The first afternoon session was dedicated to protecting the rule of law within the European Union. The session was introduced by Murray Hunt, visiting professor at the University of Oxford. The central question he raised concerned the role of national parliaments in this process. “Why should parliaments be involved in protecting and achieving rule of law? What have parliaments done thus far to obtain such a role? How can they enhance this role in the future?”
He subsequently chaired a panel debate on this topic. Pieter van Dijk, former member of the Venice Commission, and Europarliamentarian Sophie in ’t Veld engaged in a discussion about the rule of law and democracy and the current topical developments in Europe. Van Dijk: “We need not agree on everything, but reaching a consensus on the main rules and principles regarding the rule of law is important.”
In ’t Veld added that in addition to consensus about those rules and principles, agreeing as to how they are applied in practice matters. “In the European Parliament we face very practical challenges – for example relating to trade relations or asylum. Developing a common framework for rule of law would be wise, as this is not purely a national matter. Parliamentarians should apply the means they have and take responsibility for bringing about such a common framework. We need to uphold our values.”
European Commissioner Frans Timmermans concluded the session. He described the tension experienced between democracy and the rule of law. Timmermans: “Democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law; you cannot say that one is more important than the others. They are all necessary. Unequivocal application of European law is essential for the EU to function.”
The second afternoon session was focused on exchanging best practices and experiences in parliamentary diplomacy. Jan Wouters, a researcher on inter-parliamentary cooperation and parliamentary diplomacy at the University of Leuven, introduced the session.
In his opening address he described the importance of parliamentary diplomacy: “In the 21st century parliamentary diplomacy is immensely important, because national and international policy have become increasingly intertwined. Parliamentary diplomacy may enhance mutual understanding, improve parliamentary scrutiny and strengthen the legitimacy of EU institutions. Parliamentary diplomacy requires cooperation and transparency.”
Next, a panel of three parliamentarians engaged in debate. Why would parliaments devise a role in diplomacy for themselves, and what are the challenges of having a true parliamentary diplomacy? Trends, situations from daily practice and basic conditions were discussed in an interactive session with the audience. It was noted that, unfortunately, parliamentary diplomacy received very little consideration in the discussion.
Following the plenary session, the COSAC chairpersons from each country met to discuss the draft contributions to be addressed on the second day of the plenary COSAC.
Preview of Day 2 of the Plenary COSAC
On the second day of the Plenary COSAC one of the sessions will feature member of the European Court of Auditors Alex Brenninkmeijer. Later that morning the parliamentarians will discuss the migration issue. The Plenary COSAC will conclude with adopting the contributions.