Inter-parliamentary diplomacy: Dutch MPs visit Ethiopia

Inter-parliamentary diplomacy: Dutch MPs visit Ethiopia

Ethiopian parliamentarians met last weekend (October 22) with a delegation of Dutch MPs at the House of People’s Representatives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Their discussions focused on possible cooperation to reduce poverty and unemployment.

Tesfaye Daba, Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Standing Committee of the House of People’s Representatives, in briefing the Dutch parliamentarians, reiterated Ethiopia’s uncompromising position on the importance of pro-poor and equitable development, embracing opportunities for youth in particular. This lies at the heart of Ethiopia’s development programs. He also noted that Ethiopia’s generosity in sheltering more than 800,000 refugees from various countries was a considerable burden. He would, he said, like to see support from the European Union and the Netherlands in particular to help refugees though economically productive mechanisms. Ethiopia is one of the leading countries sheltering refugees, helping them with access to humanitarian assistance and providing opportunities to access education and income generating activities in agriculture and in the new industrial park projects. Ato Tesfaye emphasized that Ethiopia in collaboration with its partners, was playing a major role in fighting Al-Shabaab in Somalia, adding that Al-Shabaab had currently been reduced to level where it was no longer such a serious threat to peace in the region. In conclusion, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Standing Committee said Ethiopia would like to see more investment from the Netherlands, particularly in the floriculture sector.

The head of the Dutch parliamentarian delegation, Ms. Loes Ypma, offered assurances that the Netherlands would continue to support Ethiopia’s efforts to reduce poverty and unemployment through continuing collaboration on trade and investment relations.

The Ethiopian Parliament participates in foreign policy activities through the ratification of international treaties and enactment of laws relating to the sovereignty, defense and security of the country; through parliamentary oversight mechanisms such as committee hearings, petitions, and where appropriate censure motions; through fiscal arrangements including approval of the annual budget for foreign activities and the Foreign Ministry; and recently through bilateral and multilateral diplomatic negotiations. Indeed, the role of the Ethiopian parliament in bilateral and multilateral diplomatic communications and negotiations in parliamentary diplomacy has been steadily increasing.

The number of countries showing interest in establishing parliamentary relations with Ethiopia has now reached over 30. Ethiopia is a member of various parliamentary unions and a considerable number of countries have forged bilateral relations with the Ethiopian lower house, the House of People’s Representatives.  The House uses parliamentary diplomacy as a means of image building in addition to serving as platform to acquire legislative and oversight experience as well as a basis for creating a conducive environment for the expansion of trade and investment on which much of Ethiopia’s foreign policy is based.

The House has established relations with members of parliament of the East African IGAD member countries, South, West and North African countries, the Middle East and European countries as a group. It has also established independent relations with member of parliaments of countries with which Ethiopia has special economic and political relations like the US, China, Japan and Korea in its efforts to help encourage peace and stability as well as economic development and democracy.  Besides participating in the Pan-African Parliament, the International Parliamentary Union, IGAD and other groupings, the House of People’s Representatives has been playing important role in advancing the causes of the African Union.

Parliamentary diplomacy is becoming a highly recommended form of diplomacy among scholars and practitioners. Members of parliament can bring alternative public views into parliament and put them to government and when relevant ensure they are reflected in the conduct of foreign policy. This will enhance the legitimacy of foreign policy initiatives. Parliament, in other words, can act as a clearing house for different aspirations, interests and view. Members of Ethiopia’s House of People’s Representatives, from nations, nationalities and peoples with diverse aspirations and interests, can represent a wide variety of views. This can enrich foreign policy approaches and activities.

Parliament, within a democratic setting, is a reservoir of public opinion. It can communicate opinions from within the societies it represents to the government and to the peoples of other countries. This can be done either through parliamentary visits or trans-national parliamentary activities. It enhances understanding between nations. The Ethiopian parliament through its oversight mechanisms evaluates the activities of the executive and the implementation of foreign policy directions on the one hand and has direct contact and communication with its constituency on the other. This means it reflects a broad based opinion which can help formulate enlightened national interest policies on a broad-based opinion of their counterparts in other countries.

There are also cases in which governments fail to resolve differences and disputes. Here parliamentary diplomacy can be useful, allowing members of the parliaments from different countries, through inter-parliamentary friendship groups, to discuss problems and find new ways of approaching them without committing governments. Less formal settings can encourage frankness and candid discussion, and makes it easier to reach a mutual understanding. It often allows solutions to problems to appear.

Equally, parliamentary diplomacy and inter-parliamentary discussion helps to build mutual confidence, trust and understanding. People-centered approaches in foreign policy decision making and in articulation of national interests are a vital element in reaching mutual respect and win-win formulations. In Ethiopia where the government is keen to expand regional cooperation and integration, inter-parliamentary diplomacy is a crucial element to expand links into a broad based and inclusive web of relations, to create a sense of community and to generate new thinking, new approaches and fresh ideas. This is an area in which inter-parliamentary fora are often more suited than direct inter-governmental relations.

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