POLICY PERSPECTIVES AND OPERATIONAL GUIDELINES FOR PARLIAMENT'S INVOLVEMENT AND ENGAGEMENT IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
(Agreed by Task Team on 8 March 2006)
The Parliament of the Republic of South Africa finds itself operating in an evolving international relations environment and there is a need to adapt to developments.
In an age where the line between the domestic and the international is becoming blurred, and where there is a globalisation of problems, it is no longer conceivable that parliaments can only focus on national policy and leave it to governments to take decisions with wider implications. To do so, would amount to relinquishing their role as the people's representatives and doing no more than ratifying decisions while excluding themselves from the real problems.
Parliament should take into consideration an increasing responsibility and reliance placed on South Africa internationally and actively oversee how the government follows through on, and ensures the implementation of, its international commitments and obligations. What is required is a balanced political and legal framework that is well tuned to the changes taking place in the world.
Parliament's initiative to define its role in the sphere of international affairs therefore needs to take cognisance of global developments and, at the same time, ensure that it does not encroach upon the executive responsibilities of the Ministry and Department of Foreign Affairs.
It further needs to distinguish between Parliament's responsibilities as a legislature having international relations and its constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight over the executive, which has been delegated to the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Select Committee on Economic and Foreign Affairs. These committees are departmentally aligned and exercise oversight over national foreign policy and process legislation.
As part of its transformation, Parliament has already undergone and instituted changes with regard to the manner in which it conducts its international relations and the types of good practice it has adopted in that sphere. However, these practices have not yet been codified. The Joint Rules Committee agreed on 24 August 2005 on the need for Parliament to define its international relations policy, informed by the national foreign policy.
SECTION A: POLICY IMPERATIVES
1. National foreign policy objectives and programmes
South Africa's national foreign policy objectives are informed by the following key principles:
In the context of these principles, the following key priorities have been identified:
1.1 Consolidation of the African agenda
This entails the restructuring of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in order to make it effective, the strengthening of the African Union's (AU) organs and structures, the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), and ensuring peace, stability and security in Africa.
1.2 South-South cooperation
South-South cooperation is a conscious initiative by countries of the South to address the challenges of underdevelopment, economic and political marginalisation through partnership. South Africa views its partnership with countries of the South as critical for advancing the African agenda. South-South cooperation is therefore central in addressing the challenges facing Africa.
1.3 North-South dialogue
Existing global imbalances which favour countries of the North compel the South to engage these well-resourced countries as partners. South Africa engages at the highest level with developed nations to address the challenges posed by poverty and underdevelopment, inequalities within the global system, unequal exercise of global power, and the existing economic and trade imbalances.
1.4 Global governance
Global changes have brought issues of economics and development to the centre stage of international relations. South Africa's security, the well-being of its people and international peace are all linked to economic growth. Therefore, favourably positioning South Africa in the regional and world economy is a central part of the country's foreign policy. Furthermore, as a member of the African Union (AU), South Africa supports and contributes to African efforts to reform the United Nations (UN), in particular the Security Council.
The above core principles and priorities have informed Parliament's proposed approach and programmes in the area of international relations.
2. The role of Parliaments in international affairs
2.1 Parliamentary international relations is the continuation of a political process and dialogue among legislatures brought about by significant change in the world. At different international meetings, members of Parliament (MPs) and presiding officers have had the opportunity to exchange views on a range of international challenges. It is precisely these forums that have forced national parliaments to reconsider their own role in international affairs.
2.2 However, the exact role that parliaments can and should play in the sphere of international relations is still a matter of considerable debate globally.
2.3 The multiplicity of actors in international affairs is a reflection of the changes that are taking place in societies, where there is a growing interest in a variety of policy issues. This emerging interest has also translated into an interest in foreign policy as societies become aware of the extent to which they are affected by the policies of their neighbours.
2.4 Furthermore, in the nature of global issues, each country is affected sooner or later by the problems of other countries and parliamentarians have a duty to engage with phenomena and policies that impact on the future and welfare of society as a whole.
3. International best practice
3.1 In assessing the options that are available to Parliament to strengthen its parliamentary relations, it is worthwhile considering objectives identified by other countries that could assist in gaining a better understanding of these approaches.
3.2 The list below includes useful objectives that could provide guidance:
SECTION B: CORE OBJECTIVES OF PARLIAMENT'S INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Parliament has pursued certain core objectives that reflect broad good practice in international affairs. These are encapsulated in its commitment to
SECTION C: GUIDELINES ON PROGRAMME OF ACTION
1. Developing and strengthening partnerships in Africa
1.1 Parliament, in line with the country's foreign policy, should give special attention to Africa in its overall international relations policy framework.
1.2 This would include engaging proactively with some of the legislative assemblies of countries where the South African government has been involved in peace-building efforts.
1.3 Parliament should proactively design an international relations policy framework in which it undertakes to engage, on a parliament-to-parliament basis, with its counterparts from African countries which are coming out of conflicts in general, and those where the government of South Africa has been involved in particular.
2. Advancing multilateralism
2.1 Evolving international structures have imposed a heightened responsibility on parliamentarians, in view of their oversight role, to interact with one another on matters such as respect for the rule of law, human rights, and their governments' transparency and accountability.
2.2 Parliament's participation in international parliamentary bodies should also be aimed at making significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and support for Africa's development agenda, as contained in Nepad.
3. Bilateralism through friendship societies
3.1 Parliament should, in the initial stages, focus on building bilateral relations with other legislative bodies through proactively forming "friendship groups", as this seems to be a flexible way of building towards formal and established relations.
3.2 Criteria or guidelines should be drawn up to determine with which countries Parliament establishes such friendship groups and how they will operate.
4. Providing for public input
4.1 Parliament should make provision, through the relevant offices, committees and other mechanisms to ensure that there is ongoing engagement with the public on important international relations issues, in line with the vision and programmes of Parliament.
SECTION D: OPERATIONAL GUIDELINES
Delegates to regional, continental and international parliamentary bodies should be prepared and mandated, properly and timeously briefed and efficiently supported so as to maximise their participation in those bodies, and should ensure proper follow-up to their delegation report within specific timeframes.
There are two key areas for Parliament to consider changing in order to accommodate its expanding role in international relations: -
The following steps are recommended for implementation:
1. Internal political structures
1.1 Establishment of Joint Subcommittee on International Relations
Parliament should establish the Joint Subcommittee on International Relations, as set out in Joint Rule 76 to 79, to manage and direct its involvement in international relations, subject to adjustment of the Rules to accommodate policy positions emanating from the agreed policy guidelines.
Guidelines for the Joint Subcommittee on International Relations
1.2 Clustering Parliament's international relations programme
Parliament should consider clustering the international relations programme into the following categories in accordance with its core objectives and programme of action: Africa cluster, Multilateral cluster and Bilateral cluster.
1.3 Establishment of focus groups
Smaller focus groups should be set up in the first two categories, ie the Africa cluster and Multilateral cluster, in accordance with the following guidelines:
1.4 Bilateral relations
The third cluster in the international relations programme will be the Bilateral Cluster and should be set up in accordance with the following guidelines:
Strategic bilateral relations could be pursued by means of specialised strategic committees/groups.
2. Administrative and content support
2.1 The subcommittee and focus groups will be supported administratively by the International Relations Unit, assisted by the Table Offices of both Houses, the Research Unit, the Protocol Unit, the Offices of the Presiding Officers, and other relevant units.
2.2 The International Relations Unit, in particular, must have the capacity required to perform key tasks such as providing content and logistical support to the international relations committee and its focus groups, preparing and briefing South African delegations.
2.3 The International Relations Unit should also create and maintain an up-to-date databank on the institution's international participation, including information on the various international protocols that South Africa is party to.
ISSUES TO BE REFERRED TO JOINT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS FOR CONSIDERATION