16th Plenary Session of the Congress – Strasbourg (France)
Debate on Euro-Mediterranean co-operation: the role of Local and Regional Authorities
Speech by Jesmond MUGLIETT (Malta), Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), Vice-President of the 2nd Standing Committee, Member of the Parliament
3 March 2009
Closer to our citizens
1. The inception of PAM and Malta contributions
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean represents regional parliamentary diplomacy at its best and provides the Mediterranean region with a unique forum that brings together, on an equal footing, the National Parliaments of the Mediterranean littoral.
The first step towards the establishment of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean was taken during the 2nd Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean (CSCM) hosted by Malta in 1995.
The decision to establish the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean was eventually taken in Nafplion, Greece in 2005 and held its inaugural session in Amman Jordan in 2006. During the Amman meeting, it was unanimously decided to accept Malta’s candidature to host the Headquarters of the Assembly. The Headquarters were officially inaugurated during the second plenary session of the Assembly in Malta in November 2007.
The main objective of PAM is to build on the common heritage of the people of the Mediterranean region, to find common solutions to today’s challenges and work towards a peaceful and prosperous region for all.
1.1. PAM Structure
The detailed work of the PAM Assembly is carried out by the three Standing Committees. These Committees issue opinions and recommendations to parliaments and international organizations. Focus is being made on the following strategic areas:
First Standing Committee: Political and Security – related Cooperation, Regional Stability
Second Standing Committee: Economic, Social and Environmental Cooperation – Co-development and partnership
Third Standing Committee: Dialogue among civilizations and human rights
The Standing Committees determine their priorities on the basis of the key issues indicated by the Assembly. Each Standing Committee reports regularly to the Assembly on its activities. On certain issues, the Committee may agree to assign the discussion to an Ad Hoc Committee or a Special Task Force specifically created for that purpose. These working groups, composed of a core of 5 – 6 participants, are opened to all interested members of the Assembly to ensure the widest possible participation in debate on any given topic.
1.2 PAM’s Specific Objectives
PAM is a unique forum whose membership is open exclusively to Mediterranean countries which are represented on equal footing. Although the reports and resolutions adopted by PAM are not legally binding per se, they are a ‘soft diplomacy’ tool when dealing with Parliaments, governments and civil society in the region.
The major challenges being faced by PAM countries today are irregular migration, climate change, environmental degradation, the resurgence of conflict, energy issues and economic growth. These tough challenges do not start or stop at national borders and call for collective effort. Challenges might be regional and only regional solutions can address the challenges.
It would be overoptimistic if one were to try to identify tangible results from an organisation which is just over two years ago. In my opinion getting the organisation to function on a normal day to day basis, at all its levels is already a major result. Whilst the normal day to day functioning of PAM is now something taken for granted, we are witnessing constant initiatives of collaboration with other Parliamentary Assemblies (eg EuroMediterranean, council of Europe, NATO, WEU, Black Sea region, Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and other international bodies (UN, World Bank) which have a direct interest or role in the area.
A tangible result which is closer to our citizens is the appreciation of the different national perspectives. Irregular migration could have a particular meaning for a ‘receiving’ country from the north Mediterranean but totally different for a transit or sending country from the south Mediterranean. The immigration issue is very high on our agenda and PAM’s vocation as a platform for equal with equal dialogue is very well placed to promote beter understanding and cooperation on the challenging and complex problems of the Mediterranean region.
The discussions about irregular immigrations have brought heated debates about the issues leading to the displacement of peoples, to the issues of other types of displaced peoples, environmental refugees. There was great insistence that PAM embraces this plight in its discussion. It was a confirmation of the good work conducted by the particular task force on illegal migration, that during a meeting held in Limassol two weeks ago, Hon Tina Ashkoft corroborated the definitions of PAM on environmental refugees.
Similarly the debate about climate change could not but take into consideration the concerns of some of our Member Parliaments which are suffering changes to their physical geography brought about by man made infrastructural projects in neighbouring countries.
Emphasis is being made on integrated resource management thus exposing the need to collaborate more with international organisations, which would be closer to the required expertise and would have been already working on action plans and similar strategies for a number of years.
A young organisation is constantly refining its procedures. In order to surmount the limitations of its annual budget different member states are being asked to host the different standing committees, task forces and even plenary session meetings. Each country hosting particular meeting is taking the opportunity to expose its own particular solution to the challenge under discussion.
This chosen approach of exposing best practice will definitely lead to transfer of knowledge between the different member states. Moreover the different standing committee meetings and task force meetings are becoming an opportunity for guest speakers from international regulatory bodies, from the energy sector, disaster management, etc. We hope that this will lead to the strengthening of good governance.
We are also witnessing in some of the PAM meetings the new practice of ensuring the presence of Civil Society representatives. Considering that not all member states have the same culture of Civil Society, this practice could foster the culture which is also very close to the Council of Europe, that of active citizenship and participation.
PAM is very much aware that the lack of an overall peaceful settlement in the Middle East continues to deprive the peoples of the Mediterranean region from security, stability and development. PAM believes in the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and internationally recognised borders. PAM is trying to serve as catalyst for new approaches and hopefully to generate solutions, including on soft issues such as socio-economic and environment issues. PAM has a special task force on the Middle East problems and the General Secretariat together with this task force will be coordinating a delegation which will visit the region to see the problems that are being faced by the different communities.
2. Closer to Our Citizens.
One of the challenges of a parliamentarian working within an international Parliamentary organisation is to be acquainted with citizens’ opinions and concerns, in order that our institutions would be able to empower citizens to participate at all levels of the organisation. But this assertion brings to my mind a few complex questions, which I believe that are also common with other international parliamentary organisations:
What do we actually know about our greater constituency and what do our constituents know about us?
How can we involve citizens within our structure?
How can we bring our organisations closer to its citizens?
Three main democratic principles could enlighten us to answer these questions:
- Transparency; and
3. Organisations that are open and transparent
In practice, most of our citizens are unable to visit and actively participate in all of our structures. Nonetheless we should do anything within our powers to inform and educate our citizens about our work and engage their interest and attention. The rapid development of the new forms of communication such as ‘internet’ could also facilitate an interactive relationship between our organisations and citizens, rather than just a one-way communication. As an example, our PAM’s relatively new website is increasingly becoming popular and from its inception till date there were over 250,000 hits; an average of 15,000 hits per month. Official internet portals facilitate the link between citizens and representatives; perhaps we could go a step further and suggest hyperlinks to MPs personal websites. Parliamentarians, who have such a facility, could upgrade their websites with personal experiences and contributions within our international parliamentary organisations. Citizens cannot hope to influence us unless they are first fully informed about what we are doing.
3.1. Taking our organisations to the people
It is acknowledged that amongst all age groups young people are the least likely to be involved in politics. In view of this situation, we will be taking concrete steps to engage the interests of students and young people in our work. As an example, one of PAM resolutions envisaged by the Standing Committee on Dialogue among Civilisations and Human came up with the proposal to organise an annual Mediterranean Day. All PAM Member Parliaments are expected to celebrate the Mediterranean Day on the 21st of March with the theme ‘shared values and shared aspirations’ with young people as the target focus . Young people do make a difference and can assist us to instil and inculcate a ‘WE’ culture amongst Mediterranean citizens.
4. Accessible organisations
4.1. Empowering citizens to seek redress
An important function for parliaments is to provide a framework through which citizens can raise grievances and have them investigated. Although this does not necessarily fit in our direct remit, we could serve as the place where citizens can raise a concern about Mediterranean authorities.
Keeping in mind our financial and legislative limitations, we can use media to raise concerns on grievances experienced by Mediterranean citizens and where applicable urge public authorities to redress citizens’ rights.
4.2. Citizen involvement in the Resolution process
Akin to other international organisations, it is our intention to continue to issue invitations for public submissions or public hearings. Our institutions are good models where this kind of public hearing could be fostered. Moreover, we should enhance an enabling approach where citizens and social groups could forward submissions for discussions. This practice is becoming more widespread and systematic amongst international parliamentary organisations. This would facilitate citizens’ involvement in the shaping up process of resolutions. Resolutions constitute our formal statement of a decision; our expression of opinion to be adopted by the Assembly; a course of action to start changing things in the Mediterranean and ameliorate the quality of life of all Mediterranean citizens. Undoubtedly this means that involving citizens in the resolution process is another way of getting our institutions closer to citizens.
PAM Secretary General Mr Sergio Piazzi is inviting various national and international NGOs to participate in PAM Standing Committees’ and Special Task Forces’ meetings. Meeting with NGOs and social groups could get parliamentarians closer to Mediterranean diverse and culturally rich societies. However, parliamentarians should bear in mind the representation and independency of NGOs and what weight they should be given. The setting up of a Mediterranean public forum or an NGO Assembly is an idea which we will definitely explore in the future..
4.3. Acquiring technical knowledge
Another plan we have for the future is the collaboration with various Mediterranean universities, we can start a network for sharing of evidence-based research on the socio-cultural and economic characteristics and indicators of southern Mediterranean citizens. Nevertheless, academics can network with parliamentarians to draft and circulate thematic questionnaires among all countries. This is another way to know the context of our Mediterranean citizens.
4. Conclusion and recommendations
The concern to bridge the gap between our institutions and our citizens should be seen as a positive impetus. Despite the fact that the reasons that should unite citizens of the Mediterranean far surpass those that divide them, the Mediterranean as a region continues to suffer from political differences and disputes whose origins date back many centuries. Furthermore, new challenges, such as the effects of globalisation, energy, water, international and internal migrations, brain-drain, terrorism, money laundering, organised crime, environmental degradation and human trafficking, are just a few of the common problems that the region is facing and that must be addressed at regional level. The lack of peace in the Middle East continues to be one of, if not the main problem, threatening the whole process of security, stability and development of the Mediterranean region.
In previous roles as a minister with various portfolios I have witnessed the sterling work of the Council of Europe in such areas as youth affairs, sports, culture. I know that this is just a tip of the remit covered by the Council of Europe. I am not speaking for myself when I say that we look up at the work of the Council of Europe as a beacon for exposing key issues, best practice and the engagement of all stakeholders. I believe that I safely say that this applies also to the non European members of the PAM. In my opinion the greatest contribution of the COE is the fostering of a democratic and participative culture of governance.
The Council of Europe’s philosophy of engaging all levels of Government, as witnessed by this plenary session and Civic society is also something which members of PAM would like to emulate. We look forward to deepening the already established collaboration with the Council of Europe to our mutual benefit and hope that our work is of relevance to the committee of regions to which we offer our invitation for more collaboration.