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Elizaveta Gromoglasova

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Expert

Interest in studying parliamentary diplomacy is increasing steadily. A significant amount of articles and commentary devoted to the subject have been published in recent years, in which parliamentary diplomacy is analyzed both from a theoretical perspective (Parliamentary Diplomacy in European and Global Governance 2017, Noulas 2011, Konkov et al 2018, Beetham 2006, 155-182), and in its specific developments (Hallunaj, Goumenos 2018, Gawrich 2017). Along with the growing attention, the definitions of parliamentary diplomacy are multiplying. Their authors are both persons directly involved in the inter-parliamentary dialogue (members of parliaments, officials of inter-parliamentary organizations, etc.), and experts observing it from outside. Additionally, much depends on the institutional position of the authors.

One of the explanations of parliamentary diplomacy is, for example, the following: “the full range of international activities undertaken by parliamentarians in order to increase mutual understanding between countries, to assist each other in improving the control of governments and the representation of people and increase the democratic legitimacy of inter-governmental institutions” (Weiglas, de Boer 2007). This definition emphasizes the wholly independent and important role that parliaments play in international relations. From this point of view, the goal of parliamentary diplomacy is to strengthen understanding between countries. This can be achieved through the mutual cooperation of parliaments in enhancing their control over national governments. It is obvious that parliamentary diplomacy, understood in this way, somehow “discloses” the “black box” of nation-states' foreign policy. This is since it makes direct dialogue between national legislative bodies possible on a full range of matters, including on such a delicate, undoubtedly domestic political issue as parliamentary control over the executive.

Yet there is also a slightly different approach to parliamentary diplomacy. Just look at how it is explained and defined on the official website of the Helsinki Commission: “parliamentary diplomacy is an important tool in U.S. foreign policy, especially in the United States, where the legislative and executive branches share responsibility for foreign policy” (Parliamentary Diplomacy 2020). As we can see, here parliamentary diplomacy is understood as an important tool of U.S. foreign policy, with the help of which their national interests are promoted. In particular, it is specified that “in the OSCE region, U.S. interests are advanced through the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.” In this case, no doubt, we are dealing with a “state-centric” definition of parliamentary diplomacy. According to such a vision, parliamentary diplomacy is another instrument of U.S. foreign policy, and its primary goal is to advance the national interests of this state. In terms of goal-setting, this definition does not envisage a special goal or mission for parliamentary diplomacy, fully identifying its goal with the goals of traditional diplomacy, i.e., promoting and protecting the national interests of states.

Meanwhile, as the anti-Russian discursive “frame” is so strongly rooted in the multilateral European structures that it can't be changed overnight. But what can be done step by step is to move away from the discourse of exclusion of Russia. Arguments recognizing Russia's important and constructive role in maintaining both humanitarian and conventional security in Europe are to be entered into the discursive space. No doubt, they will have a positive impact on the quality of the inter-parliamentary dialogue between that country and its OSCE and CoE partners. It seems to be especially important now when the OSCE finds itself in a serious institutional crisis (Brzozowski 2020). It is true also in the light of a more broaden international context characterized by such an alarming trend as the crisis of multilateralism.

The studied example of inter-parliamentary cooperation between the Russian Federation and European states at two multilateral parliamentary “platforms” has been intended to show that the quality of inter-parliamentary dialogue and the efficiency of parliamentary diplomacy depend on the parliamentarians themselves and lie in their hands. Parliamentarians decide for themselves whether they choose their own arguments or follow the arguments already expressed by the official representatives of the nation-states. They choose the language of communication: whether it will be easily digestible and understandable to a global audience, but at the same time stereotyped and often far from real facts, or it will be more individual, based on their own understanding of what is happening and their own analysis of the facts. Parliamentarians themselves determine the logic of their communication with colleagues: whether they will pursue the national interest, as it is defined at the level of heads of states and foreign ministers, or will they find a more global, universal humanitarian perspective and view of the problems that are on the agenda.

As a result of all these individual choices, the “face” of parliamentary diplomacy is formed. And it is difficult to say what is more in it now: individuality or complementarity to intergovernmental diplomacy. Yet it is clear that parliamentarians have a certain degree of ambition and they will be able to develop approaches and offer recommendations to the international diplomatic community that will help to mitigate or, ideally, solve the most acute international and regional problems.

Interest in studying parliamentary diplomacy is increasing steadily. A significant amount of articles and commentary devoted to the subject have been published in recent years, in which parliamentary diplomacy is analyzed both from a theoretical perspective (Parliamentary Diplomacy in European and Global Governance 2017, Noulas 2011, Konkov et al 2018, Beetham 2006, 155-182), and in its specific developments (Hallunaj, Goumenos 2018, Gawrich 2017). Along with the growing attention, the definitions of parliamentary diplomacy are multiplying. Their authors are both persons directly involved in the inter-parliamentary dialogue (members of parliaments, officials of inter-parliamentary organizations, etc.), and experts observing it from outside. Additionally, much depends on the institutional position of the authors.

One of the explanations of parliamentary diplomacy is, for example, the following: “the full range of international activities undertaken by parliamentarians in order to increase mutual understanding between countries, to assist each other in improving the control of governments and the representation of people and increase the democratic legitimacy of inter-governmental institutions” (Weiglas, de Boer 2007). This definition emphasizes the wholly independent and important role that parliaments play in international relations. From this point of view, the goal of parliamentary diplomacy is to strengthen understanding between countries. This can be achieved through the mutual cooperation of parliaments in enhancing their control over national governments. It is obvious that parliamentary diplomacy, understood in this way, somehow “discloses” the “black box” of nation-states' foreign policy. This is since it makes direct dialogue between national legislative bodies possible on a full range of matters, including on such a delicate, undoubtedly domestic political issue as parliamentary control over the executive.

Yet there is also a slightly different approach to parliamentary diplomacy. Just look at how it is explained and defined on the official website of the Helsinki Commission: “parliamentary diplomacy is an important tool in U.S. foreign policy, especially in the United States, where the legislative and executive branches share responsibility for foreign policy” (Parliamentary Diplomacy 2020). As we can see, here parliamentary diplomacy is understood as an important tool of U.S. foreign policy, with the help of which their national interests are promoted. In particular, it is specified that “in the OSCE region, U.S. interests are advanced through the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.” In this case, no doubt, we are dealing with a “state-centric” definition of parliamentary diplomacy. According to such a vision, parliamentary diplomacy is another instrument of U.S. foreign policy, and its primary goal is to advance the national interests of this state. In terms of goal-setting, this definition does not envisage a special goal or mission for parliamentary diplomacy, fully identifying its goal with the goals of traditional diplomacy, i.e., promoting and protecting the national interests of states.

Mark Entin, Ekaterina Entina:
Testing by the Council of Europe

From a theoretical point of view, the first of the aforementioned definitions is rather permeated with the spirit of liberal theorizing about international relations. The second, on the contrary, resembles the views of realists. As it was rightly noted (Holsti 2006), the main international relations theories (realism, liberalism, constructivism, etc.) and their various combinations can be compared to “colored glasses” that always allow us to see international reality in a certain light, yet a number of features, at the same time, remain in the background. These “glasses” can affect both our expectations regarding parliamentary diplomacy and our assessment of its actual effectiveness.

If we approach parliamentary diplomacy from a realistic perspective, the divergence in assessments of the same international event or process made by the parliamentarians belonging to different national states is easily explainable for us, especially if these countries are in conflict or rivals to each other. Remaining realists, we also do not expect much from the inter-parliamentary assemblies in terms of their adoption of consensus-based declarations. Additionally, we are well aware that such declarations will be extremely general in their language and non-binding. On the contrary, parliamentary diplomacy can also be understood as a kind of contribution to a more closely-knit, interconnected world, strengthening national security by alternative, non-military, and less hierarchical (as opposed to traditional diplomacy) means. If we study parliamentary diplomacy from the perspective of theories that trace back to liberal tradition (like, for example, neoliberalism/liberal institutionalism, the theory of complex interdependence, etc.), then we certainly expect much more results from an inter-parliamentary dialogue.

By “dialogue” we usually mean the exchange of views, conversation, etc. This concept is so commonly used that, at first glance, it does not require any explanation. In diplomatic practice, this term is also very widespread. If, for example, after lengthy negotiations behind closed doors, their participants give only scanty comments that “the dialogue is continuing,” it can be regarded as a signal indicating the difficulties and, at the same time, unwillingness of the parties to stop the search for a mutually acceptable solution. In fact, despite its apparent obviousness, the term “dialogue” attracts both acting diplomats and researchers. There is even a view of diplomacy as a dialogue between states (Watson 1984). It is difficult to disagree with this perception since the only weapon of diplomats is the word. But it is not an easy task to conduct diplomatic dialogue. If we analyze it in terms of F. de Saussure, we find that several signifiers can hide behind the linguistic signs of diplomatic speech. And often, the context gives the addressee a key to deciphering and perception the meaning of the message.

Trustful interstate relations assume confidentiality and are created through non-public diplomatic dialogue. It has been a common practice for a long time (Oglesby 2016, 242-254). But as the public space expanded, diplomatic dialogue also became more open for the general society. Along with this transformation, other changes took place (Oglesby 2016, 242-254). First, diplomatic dialogue became stricter, more well-ordered, and codified. The modern diplomatic language is the language of the law. At present, any public diplomatic speech contains references to and excerpts from international legal acts. At the same time, the diplomatic dialogue got more accurate and factual. Indeed, it is precisely this concept of diplomatic dialogue (Rana 2001) that has become entrenched in the scientific literature. With confidence building in mind, diplomats use a language of communication that is characterized by accuracy, reliance on facts and their legal interpretation. This is an ideal standard for diplomatic dialogue and, at the same time, a guarantee of its effectiveness.

The emergence of new players in international relations, including parliamentarians, has brought new features into diplomatic communication. The inter-parliamentary dialogue, as well as the intergovernmental one, in its ideal form, is characterized by the factual accuracy of statements. In addition, by reason of a more direct connection with the peoples of their countries, parliamentarians involved in inter-parliamentary cooperation, in contrast to career diplomats, raise ethical and humanitarian issues more acutely; do not shy away from principled formulations, even if they may cast a shadow on allies and/or partnerships with other countries. The high sensitivity of parliamentary diplomacy to human rights issues, as well as its greater tendency to highlight ethical, humanitarian arguments, can be illustrated by several recent examples. So immediately after news broke concerning the resumption of the practice of the death penalty at the federal level in the U.S., the human rights leaders of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly appealed to the United States to revoke this decision (OSCE PA human rights leaders urge U.S. government to reconsider the decision to resume federal executions 2020). Meanwhile, the reaction from the national capitals of the OSCE member states was much less visible.

As another example, we can compare the reaction of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the members of the Russian State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, to the recent decision of the Turkish authorities to change the status of Hagia Sophia and convert it into a mosque. A rather restrained comment highlighting that the issue is “Turkey's internal affair” (Teslova 2020) came from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On the contrary, the reaction of the lower house of the Russian Parliament has been less reserved regarding the fate of this cultural and spiritual monument. Members of the Russian State Duma made an appeal to their colleagues from the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and asked them to influence the country's authorities to “prevent possible damage to Hagia Sophia” (The State Duma appealed to the Turkish Parliament on a possible decision to alter the status of Hagia Sophia, 2020).

These two examples show that parliamentary diplomacy adds what can be called a “democratic perspective” to international politics. It is more common for parliamentarians to assess international problems in terms of universal values. They promote a discourse of human rights, peace, solidarity, joining efforts in the face of global challenges. This, generally speaking, brings “added value” to parliamentary diplomacy. Playing its role, it organically complements traditional, intergovernmental diplomacy. But this is only one side of the coin. There is also another one. Modern inter-parliamentary cooperation is not free from such phenomena as “baffling the public” (Özdan 2020), relying on “word-formulas” and “code words” (Oglesby 2016, Rana 2001) instead of arguments, thoughtless borrowing from the intergovernmental discourse, poor elaboration of facts, and sometimes their deliberate distortion and some other negative tendencies. Classical diplomacy is also losing its independence from them. The reasons for the proliferation of these trends undermining the quality and effectiveness of international communication have been the subject of a number of studies (Duncombe 2017, Spies 2019).

Meanwhile, on a practical level, it is clear that both classical and parliamentary diplomats, in order to be effective, must not lower the high standards of dialogue that have been developed over a long time. But all these arguments will remain just a “mind game” if they won't be supported by practical examples. If we are thinking about whether parliamentary diplomacy is an added value or just a weak reflection of traditional diplomacy, we need to examine its practical manifestations.

One of the relevant and interesting examples is the parliamentary dialogue between Russia and the West (the European states and the United States), at such inter-parliamentary “platforms” as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. At present, the PACE and the OSCE PA are multilateral platforms, unique in terms of the breadth of their thematic agendas and the countries' representation, where the parliamentary dialogue between Russia, the European states and the United States takes place. It is not worth repeating that the value of such a dialogue increases in current conditions, characterized by a crisis of multilateralism, and dismantling of the arms control system before our eyes (Eggel, Galvin 2020).

The topics of the discussions that take place in the committees, commissions, and at the plenary sessions of these two Assemblies echo each other, but still, the work of each of them has its own specifics. The work of the OSCE PA is structured under three general committees in accordance with the three thematic “baskets” of the OSCE: 1) political issues and security; 2) economic, research, technical and environmental issues; 3) issues of democracy, human rights and humanitarian problems. The OSCE PA offers an opportunity to discuss and develop common approaches to a very wide range of problems: from resolving conflicts to finding answers to environmental challenges. Scientific and technological development, the launch of new integration projects, the strengthening of democratic institutions, a joint response to various humanitarian challenges (assistance to refugees, the development of universal health care, etc.) are not left without attention of the OSCE PA members.

Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has a clearer focus on protecting and promoting human rights. PACE is the statutory body of the Council of Europe and, in its activities, is guided by its statute. Any issues that are significant for the achieving of “a greater unity between CoE members” can be discussed in PACE. The Parliamentary Assembly makes recommendations to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe regarding common action in economic, social, cultural, scientific, legal and administrative matters and in the maintenance and further realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The goals of both Assemblies are in the best possible way consistent with the mission of parliamentary diplomacy if it is conceived in terms of strengthening trust and mutual understanding between nation-states. It would seem that the inter-parliamentary dialogue between Russia and the Western states at these two inter-parliamentary “platforms” should bring real results. It could be, for example, the move away from mutual recriminations towards a shared vision of a secure Europe committed to the protection of human rights, the rule of law and democratic governance. Moreover, the inter-parliamentary discussion could lead to the forming of an understanding that European security is to be built and maintained only by the joint efforts and on the base of mutual trust.

This result can be easily identified by a simple empirical analysis of the statements and speeches of parliamentarians. In this regard, it is important to assess how parliamentarians interpret threats. If their statements are dominated by the idea that countries and societies should unite in the face of common challenges and threats that are formed under the influence of objective factors, then there are more chances to move towards concrete diplomatic results. If the prevailing point of view is that threats come from within the organization and are caused by the wrong and/or aggressive policy of one of its members, then the inter-parliamentary discussion is dominated by a “discourse of exclusion,” dividing its members into “safeguards of order” and its “violators.” Such a discourse dilutes the depth of analysis of the problems facing societies and provokes a response from states, which become the objects of it. As a result, the “safeguards of order” and its “violators” simply change their places, and the discussion is reduced to an exchange of mutual accusations. The goals of inter-parliamentary platforms are undermined. The assemblies find themselves in crisis, dialogue does not lead to concrete results. This is a negative scenario. But if we explore a positive one, assuming that as a result of the discussion a constructive attitude and unifying discourse could be formed, then we can even expect a “spill-over” effect, i.e. the positive, healthy influence of the inter-parliamentary dialogue on intergovernmental discussions, where national interests are more clearly formulated and defended.

But reality always turns out to be more complex. Only the recently overcome crisis (Steininger 2018) in relations between Russia and PACE is a clear illustration of this. After the 2014 events that lead to the Crimean referendum, in PACE discussions have prevailed a point of view that excluded Russia from the list of states committed to the values and principles of the Council of Europe, and made its parliamentarians an easy target for pressure and sanctions. The chosen sanction strategy ended in failure, as the Russian delegation simply suspended its participation in the Assembly sessions until June 2019, when all its rights and credentials have been fully restored. This crisis has demonstrated the worthlessness of the sanction strategy. Certain lessons can be learned from this crisis. First, it shows the destructive consequences of discourse that excludes any state from among those who adhere to common values and principles and draws dividing lines within the inter-parliamentary organization. Secondly, the explanatory frame about “Russian aggression” against Ukraine excludes the obvious truth that people in our time will not allow themselves to be governed by force, and any modern government is the government exercised by the people in their own interests.

These reflections do not mean, however, that inter-parliamentary dialogue can be effective only if it is mutually pleasant. On the contrary, if it ceases to be critical, it will be reborn into empty chatter. To be effective, parliamentary dialogue is to remain principled and critical. But at the same time, it should not create walls within the inter-parliamentary organizations and, more broadly, between countries. After all, it has been conceived precisely as a means of overcoming barriers and misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, the development of dialogue between European and Russian parliamentarians at the PACE “platform” after the crisis can be assessed with a certain degree of optimism. Despite the fact that the PACE spring and summer sessions have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the work of the commissions, the bureau and the standing committee of the Assembly have been continuing via videoconferences. Russian parliamentarians have been taking an active part in it (Petr Tolstoy hopes that PACE will resume work in the usual format in Autumn 2020). There are a number of topics, like, for example, overcoming the consequences of the pandemic in various spheres of social life, the development of artificial intelligence technologies, the preservation of the cultural and linguistic diversity in Europe, etc., to the discussion of which Russian parliamentarians can bring a significant perspective. One can hope that substantive dialogue on these and other topics will make it possible to overcome the consequences of the crisis and increase the effectiveness of inter-parliamentary dialogue at the PACE “platform.”

Focusing on the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, one can say that although the events of 2014 did not lead to such a large-scale crisis that we have observed in PACE until recently, these events formed the basis of the stable anti-Russian rhetoric, which continues to be reproduced with enviable regularity in the OSCE PA inter-parliamentary discussions. At its annual sessions after 2014, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a number of declarations, which contain clauses calling on “the Russian Federation to restrain its aggressive practices and reverse its annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea” (OSCE PA Minsk Declaration 2017). One of the most recent statements in this spirit is an article written by the OSCE PA Vice-Speaker M.Cederfelt “Protecting the European security order during the corona outbreak” (Cederfelt 2020). It contains already familiar formulas about “little green men of Putin,” from which the “European security order” must be protected. The article refers to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. At the same time, its argumentation is based on the same discourse of exclusion, which has been one of the major driving forces behind the recent institutional crisis in PACE. The text adheres so clearly to the line of excluding even a faint hint that people living in Crimea have legitimate interests related to their linguistic and cultural identity and the right to determine their own destiny, which raises thoughts about the selective interpretation of the Helsinki principles regarding the situation under consideration. The author believes that the “European security order,” created thanks to the conclusion of the Helsinki Act and supported by the OSCE, needs protection from one of the members of this organization. Inevitably, the dividing line and the phantom of the “Russian threat” constructed through such discourse reduces the quality and effectiveness of the inter-parliamentary dialogue. It is obvious that it needs to be reframed. The emphasis should be shifted from geopolitical arguments to humanitarian ones, which have compelling legitimate grounds in international law.

Meanwhile, as the anti-Russian discursive “frame” is so strongly rooted in the multilateral European structures that it can't be changed overnight. But what can be done step by step is to move away from the discourse of exclusion of Russia. Arguments recognizing Russia's important and constructive role in maintaining both humanitarian and conventional security in Europe are to be entered into the discursive space. No doubt, they will have a positive impact on the quality of the inter-parliamentary dialogue between that country and its OSCE and CoE partners. It seems to be especially important now when the OSCE finds itself in a serious institutional crisis (Brzozowski 2020). It is true also in the light of a more broaden international context characterized by such an alarming trend as the crisis of multilateralism.

The studied example of inter-parliamentary cooperation between the Russian Federation and European states at two multilateral parliamentary “platforms” has been intended to show that the quality of inter-parliamentary dialogue and the efficiency of parliamentary diplomacy depend on the parliamentarians themselves and lie in their hands. Parliamentarians decide for themselves whether they choose their own arguments or follow the arguments already expressed by the official representatives of the nation-states. They choose the language of communication: whether it will be easily digestible and understandable to a global audience, but at the same time stereotyped and often far from real facts, or it will be more individual, based on their own understanding of what is happening and their own analysis of the facts. Parliamentarians themselves determine the logic of their communication with colleagues: whether they will pursue the national interest, as it is defined at the level of heads of states and foreign ministers, or will they find a more global, universal humanitarian perspective and view of the problems that are on the agenda.

As a result of all these individual choices, the “face” of parliamentary diplomacy is formed. And it is difficult to say what is more in it now: individuality or complementarity to intergovernmental diplomacy. Yet it is clear that parliamentarians have a certain degree of ambition and they will be able to develop approaches and offer recommendations to the international diplomatic community that will help to mitigate or, ideally, solve the most acute international and regional problems.


References

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Gawrich A. 2017. A Bridge with Russia? The Parliamentary Assemblies of the OSCE and of the Council of Europe in the Russia-Ukraine Crisis. In: Parliamentary Diplomacy in European and Global Governance. Ed. by S.Stavridis, D.Jancic. E-Book. pp.156-173.

Holsti O.R. 2006. Theories of International Relations. In: Making American Foreign Policy. Taylor and Francis Group. New York. pp.313-344.

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Özdan S. 2020. Subverting the Art of Diplomacy: Bullshit, Lies and Trump. Postdigit Sci Educ. Iss.2. pp. 95–112.

Parliamentary Diplomacy in European and Global Governance. 2017. Ed. by S.Stavridis, D.Jancic. E-Book. Brill & Nijhoff. 393 p.

Rana K. 2001. Language, Signalling and Diplomacy. In: Language and Diplomacy. Ed. by J.Kurbalija, H.Slavik. Diplo Foundation. Malta. 2001. 335 p. pp.107-115.

SpiesY. K. 2019. Global Diplomacy and International Society. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. 272 p.

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Weiglas F., de Boer G. 2007. Parliamentary Diplomacy. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy. Vol.2. Iss.1. pp.93-94.

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