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Winner essay contest announced

As part of the parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU Presidency, the Senate and House of Representatives ran an essay competition for young people between the ages of 18 and 25. The essay writers had to answer the following question: ‘What will be the role of the Dutch parliament in the European Union in 25 years’ time?’

The jury – which consisted of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, among other individuals – decided that Andrea Finesso wrote the best essay on Dutch parliamentary democracy and how the EU works, detailing current practice and ideas for the future. In his essay, Andrea called for a stronger political debate at the EU level in order to strengthen and enrich European politics in general. According to Andrea, this can be achieved if a new system of democratic representation is created: a bicameral system, in which one chamber consists of elected MPs from the national parliaments and the other chamber consists of members of the European Parliament. 

Andrea is an Italian student of European Studies at Maastricht University. During the plenary COSAC conference, which will be held from 12 to 14 June in the Hall of Knights in The Hague, he will present a summary of his essay to MPs from all over Europe. In addition, he will be allowed to travel as a VIP to Bratislava to attend the interparliamentary conference there, which will be held within the framework of the Slovakian EU Presidency. Andrea called the Dutch parliament “very open-minded”. As an Italian, he did not expect to win the essay competition about the Dutch parliament.

Former MEPs visit the Dutch parliament

On Tuesday 31 May, the European Parliament Former Members Association (FMA) visited the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives. The FMA is an organisation that aims to, among other things, encourage contact between similar (parliamentary) organisations and promote political debate on the development of the European Union.

The visit occurred within the framework of the Dutch EU Presidency. The group was received by the (first) Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ton Elias, and later in the day by the President of the Senate, Ankie Broekers-Knol. In their welcome speeches, they looked back at the five interparliamentary conferences organised by the States General and reflected on the overarching theme: ‘working together to strengthen parliamentary influence on EU decision-making’. Elias: “The Dutch, national and European Parliaments share information with each other in various ways. Of course, via the political lines and parliamentary groups in The Hague and Brussels, via working visits by delegations, via rapporteurs and interparliamentary conferences, such as those we have organised as part of the EU Presidency. In this, we have committed ourselves to the open and honest sharing of information, with room for support and opposition, and have explicitly opted for interactive ways of working, such as a ‘catch-the-eye’ debate, with moderators, subsidiary sessions and film evenings. In the world of interparliamentary conferences, these constitute minor revolutions.”

The FMA also spoke to members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, several of whom have also been members of the European Parliament. In addition to visiting the parliament, the former MEPs also visited a number of other European organisations located in and around The Hague, including Eurojust, the Council of State and the European Space Research and Technology Centre.

 

Blog by Brechje Hessing-Puts and David Rijks, clerks of the interparliamentary conferences: “Two chambers pulling out all the stops”

Six interparliamentary conferences held during the Netherlands’ Presidency of the European Union: hundreds of international parliamentarians united in the Knight’s Hall, a state-of-the art interactive multimedia system, prominent speakers, new approaches to debates and pertinent matters under discussion.

During the first six months of 2016, the States-General are showing what they are capable of since, over this period, the Netherlands is holding the Presidency of the European Union. First and foremost, the Presidency means that the Government is responsible for efficiently guiding negotiations in the Council of the European Union. A great many meetings are being held in Amsterdam as part of this process, but the Senate and House of Representatives are also organising meetings for fellow parliamentarians from the EU member states. Particularly now that a growing number of matters are arranged at European level, effective parliamentary scrutiny is playing a major role. And that is why it is essential that national parliaments in Europe join forces and work together to allow them to fulfil their supervisory role in relation to both their own government and sometimes ‘Brussels’ to the best of their ability. Uniting representatives of the individual European parliaments, discussing shared problems and exchanging information are all important elements of this process. As part of the parliamentary dimension of the EU Presidency, the Senate and House of Representatives are organising a total of six interparliamentary conferences.

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Challenge

As Secretary-Generals working from the various parliamentary organisations, we assume responsibility for the political and substantive preparations for these conferences, as well as seeing to the overall coordination of the conferences themselves. It is a rewarding if challenging task, since the Senate and House of Representatives have set ambitious targets for themselves. The conferences must focus on the themes that the Dutch parliament considers particularly pressing, such as the energy transition, human trafficking and the rule of law. The two chambers had also decided that the conferences should be both innovative and inspiring. Hence, not simply exchanging opinions, but encouraging as much interaction and discussion as possible.

In the months leading up to the EU Presidency, small groups of MPs and Senators worked together to define the structure and substance of the conferences. A ‘political preparation group’ was appointed for each conference, composed of members of the associated parliamentary committees. They drafted the detailed programmes, invited speakers to attend and presided over the conferences. Ultimate political responsibility for the parliamentary dimension of the EU Presidency is held by a steering committee, comprised of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, the Presidents of the European Affairs Committees and the Secretary-Generals of both chambers.

We can already look back on five successful conferences, with one last major conference to take place in June. There is certainly an element of relief that such a substantial undertaking is nearing completion. As with all large projects, there were many hurdles along the way. From intensive rounds of harmonisation between committees, individual MPs and Senators, the steering committee and officials of the House of Representatives to last minute changes to the programme, we have been kept on our toes. In contrast to the well-trodden paths within the committees, our role brings us directly into contact with both the Senate and House of Representatives – without having a clearly defined role or practice to fall back on. After all, the previous Dutch Presidency of the European Union was back in 2004. But when it comes down to it, it has been a fantastic project to be a part of. We have actually grown very attached to it.

Pulling out all the stops

What makes our role particularly unique is that we have worked with and been the mainstay for so many different people, many of whom we hardly knew prior to commencing the project. We have both been released from our normal responsibilities in relation to committees in the Senate and House of Representatives respectively, and each been able to focus completely on the preparations for three conferences. Colleagues from both chambers have also provided substantive support, for example by drafting memos outlining the contextual background. They have enthusiastically taken on an enormous amount of additional work, alongside their regular duties. The same applies to a large number of people from other areas of the parliamentary organisations, such as the Security Department, Communications Departments, Messenger Service and the Facilities Department.

In brief, everyone has gotten involved and our colleagues have been enormously willing to lend a hand. A true team spirit is permeating all parts of the organisation. However, involvement in organising our conferences also stretches beyond the walls of parliament. For example, we have also been able to rely on the support of students studying Facility Management at The Hague University of Applied Sciences during the conferences. This enables the students themselves to gain practical experience of working on a major event and they have served as parliament’s calling card, welcoming conference participants at partner hotels and to the Hall of Knights.

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Innovation

As Secretary-Generals, we hold ultimate responsibility for achieving the objective of the political preparation groups: to ensure that the conferences are relevant, innovative and inspiring. Discussions at such conferences usually proceed rather drearily, and after completing a form to be allowed to speak once during one part of the programme, it is common for participants to simply read out a statement. The political preparation groups were keen to stimulate mutual discussion and exchange wherever possible. And so far, we have been fairly successful in doing so. For example, during the Meeting of the Chairpersons of COSAC on 7 and 8 February, we organised an interactive panel discussion led by a moderator. As part of the conference addressing Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union on 17 February in Brussels, we held a ‘catch the eye’ debate. This was extremely successful and drew many positive reactions from the participants. Prior to the conference on Human Trafficking in the Digital Age, we organised a film evening and debate. During this evening, CNN journalist Leif Coorlim presented short films on the theme of human trafficking to stimulate discussion among the participants, while providing all attendees with a penetrating insight into the human face of the problem.

An enjoyable aspect of this project is that we have been able to suggest and implement lots of our own ideas. For example, we proposed the morning run – offering the participants of some conferences the opportunity to meet for a 5km jog through the centre of The Hague before the start of the conference. This is the first time that such an event has been organised and, so far, the concept has been received extremely enthusiastically by participants. We also organised a separate meeting for the officials assisting the participating parliamentarians, in order to strengthen ties and networks with colleagues in other member states.

One more time

We now have just one more conference before us: the plenary COSAC conference on 12, 13 and 14 June 2016. Past results naturally provide no guarantee of future success, but with the strong team spirit and experience in the two chambers, we are confidently looking forward to the final event. Following the conference on human trafficking, Leif Coorlim emailed us to say: ‘Your team’s professionalism and execution was top notch – the best I’ve seen’. And that is something that we can all be proud of!

President of the Senate and Speaker of the House attend conference for EU parliamentary heads

From 22 to 24 May 2016, the President of the Senate, Ankie Broekers-Knol, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Khadija Arib, attended a conference for all EU parliamentary presidents and speakers. The subjects under discussion included the parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU Presidency, which focuses on the role of national parliaments and the importance of both interparliamentary collaboration and the exchange of information between parliaments.

Looking back on the Dutch Presidency of the European Union

An admirable tradition during this annual conference is that the country holding the EU Presidency reflects on the past year and passes on best practices. The President and Speaker introduced their presentation by screening a short film outlining the highlights of the interparliamentary conferences. President of the Senate Ankie Broekers-Knol explained that the film was an example of the innovative means of communication utilised by the Dutch parliament. An app was also developed with a chat function for conference participants, and events organised prior to the conferences included a film evening and a working visit. These activities gave participants the opportunity to get to know each other better and to delve deeper into the subjects at hand. During the review, Speaker of the House Khadija Arib concentrated on the overarching theme of the parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU Presidency: working together to strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of EU decision-making. ‘It is important that we seek out connections. This applies to national parliaments, where everybody works from the perspective of their own political party, from their own ideology, but where – as representatives of the people – we remain focused on the common good. But it also applies to parliaments themselves – the parliaments of the 28 EU member states and the European Parliament. Not only because we are more effective when we work together, but primarily because that is the only way forward. A large number of social problems extend beyond national borders’.

Other points of discussion

During the conference, delegates also discussed the third yellow card– one of the instruments made available to parliaments by the Treaty of Lisbon – being shown regarding amendments to the Posting of Workers Directive. Arib stated that, in principle, the House of Representatives warmly welcomes all moves to strengthen the role of national parliaments. She also reminded delegates that parliamentary scrutiny is one of the subjects that will be addressed during the final interparliamentary conference to be held by the Dutch parliament in June.

In her conference speech, the Broekers-Knol focused on the management of migration flows. She emphasised the vital importance of solidarity within the EU, and of striving to develop sustainable solutions. She stated that unambiguous EU asylum policy needs to be introduced, which quickly provides refugees and asylum seekers with clarity regarding their prospects of staying. She also argued that EU member states should increase investment in guarding external borders, which could eventually result in the Schengen border controls being lifted. Broekers-Knol emphasised that a long-term solution will only be reached through coherent international policy, in which the EU assists by tackling the fundamental causes of migration.

What will be the role of the Dutch parliament in the European Union in 25 years’ time?

As part of the parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU Presidency, the Senate and House of Representatives are running an essay competition.

 

What will be the role of the Dutch parliament in the European Union in 25 years’ time?

 

Are you a student aged 18 to 25 in higher professional or university education? Would you also like to share your vision of the future of the Dutch Parliament in the European Union (EU) with parliamentarians from all EU member states and the European Parliament? If so, write an interesting essay of no longer than 2,500 words in which you share your knowledge and views on Dutch parliamentary democracy and how the EU works. We are looking for an inspiring, fresh vision of the Dutch parliament’s position in the EU of the future.

 

Prize

The winner will be given a unique opportunity to present his or her vision to parliamentarians from all EU member states and the European Parliament at a conference in the Hall of Knights in The Hague. The conference is on 12-14 June. For that, we will arrange to have your essay translated into English. It will also be submitted to the International Spectator magazine and you will be invited to attend an interparliamentary conference in Bratislava as a VIP during the Slovakian EU Presidency. In addition, the writers of the best five essays will also have an opportunity to discuss the role of the Dutch parliament in the EU with Dutch Members of Parliament.

 

How to enter

To have a chance of winning one of these prizes, send your essay before 1 June 2016 to parleu2016@staten-generaal.nl. Your essay must be no longer than 2,500 words and the use of footnotes and a bibliography is not permitted. The judging panel will include the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

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Review of a productive discussion on European foreign, security, and defence policy (III)

The morning of 8 April marked the start of the second part of the interparliamentary conference on European foreign, security and defence policy.

The first speaker was NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow. In his speech, he explored the challenges he envisages in Southern and Eastern Europe and the role that NATO could play there. “As we look around us, in almost every direction we see a host of complex challenges, many of which pose a direct threat to our long-term safety, security and prosperity. There will always be areas – political and economic reform or development, for example – where the EU has the most appropriate skills mix. But at a time when our security and long-term prosperity is under such pressure, it makes sense for us to work together, to support each other and to achieve more together than we can alone.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte then spoke about European affairs, including the result of the advisory referendum on the EU association agreement with Ukraine, held in the Netherlands on 6 April. He stressed that ratification by the Netherlands of the association agreement would not automatically go ahead. “We cannot proceed regardless. We will also consult with European partners and Ukraine. This will take some time.”

In his speech Rutte elaborated on the issue of migration, appealing to the MPs present to work together toward solving this problem. He also mentioned that Europe needs to continue promoting jobs and growth by innovation. He went on to highlight the importance of getting and staying in touch with civil society, a task that is suited to the MPs. He concluded by urging MPs to continue meeting and debating with each other at conferences such as this one.

 Conclusions and close
During and prior to the conference the MPs had the opportunity to submit amendments to draft conclusions. In the last part of the conference they debated them. The conclusions addressed subjects such as foreign policy aspects of migration, arms export control, strengthening EU defence and rapid response. The conclusions were adopted.

The second day of the conference was chaired by Dutch Senate member Nico Schrijver, one of the chairs of the Political Preparations Group responsible for the substantive conference programme. At the end of the conference, he thanked all the volunteers – whose dedication once again helped ensure that the conference ran smoothly – and the administrative staff, Upon closing the fifth inter-parliamentary conference, he stated: “I would like to thank you for your role in creating such a lively debate and entertaining our friendships in such a warm way.”

Review of a productive discussion on European foreign, security, and defence policy (II)

Rapid military response forces

Dutch Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert spoke about the role of national parliaments in decisions on whether or not to deploy rapid military response forces, such as the EU Battlegroups or the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). Any such decision has to be agreed by the member states, but the parliaments each have their own decision-making model. “National parliaments are better equipped to enable European cooperation. This concerns shared responsibility and a common interest.” In the discussion that followed, the Chief of Defence of the Armed Forces of the Netherlands Tom Middendorp said that we should make better use of the strengths that every member state has. “If you consider the military and economic resources at our disposal, the European Union is one of the most powerful organizations in the world.”

Three workshops

The afternoon programme consisted of three parallel sessions in the House of Representatives. One of the sessions was about the global strategy for EU foreign and security policy and in that sense formed an important step towards the next day of the conference. During the workshop, Nathalie Tocci, the coordinator of the EU Global Security Strategy, covered both the process surrounding the creation of the new strategy and what it actually entails. She also drew attention to the input from national parliaments for the new strategy.

The second parallel session covered the theme of migration, with a focus on the causes of the flows of refugees and the situation in the countries neighbouring the war zones; the countries that receive the refugees. The Deputy Director-General for Migration, Asylum, and Visas of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Esen Altug, described the situation in Turkey and the deal that has been made on the matter with the EU.

The final session concerned European arms exports. Among the areas examined were non-proliferation and disarmament, and the European defence market and industry. The Deputy Director of the European Defence Agency, Rini Goos, talked about the cooperation between European governments and industries.

Senator Frank van Kappen wrapped up the workshops. The rapporteurs looked back on colourful and lively discussions.

Looking ahead: CFSP/CSDP Conference Day 2

Prime Minister Mark Rutte will address participants in the Hall of Knights on day 2 of the CFSP Conference. In his introduction Rutte will elaborate on the outcome of the referendum on the European Union Association Treaty with Ukraine. The prime minister will be speaking from 10.00 until 10.25 and will also answer questions from MPs. In addition to the prime minister, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow will engage in debate with the MPs.