As we have seen with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), trade deals are not only about creating or manufacturing products and selling them to other countries or continents. Today, trade deals relate to subjects that are a part of our daily lives, such as employment, transportation or public health.
In this case, it must be said that the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements that have a great impact on our daily lives must be better known by the respective nations of the member states of the WTO. In other terms, these trade deals must be better known by the representatives of these nations. A strong link must therefore be created between the WTO and the national parliaments of its member states. In order to create such a strong link and, at the same time, legitimize and democratize these trade agreements, the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO (PCWTO) was officially established through the initiatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU),the European Union (EU), and, especially, the European Parliament (EP).
Historically, the Parliamentary Conference is the fruit of several successive WTO Ministerial Conferences. The First Ministerial Conference was held in 1996 in Singapore, during which it is said that an informal meeting between members of parliaments (MPs) took place; however, due to the meeting’s informal nature, no document was adopted at the end. This informal inter-parliamentary meeting, though unofficial, is considered to be the first Parliamentary Conference.
Subsequently, during the Third WTO Ministerial Conference, which was held in 1999 in Seattle, it was decided that a “permanent body of MPs” was be established. It must, however, be emphasized that large-scale protests took place during this Ministerial Conference, and that both the poor states’ representatives within the WTO and those protesting in the streets expressed their dissatisfaction with the non-transparency of the WTO. These protests also served as an impetus for the creation of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO.
Following this, during the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference in 2001 in Doha, the intention to establish a parliamentary representation in the WTO was repeated by the MPs who were assembled on the occasion of a “Parliamentary Meeting”. This intention was expressed in the final declaration of this parliamentary meeting as follows: “We, the Parliamentarians from the WTO members assembled at Doha restate our conviction that global trade concerns every individual and society as a whole. Therefore, parliamentary participation is necessary to ensure better representation of citizens and we advocate a parliamentary dimension to the WTO”. In order to achieve this goal, the First Parliamentary Conference on the WTO was held in February 2003, in Geneva.
In light of this short introduction and brief history of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO, the question that this research is going answer is: “To what extent has the role of the European Parliament transformed the PCWTO into an efficient democratizing entity?”
To answer this question,in the first part, the EP and the PCWTO are going to be explained and compared as two entities that follow similar democratizing objectives. Then, in the second part, the level and lack of cooperation between these two entities are going to be discussed.
1. The European Parliament and the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO : Two Democratizing Entities
Even though they have different juridical natures, the EP and the PCWTO are both focused on the legitimization notion. First of all, in this first part, the research is going to focus on the objectives of two entities which are clearly based on the legitimization notion (A) and then, the juridical nature of these two entities as a source of nuance (B) will to be discussed.
A. Objectives Clearly Based on the “Legitimization” Notion
Before focusing on the PCWTO, a general outlook on the EP is essential. Indeed, as it is already known, the EP was only a consultative institution before becoming the main democratizing pillar of the European construction. Today, the EP tries to spread parliamentary system all around the world. One of the means to achieve this objective is to influence all IGOs (Intergovernmental Organizations), and the WTO is not an exception. Furthermore, thanks to this will to democratize IGOs, the WTO’s actions are going to be legitimized.
First of all, a distinction is made between the “voices of the member states of the WTO” and the “voices of the people of these member states”. The formers are represented by their respective governments, and the latter are represented by their national parliaments. The distinction between these two voices is important to underline because they are the voices of the people who are going to increase the legitimization of the WTO.
National parliaments have a dual role in their respective states, the first of which is to legitimize agreements signed by their respective governments via a ratification process; and the second of which is to control their own executive organs. So, it must be understood that the creation of the Parliamentary Conference (PC) is a question of legitimacy and this PC provides an environment for discussions between the representatives of governments and the members of parliaments (MP) of the WTO’s member states.
By providing this opportunity of discussion between the governments and the parliaments, the PCWTO, firstly, helps to change the input of the WTO agreements because the governments can, thanks to the PCWTO, take into consideration the parliamentarians’ opinion.Secondly, thanks to these discussions, the ratification process of the agreements will also be speeded up in the national parliaments, because the governments’ negotiators will not be obliged to explain the agreements’ contents to their MPs during the ratification process. So, in other words, the earlier parliamentarians are involved, the faster the ratification is completed. Thanks to these two contributions of the environment for discussions, provided by the PCWTO, a legitimate and well-understood agreement will beapplied more effectively in each member state.
Thirdly, the Parliamentary Conference gives the opportunity to the national parliaments to communicate also with the MPs of the other member states. These dialogues are very important because they can provide a better understanding between national parliaments. Thanks to this better understanding, parliamentarians can see more clearly if, in other parts of the world, their counterparts want more or less freedom of trade in their own countries.
Last but not least, the fact is that parliamentarians come from different constituencies. Thanks to the PCWTO, they can improve the public understanding on the concluded agreements. They can then persuade their own constituencies that the agreement will be for their benefit.
B. The Juridical Nature of These Two Entities: The Beginning of Nuances
The main objective of this sub-section is to explain the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO by means of a comparison between the PCWTO and the EP.
One of the juridical differences between these two entities is linked to their institutional structure. The EP is one of the seven institutions of the European Union; as for the PCWTO, it is a conference which might be considered as a “forum” between the national parliaments. As a result of this institutional difference, the PCWTO doesn’t have any headquarters. The EP, on the other hand, has its own seat in Strasbourg.
A second juridical difference is that the European Parliament can adopt some binding decisions with the Council of the European Union thanks to the ordinary legislative procedure. The PCWTO, on the other hand, only adopts non-binding declarations or outcome documents at the end of the meetings.
Another juridical difference is a historical one. The EP has been juridicially enhanced since its creation but the same thing cannot be said for the PCWTO which has kept the same juridical importancesince its creation in 2003.
2. The European Parliament and the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO : A Perfectible Cooperation
The EP and the PCWTO both have strong links with the notion of legitimization, and their main objectives are focused on this notion. This is the main reason why their cooperation could go even further.In this second part, first of all, the role of the European Parliament as one of the main actors inside the PCWTO is going to be clarified (A). Then, secondly, the lack of cooperation between these two entities and its results are going to be explained (B).
A. The European Parliament : One of the Main Actors Inside
The European Parliament is a part of the PCWTO. As it is mentioned in the Article 3.1 of the Rules of Procedure of the PCWTO: “The Conference is presided over jointly by the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the President of the European Parliament, or their substitutes”. This is clear proof as to the importance of the EP in the PCWTO but not the only one. Indeed, the PCWTO is composed of a Steering Committee and a Secretariat. The Rules of Procedure say, in Article 4.1 that “The Steering Committee is jointly established by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the European Parliament (…)”.
The Steering Committee might be considered as the executive organ of the PCWTO. Inside this Committee, there are 30 representatives who come from various members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The Information and External Relations Division of the WTO observes this Committee and can lay out up-to-date information about the Doha Round.
The purpose of this Committee is to ensure parliamentary representation through the PCWTO inside the WTO. This Committee is the executive organ of the response to all critical point of views against the WTO system today. It must not be forgotten that the main objectives of the PCWTO are to provide and ensure the entire transparency and fairness to the international economic governance.
B. The Obviousness of The Lack of Cooperation Between These Two Entities and Its Results
First of all, it must be known that the EP’s role inside the PCWTO is to act as a “mediator” that links the PCWTO to the Ministerial Conference. In this case, if the EP doesn’t fulfill its missions, the PCWTO will be inefficient as a democratizing entity.
To date, eleven outcome documents have been adopted by the PCWTO but only a few of them allude to the EP.Furthermore, it can be seen clearly that these few references are simply asking the EP to fulfill its missions as a mediator. To give an example:
- 2003 Declaration (Geneva) point 12: “We call upon the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the European Parliament, as joint organizers of this meeting, to implement and work on agreed objectives adopted consensually by the post-Doha Steering Committee”.
- 2003 Declaration (Cancun)point 15: “We call upon the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the European Parliament, as joint organizers of this meeting, to give practical shape to our objectives adopted consensually at this Parliamentary Conference”.
- 2004 Declaration (Brussels)point 22:“We instruct the IPU and the European Parliament to take the steps required, in the Steering Committee, to ensure that this declaration is followed up in the WTO Secretariat”.
It is clear that these declarations are the first declarations of the PCWTO and they ask the EP to “put into practice” their demands. But a quotation from the 2016 annual session of the PCWTO shows that the EP fails to act as a mediator between the PCWTO and the Ministerial Conference. Ambassador Herald Neple, as the Chairperson of the WTO General Council was saying these: “You probably all know, that the process to reach agreements at the Ministerial Conference has been criticized. I believe there is a common understanding among Members that we have to take this seriously and seek to avoid repeating this by emphasizing the need for transparency and inclusiveness in our preparations for the next ministerial conference”. This quotation shows us that the goals of “transparency” and “inclusiveness” were still not achieved in the WTO in spite the fact that the PCWTO has officially existed for nearly fifteen years. This inefficiency of the PCWTO shows us the lack of cooperation between the EP and the PCWTO.
As a result of this lack of cooperation the PCWTO has already lost the ambition and determination that it had at the beginning. This can be seen clearly, through the decrease in the number of points that compose the declarations or the outcome documents.
In 2003, the first two declarations were composed of 12 and 15 points; in 2004 and 2005, the number of declarations increased to 22 and 25 respectively. But then, there is a drastic decrease to only 9 points in 2006. Since then, the numbers have never risen beyond 16. This situation might be interpreted as a “loss of interest” by the PMs in the PCWTO as a result of its inefficiency.
This loss of interest can also be seen in the number of participants to the 2016 PCWTO. In total, there were only 57 states which were represented by their respective MPs. As for the governments, there were only 44 state governments were present in this annual PCWTO meeting. In the 2005 annual session that took place in Hong Kong, there were more than 70 states represented by their respective national parliaments.
The PCWTO is not efficient enough to legitimize and democratize the activities or agreements of the WTO. There are several reasons that explain this inefficiency.
First of all, it is written in its Rules of Procedure that the PCWTO is held “annually”. But in 2007, 2009 and 2010, no PCWTO was organized. This situation shows that the PCWTO is not taken seriously by its organizers.
Secondly the PCWTO is only a conference and cannot take binding decisions.As a result of this juridical powerlessness no other international actor sees the PCWTO as an important entity.
Thirdly, the duration of the annual PCWTO meetings is not long enough. These meetings are usually organized for only two days and for the MPs that have to understand the content of an agreement, discuss with the other MPs and with their respective governments, and maybe with also the other governments, these two days are not sufficient. It might be repeated that the Ministerial Conferences are organized for four or five days.
Lastly, it must be mentioned that this inefficiency cannot be attributed to the PCWTO alone. The fact that the EP, as one of the presiding entities of the Steering Committee, does not fulfill its role also has a great impact on this inefficiency problem.
 The IPU is an “international parliamentary organization” that established in 1889. Its members are national parliaments. Today, the IPU has 171 national parliaments as its members.
Point one of the Final Declaration of the Parliamentary Meeting (11 November 2001)
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