case-studies of parliamentary diplomacy. Finally, the fourth, and last, section sums up the findings of this paper and offers a number of possible areas for future research.

The wider context

Before one considers the concept and the practice of parliamentary diplomacy, it is important to examine the possible reasons for the development of such a phenomenon. This section builds on the existing international democratic theory as a basis for trying to understand this new form of diplomacy.

Developments in politics: national and international

A number of developments in politics, widely defined, offer a possible explanation of why parliaments have increased their role in world affairs. One can sum up those developments under the following headings:

[i] democratisation of politics

[ii] domestication of foreign policy

[iii] integration process (in Europe)

[iv] technological developments.

It is not possible here to analyse the above developments in any detail (see Stavridis 2003). This is not in fact the purpose of this study. Suffice it to point out that the democratisation of politics both at the national level (universal adult suffrage, mass political parties) and at the international level (decolonisation, end of Fascist and Communist rules, Cold War, emergence of international human rights) have led to a blurring of the traditional division between domestic and foreign policy issues. This domestication of foreign policy has been further reinforced by the integration process in Europe (initially Western Europe), which has now started to encompass the whole continent. Technological developments, such as major advances in (tele)communications (satellite, internet) have also made the dream of mass democracy possible. This trend towards democratic politics has not been easy, nor is it complete by any stretch of the imagination.  It represents however an unprecedent stage in the history of humankind.

There have been a number of obstacles all the same, best illustrated by the ‘decline of parliaments’ thesis, and the more fundamental view that there is an incompatibility between democracy and foreign policy (‘incompatibility thesis’). Those two obstacles to the road to democratisation have been challenged by international democratic theory. We need to look at this theory, however briefly, because it shows that parliamentary activities in the international realm might not represent such an unexpected development after all.

International democratic theory and its critics

The ‘parliamentary decline’ thesis argues that parliaments have lost power to the executive branch of government over the past century, but especially since the end of World War Two. The Cold War reinforced that trend, especially in the realm of foreign and defence policies. This thesis has been substantiated at length in most if not all Western liberal democracies, from the USA (‘imperial presidency’) to France (‘nuclear monarchy’).  The end of the Cold War appears to have reversed this trend. There is now more talk of a ‘parliamentarization’ of politics, including in systems where there had been a conscious efforts in the past to move away from parliamentary forms of government (France: Fourth to Fifth Republics), or where intergovernmental cooperation among elites had been favoured to that of parliamentary inputs (the European Union for instance).

It is also true that there was some evidence of a reversal to that trend in the USA well before the end of the Cold War with Vietnam, Watergate and the War Powers Act. It is equally true that although the integration process in Western Europe can be seen as an accelerator to the decline of parliaments through the increased role of prime ministers, presidents, or foreign ministers, the current debate in Europe has led to a number of initiatives where the national and other parliaments (‘supranational’ or regional) have increased their influence. To such a point that it has now been argued by one observer (Greek MEP and Constitutional Law expert Dimitrios Tsatsos) that the EU itself is entering a phase of parliamentarization (Tsatsos 2002). He referred to the number of parliamentarians involved in the current ‘Convention on the Future of Europe’ to support his point. Indeed, not only are representatives from national EU parliaments actively engaged in that process, but there are also MPs from the 13 applicant and candidate countries.

The democratic incompatibility thesis is not ‘limited in time’ in the way the parliamentary decline thesis appears to be. It is more fundamental in the sense that it argues that foreign policy and democracy do not mix. It is based on a number of empirical evidence. Foreign policy, let alone defence policy, remains in the hands of the executive branch of government because it needs expertise, secrecy and urgency in decision-making. What this approach misses is that it takes empirical evidence, which is the result of a number of historical, often contradictory, developments, and turns it into a normative statement. There is no space to develop this argument further (see Stavridis 1991; 2003), but suffice it to say that there is a strong counter-argument known as International Democratic Theory. Instead of claiming that democracy and foreign policy do not mix, the main tenets of international democratic theory are as follows:

·           that all public policy must be democratic, be it domestic or international,

·           that politics do not stop at the borders of the state, and

·           that democratic regimes behave differently in the international system.

That is to say that democratic politics affect all areas of public policy. The fact that some policy areas require more secrecy does not mean that there can be no accountability mechanisms or open debate at all. It only means that there is less openness. Put another way, it is a matter of ‘degree(s)’ and not one of ‘absolutes’. Similarly, international democratic theorists point to the existence of a Kantian democratic peace in the world to further support their case (see Russett 1993). The main example is that of Western Europe, but also Trans-Atlantic relations, and more generally relations among OECD states.

From the above discussion, one can see why there is room for parliamentary input in world affairs. What all of the above fails to consider fully is the sheer ‘explosion’ in the numbers of parliamentary bodies that deal with foreign and other international issues.

This proliferation of international or transnational parliamentary bodies, as well as an increased international role for national and regional parliaments, contradict empirically the Realist claim that there is no role for parliaments in foreign affairs. It does not a priori mean that the influence of parliaments is as important in world politics as that of governments or other executives. But one should not ignore this phenomenon on the grounds that it is relatively new and that its impact is so far rather limited. What is interesting in that respect is that parliamentarians or officials working in parliamentary institutions appear to be more aware of this new phenomenon than academics or other observers and analysts of world affairs. One should also add here (I owe this point to Greek MP Sophia Kalantzakou) that it is not necessary to begin an analysis of a phenomenon by trying to assess its impact. The fact that this phenomenon is occurring is what makes its study interesting in the first place. What its impact is can be left aside for the time being. Such a question can be considered as a next step of inquiry.

The concept of ‘Parliamentary diplomacy’

The concept of ‘parliamentary diplomacy’ is almost non-existent in the academic literature (for one exception see Ghebali 1993). What is important however is the fact that it is consistently mentioned by practitioners and other ‘experts’ alike. Most parliaments now have websites with references to parliamentary diplomacy. Many an annual report of parliamentary activities mentions the term ‘parliamentary diplomacy’. In a number of extensive interviews carried out in the past two years, I was repeatedly told that parliamentary diplomacy exists and that only a fool would ignore it.

But what is parliamentary diplomacy? Empirical observation suggests that it is a number of different and varied things. One could group them under the general label of all activities and actions that parliamentary bodies and their members take in international relations. A possible list would include:

  1.  MPs missions abroad and participation in transnational parliamentary bodies;

  2.  visits by other MPs and parliamentary delegations to parliaments and other institutions (national or transnational);

  3.  questions (written and oral), reports and other studies on foreign affairs that take place within a parliamentary body;

  4.  the activities of transnational parliamentary bodies;

  5. parliamentary participation in the monitoring of elections in third countries.

One should add here that there is a distinction between the parliamentary accountability side of foreign and security/defence policy and diplomatic actions. This is not to say that the two are not interrelated. Indeed, it could be argued that without some form of parliamentary accountability there could be no parliamentary diplomacy at all. But accountability concerns itself with domestic politics whereas diplomacy covers the international relations of states. It should be make clear that there is a distinction between these two phenomena. Otherwise the domestic dimension will always be the most important one in politics and there would be no international input in domestic politics. To ignore their interconnectedness would also be a mistake. Hence, however briefly, one needs to make some general remarks about democratic accountability in foreign, security and defence policies.

·           parliamentary accountability in foreign affairs is generally weak irrespective of the type of political system there exists in any given liberal democracy. In parliamentary systems, the importance of the parliament tends to be stronger than that in presidential system. But a number of other factors may also influence the degree of parliamentary accountability: a tradition (or lack) of executive dominance and of secrecy, the existence of a coalition government, or a preference for consensus politics rather than strict majority rule.

·           In the field of security and defence policies, there tends to be even more secrecy and less accountability. This situation is further reinforced in the case of nuclear weapons, intelligence services, or arms exports policies.

·           There are however various examples of parliamentary accountability throughout the many types of western liberal democracies there exist in the world today. The American model of government has led to most studies on the importance of the US Congress in foreign and defence policy matters (for a good summary see Hassner 2002, 22-28). It is also usually considered that Scandinavian democracies tend to have more open systems of government, including in the international field, than their other Western European counterparts.

·           There is an additional dimension to the accountability role of parliaments. It is generally accepted that parliaments often act as ‘moral tribunes’. That is to say that realpolitik can and does exist in national foreign policies but there are other elements of a more idealistic, pluralistic, kind, which are usually expressed in the parliamentary bodies, as ‘debating houses’.

In brief, the level of openness in foreign policy making will partly depend on the role of parliamentary institutions. But how much accountability there is in any given state does not automatically, nor necessarily, mean that there is a high level of parliamentary diplomacy. Therefore one needs to look at parliamentary links in the world from the related, but separate, prism of diplomacy.

The practice

What follows consists of three sub-sections: the first sub-section considers a number of practical arrangements of parliamentary diplomacy that exist in the world today. The second sub-section covers two specific case studies, namely, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Parliamentary Forum and the role of parliaments in the Cyprus Problem. The final sub-section reviews the ‘lessons’ that can be drawn from the previous two ones.

‘Cataloguing’ examples of parliamentary diplomacy

This first sub-section lists various practical examples of parliamentary diplomacy.

First, the activities of national parliaments have become increasingly ‘internationalised’. For instance, technical committees such as the agricultural or education committees of most national parliaments have become more involved in international affairs in recent years. In the case of the national parliaments of the European Union member states, such a trend has been reinforced through the process of integration, in particular the institutionalisation of the COSAC (specialised committees in European Community affairs) system. The so-called ‘globalization’ of world politics has further strengthened this development with increased parliamentary inputs in the activities of institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation, etc. There is even now talk of the need to set up a ‘world parliament’. See the recent arguments in that direction put forward by Professors Richard Falk (Princeton University) and Andrew Strauss (Widener University School of Law) in their International Herald Tribune article dated 19 April 2002 (‘Next a global parliament’). It is interesting to note that it would be linked to the UN but that this new worldwide parliament would not be a substitute for the General Assembly which, as is well known, is not a parliamentary institution.

One should add that each of these parliamentary bodies has also developed institutionalized links with counterpart parliaments or other parliamentary institutions. For example, as far as the European Parliament is concerned, to name but a few such bodies would include its EP-US Congress (now known as ‘The Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue’), its Joint Parliamentary Committees (one with Turkey and one with Cyprus; the former a candidate state and the latter an applicant state), or its EU-ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) Parliamentary Assembly. There also specifically-designed arrangements, for instance, the Meetings of the President of the EP with Presidents of the Parliaments of the Countries Participating in the Enlargement Process of the EU. Other similar examples would include meetings of Presidents of Mediterranean Parliaments. Other parliamentary bodies may instead decide to combine geographic criteria with a specific purpose: for example, the ‘Mediterranean Women Parliamentarians Forum’ to use yet another geographically based example in the Mare Nostrum.

Second, one should also add an increased number of non-national parliaments, mainly regional (i.e. sub-national parliamentary bodies such as the Catalan Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, or the Quebec Parliament) which also possess an international role. This is an important development, which exists throughout the world. In Europe, these regional parliaments appear to gain more collective power within the EU not only because of the wider European integration process, but also because of their impact on the EU institutions themselves. Thus, for the past decade, there exists a Committee of the Regions (CoR) in the EU. Under the new Treaty of Nice which has now been ratified following the second Irish referendum in October 2002, ‘CoR members must either hold a regional or local authority electoral mandate or be politically accountable for an elected assembly’  (; as printed on 1 November 2002.)

Third, a list below presents a large number of parliamentary bodies that have mushroomed over the years. It offers evidence for the claim that diplomatic cooperation at the parliamentary level has been complemented by a plethora of bodies that deal exclusively with international affairs.

Fourth, a number of new worldwide parliamentary bodies or parliamentarians have appeared. They all heavily rely on modern technology, and in particular on the internet (websites). For instance, suffice it to list two such examples here:

·           EarthAction has set up an electronic-Parliament (e-parliament) (, the objective of which is ‘to link up existing [democratically elected] legislators into a democratic global body’ on the internet which will engage with citizens movements. It claims to be able to link ’25,000 democratically-elected legislators (…) representing 60% of humanity’ (as printed on 3 March 2002 from their website). 

·           the PGA/Parliamentarians for Global Action, a unique network of 1,300 members of parliament throughout the world (

Indicative List of Transnational Parliamentary bodies – in alphabetical order (English).

·           African Parliamentary Union

·           Amazonian Parliament

·           Andean Pact Parliament

·           Arab Interparliamentary Union/Union Inter-parlementaire Arabe

·           Asia-Europe Inter-Parliamentary Dialogue

·           Asian and Pacific Parliamentarians Union

·           Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa

·           Baltic Assembly

·           Benelux Interparliamentary Consultative Assembly

·           Central American Parliament

·           Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

·           Consultative Council of the Arab Maghreb Union

·           COPA/Conference parlementaire des Ameriques

·           COSAC

·           Council of State Governments of the USA

·           European Parliament

·           European Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy

·           Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Parliamentary Forum

·           Interparliamentary Organisation of the ASEAN

·           Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States

·           International Assembly of French-speaking parliaments/Assemblee parlementaire de la francophonie

·           Interparliamentary Council against Antisemitism

·           IPU (Interparliamentary Union)

·           Latin American Parliament

·           National Conference of State Legislatures

·           Nordic Council

·           North Atlantic Assembly

·           Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)

·           Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE

·           Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation

·           Parliamentary Assembly of the Central European Initiative

·           Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation

·           Parliamentary Association of the South European Cooperative Initiative (SECI)

·           Parliamentary Assembly of the WEU (now the Interim European Security and Defence Assembly)

·           SADC (South African Development Community) Parliamentary Forum

·           Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region.

One should note that there are a number of organizations and other associations that do use the term ‘parliament’ but which have nothing to do with parliaments at all. For instance the ‘Balkan Parliament’ consists of students, academics and businessmen, the ‘European Youth Parliament’ is an organization promoting European issues among young people, and the ‘International Youth Parliament’ is an Oxfam-based network of young leaders from 150 countries. Other similar examples of the mis-use of the term parliaments would include the Naas Youth Parliament, the World’s Parliament of Religions,  the Parliamentary Forum on the International Conference on Financing for Development, or the Council for a Parliament of World Religions.

Specific case-studies

From my research on the Parliamentary Forum (PF) of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) which first met in 1998, one can draw the following conclusions (for details see Stavridis 2002a; 2002c):

        First, the parliamentary dimension of the process is seen as necessary by all MPs concerned because it allows for additional channels of communications. In other words, if the Parliamentary Forum did not exist, it should be invented. It is correct to add here that one of the main differences between the EMP and past EU/EC policy efforts towards the Mediterranean is its all-encompassing character. Therefore, parliaments can be seen as useful actors for a better understanding between the two sides of the Mare Nostrum.

        Second, a number of specific problems that the PF has encountered to date are not related to the wider difficulties that have affected the EMP since its launch in 1995. The main such specific problem has to do with the representation of the Europeans in the PF. Until now, not only the European Parliament but also the national EU parliaments take part in the PF. However it is now expected that the next forum which will be held in late March 2003 in Crete will be the last under that particular format. A Parliamentary Assembly will replace the PF after Crete. This change has been agreed in principle but its final format has yet to be finalized. It is most likely not going to include any national EU parliaments. The lesson here is that any institutionalization of parliamentary diplomacy involves a number of power struggles, including between parliamentary bodies.

        Does the PF allow for more flexibility in terms of diplomatic ‘possibilities’? This is particularly important with regards to representatives from authoritarian regimes. My interviews with European MPs and MEPs tend to confirm that overall it does.

        As for democratic parliaments, national MPs have argued that the MEPs have less room for maneuver as the EP must try and combine all 15 national viewpoints.

        Does parliamentary diplomacy need ‘real parliamentarians’ or is it just another talking shop when at least one side is not fully/partly represented by elected representatives? Several parliamentarians confirmed that they think parliamentary diplomacy is important irrespective of who represents ‘the other side’. Some academic observers have argued the opposite: ‘a condition for success [for the PF] is that it consists of elected representatives’ (Attina 2002).

        Should fundamental divergences be made public? In particular if these differences pitch, on the one hand, democratically elected MPs, and on the other, their appointed counterparts. One approach is that it is better to ‘paper over’ controversial disagreements. The other is to openly state that there is no room for compromise. For an example of the latter case see the ‘no meeting of minds’ in the final declaration of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NAA) and its Southern Mediterranean Dialogue Partners meeting in Genova on 1 December 2000 (NATO Parliamentary Assembly Press Release – Parliamentary Debate on Mediterranean Security yields little consensus, Genova, 1 December 2000: In the PF, the general trend is to allow for some flexibility rather than to stress confrontation.

        Finally, there appears to be consensus over the ‘socialization effect’ that parliamentary bodies, such as the PF, can have on all parliamentary representatives, elected or not. In other words, any longer term positive impact is to be welcome.

From my research about the role of parliaments in the Cyprus Problem (see Stavridis 2002b), the following conclusions can be drawn:

        there is little doubt that parliaments have played a role in the way the whole issue is perceived in Europe. How important those particular roles have been remains an open question. It needs further systematic and comprehensive study. The national parliaments of the EU member states, as well as the European Parliament itself, have only recently realised how important a role they could play, as EU accession for Cyprus means an active parliamentary involvement in the ratification process of enlargement.

        The Cypriot Vouli ton Andiprosopon (House of Representatives) has played a significant role in the diplomacy of the Republic of Cyprus. This is due not only to the specific nature of the political system in Cyprus where consensual politics with regards to the Cyprus Issue now prevail, but also thanks to the existence of a ‘National Council’ (it includes all political parties represented in the Vouli and acts as a top advisory body to the President on any issue related exclusively to the Cyprus Problem). The small numbers of people involved (the total population in the South is under 650,000) also means that all available means must be used to a maximum, thus there is very close cooperation between the Cypriot foreign ministry and the Vouli.

The ‘lessons’

What can be learned from the above? First, that there are many types of parliamentary bodies engaged in parliamentary diplomacy. Just to list the various terms/titles these bodies have adopted shows how varied they are: assemblies, associations, committees, councils, dialogues, unions, even parliaments. Their mere existence confirms that there is an institutionalization of parliamentary diplomacy. Their variety means however that more research is needed to try and make sense of what parliamentary diplomacy actually means.

The second point is that there are formal and informal means. That is to say that in addition to the institutionalization of parliamentary bodies, there are also looser forms of association, usually known as ‘friendship groups’ within existing parliaments. They tend to deal mainly with the wider ‘atmospherics’ in international relations and appear to become more important if there is a crisis which involves two states (or groupings). It is also possible to argue that such groups are set up in the first place because there is a potential for a crisis situation to be therefore avoided, or that there is some common interest that transcends national boundaries.

The third point is the distinction between individual and group structures, be they political groupings or other types of collective association (based on language, ideology, interest, history, etc).

The fourth point is how varied their respective memberships are, ranging from national parliaments representatives, to a mixture of national and transnational parliamentarians, to directly elected parliamentarians.

The fifth point is that some such bodies are more closely related to traditional governmental forms of diplomacy than others. Thus, from extensive interviews with parliamentarians and parliamentary officials over the years, it appears that in the European context, the PACE (Council of Europe) is deemed to be more closely associated with traditional state-to-state diplomacy than other fora.

The sixth point refers to the level of parliamentary diplomacy. This practice can involve only national parliaments, or regional parliamentary representatives, or a combination of both.

The seventh point is that there is a clear evidence of ‘communicating vessels’ among most if not all of these transnational and national parliamentary bodies. This is often simply due to the fact that any given parliamentarian may be a  member of more than one of these bodies. But it is also a result of concerted efforts by the respective parliament secretariats involved to try and make the most of limited ‘numbers’. To a certain extent, this situation represents a division of labour at the international parliamentary level. This is particularly important for small parliaments because their human resources are often stretched. The proliferation of such parliamentary bodies adds to such an overload. More research is needed on the differences that exist between the parliamentary diplomacy of small(er) and big(ger) parliaments.

The eighth point relates to the range of topics discussed by these bodies. Some parliamentary bodies cover all international issues whereas others are more specifically focused (human rights, defence). Finally, some such bodies are mainly interested in a specific aspect of politics known as ‘integration’. This is not the same as traditional diplomacy but such bodies also cover diplomatic issues extensively, thus making a typology of these institutions all the more complex. The ‘best’ example in this case would be the European Parliament which possesses extensive international links which can be described as parliamentary diplomacy. Thus, the EP adopts often a foreign policy line that is different from that of the other EU institutions (Commission, Council, Presidency), let alone those of individual member states. But at the same time one of its raison d’etre is to try and develop a common European stance on international affairs. Other similar, though less developed, examples can be found in the Andean Parliament or the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

The ninth point refers to whether parliamentary diplomacy should (or should not) be more closely related to governmental diplomacy. In other words, is it  (or should it be?) a supplement or an alternative to official foreign policy? One can think of arguments supporting either approach. But it seems to me that if parliamentary diplomacy represents only another channel for traditional diplomacy, perhaps one should not pay too much attention to it. If on the contrary it represents a new form of diplomacy which includes, almost de facto, a democratisation element, then perhaps more attention should be paid to it. In that respect, I would tend to disagree with Ahmet Tan, an MP from Istanbul in the Turkish Grand Assembly and one of the OSCE PA Vice-President’s who claims that:

‘A better coordination between governmental diplomacy and parliamentary diplomacy is of paramount importance. The only way to take advantage of MPs leverages in coping with crises and conflicts is to maintain a permanent contact between the international and national governmental and parliamentary institutions, to keep each other informed, in order to achieve the optimum burden-sharing and to strictly harmonize action’ (Turkish Daily News-On Line, , 11 November 2001).

Indeed, one could argue that what is needed is not another ‘parliamentary mouthpiece of official policies’, but rather real dialogue among parliamentarians.

The tenth and final point refers to parliaments as ‘moral tribunes’ on foreign policy. There has been a surge in the number of public apologies for past mistakes (slavery, colonization, genocides) but also a more active parliamentary involvement in difficult enquiries in issues dealing with ethnic cleansing or other past atrocities. Thus, both the French and the Dutch parliaments produced reports on the actions of their soldiers with regards to the massacres in Srebrenica in July 1995. Le Monde called the report ‘the conscience of the MPs’ (29 November 2001). As for the Dutch, it brought down the whole government following the principle of collective  Cabinet responsibility in the spring of 2002. A similar claim could be made with regard to the way the European Parliament reacted to the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. It adopted a more ‘moralistic’ stance than the other EC/EU institutions throughout the tragic and violent events in the region (see Stavridis 1996). Another similar case would be that of the EP during the many bloody conflicts in Central America in the 1980s. Again, because of the way the two dominant political groupings (Socialists and Christian Democrats) interact in the Parliament in Strasbourg/Brussels, there appeared a much clearer ‘human rights’ policy towards that part of the world than in any of the other European institutions (see Stavridis, 1991, 248-257).

Conclusions: myth or reality?

What is clear from the above is that there is a proliferation of transnational parliamentary bodies. Modern technology, especially the use of telecommunications (e.g. satellite, internet) also facilitates this kind of phenomenon. See for instance the ‘Live Broadcasting of the UK Parliament’ on the internet ( or its online indexing service ( to name but a couple of recent examples in Britain. The previous section has shown that there are many realities of parliamentary diplomacy. Not only there are different types of such bodies, i.e. associations, assemblies, conferences etc., but also in terms of membership, scope and objectives.

The following points sum up the main findings of this paper:

1.       parliamentary diplomacy and parliamentary accountability in diplomatic matters are not one and the same thing;

2.       the international activities of parliaments are increasing and therefore  appear to represent an important aspect of diplomacy. It is more than just parliamentary cooperation in international affairs.

3.       there is a difference between national and transnational parliamentary bodies.

4.       the institutionalisation of transnational parliamentary bodies tends to be a recent phenomenon that is expanding very fast.

5.       there is a difference between formal and informal means of parliamentary diplomacy. This difference is not only important in its study but more importantly in their respective impacts and relationships.

There is therefore substantial empirical evidence that ‘parliamentary cooperation has been superseded by “parliamentary diplomacy”’ to use the words of MP Squarcialupi (2000).

It seems to be too early to assess the impact of parliamentary diplomacy on diplomacy, democracy, foreign policy making, and conflict resolution. But it is not too early to claim that a new form of diplomacy has appeared and that it is growing in importance. The real issue must be of course how much influence do parliaments have in foreign policy. More research is needed.

A number of possible areas for future research can be added as a contribution to this question:

·           a comparative analysis of the various parliamentary bodies engaged in diplomacy, for instance the EP, the PACE and the OSCE on Mediterranean issues, including a comparison of their respective impacts;

·           a study of how various (national, sub-national, trans/supranational) levels of parliamentary action interact, for instance the Spanish and Catalan parliaments and the Spanish MEPs;

·           Specific case studies mainly to do with conflictual situations, e.g. Middle East or Northern Ireland;

·           The particular role of individuals in parliamentary diplomacy;

·           The role of ‘friendship groups’;

·           The importance of transnational links between political parties.

So, what is parliamentary diplomacy? As a preliminary conclusion, I would argue that it is definitely not a myth. Is it a reality? From this paper it is clear that there are many realities, and not a single one. Further research is clearly needed. It is hoped that this paper represents a small contribution in that direction.


Attina, F. (2002), comments during the Joint 5th European Workshop (Jean Monnet Centre for European Studies and Research, University of Crete) & 3rd Rotating Summer School (SGEU/ECPR), Rethymno, 15-22 September

Ghebali, V-Y. (1993), The conferences of the IPU on European Cooperation and Security, 1973-1991: the contribution of parliamentary diplomacy to East-West détente, Dartmouth, Aldershot

Hassner, P. (2002), The United States: the empire of force or the force of empire?, Chaillot Paper No.54, September, Institute for Security Studies, Paris

Russett, B. (1993), Grasping the Democratic Peace, Princeton University Press, Princeton

Squarcialupi (2000), Parliamentary diplomacy: the role of international assemblies, WEU Parliamentary Assembly Report Document A/1685, 6 June, as printed on 22.10.01 from : .

Stavridis, S. (1991), unpublished PhD thesis, ‘Foreign policy and democratic principles: the case of EPC’, LSE, London

Stavridis S. (1996), Unpublished Report to the European Commission (Brussels), The European Parliament, European foreign policy and the conflict in former Yugoslavia 1991-1995 (Jean Monnet Chair Research Project No. 95/0549, Reading, December), 13 pp

Stavridis S. (2002a) The First two Parliamentary Fora of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: an assessment, Jean Monnet Working Paper in Comparative and International Politics No. 40, Political Studies Department, Catania University, May, 20 pp, also available on the web:

Stavridis S. (2002b) The Cyprus Problem and Cyprus’ Accession to the European Union: the Role of the Cypriot House of Representatives (Vouli), ELIAMEP Occasional Paper No.OP02.05, ELIAMEP/Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy, Athens, August, 38 pp, ISBN 960-7061-95-0. Also available on the web:

Stavridis S. (2002c) (in press – due out by December) ‘The Parliamentary Forum of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: problems and prospects’, Mediterranean Politics (Vol.7, No.2, Summer), about 9,000 words

Stavridis S. (2003) (forthcoming book in progress) New Dilemmas for the European Union’s foreign, security  and defence policy: democracy, accountability and legitimacy, Ashgate, Aldershot

Tsatsos, D. (2002), oral intervention during 23rd meeting of the EU-Cyprus Joint Parliamentary Committee, Nicosia, 22-24 May

ã Copyright 2002. Jean Monnet Chair of European Comparative Politics 


Stelios Stavridis, The University of Reading