memorandum by Mr Lindblad, rapporteur
In January 2005, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Resolution 1421 (2005)
relations between Europe and the United States.Note
was a response to a significant deterioration in the transatlantic relationship
after a series of mutual misunderstandings between the United States
and a number of its European partners on foreign policy issues,
including the United States’ decision to start a war in Iraq without the
approval of the United Nations Security Council.
2. The resolution contained, inter
alia, a series of proposals aimed at fostering parliamentary
contacts between the Assembly and the United States Congress, including
a call for the latter to consider applying for observer status with
While the general climate in United States-Europe relations
has considerably improved since the election of Barack Obama as
the new President of the United States, what struck me was that
contacts between the Assembly and the United States Congress were
almost inexistent, and that the initiative of the Assembly to engage
in a dialogue with the United States Congress, as expressed in Resolution 1421 (2005)
remained without response.
4. I find this situation regrettable. Parliamentary dialogue
is an important channel of political communication which provides
opportunities to openly discuss concerns, interests and differences
of the parties involved, to dispel misunderstandings and to prevent
conflicts. It is a necessary component of a genuine partnership.
In my view, the lack of dialogue between the Assembly and the United
States Congress is a missed opportunity for both sides.
5. I therefore initiated a motion for a resolution in order to
explore practical possibilities for establishing working contacts
with the United States congressmen. In my capacity as rapporteur,
I had a series of meetings with members and the staff of the United
States Congress, both during my visit to Washington DC (March 2010) and
during visits to the United States in my national capacity.
situation: lack of co-operation
6. Since 1995, the United States has enjoyed observer
status with the Council of Europe. Resolution (95) 37 of the Committee
of Ministers on observer status for the United States of America
with the Council of Europe noted that “the United States share the
ideals and values of the Council of Europe”, and further referred
to “the particular interest of the United States of America in strengthening
co-operation with a view to increasing stabilisation in the new
democracies of central and eastern Europe”.
The request for observer status at intergovernmental level,
however, has not been followed by a similar move at parliamentary
level. In Recommendation
on the request by the United States of America for
observer status with the Council of Europe, the Assembly stated
as follows: “It will give careful consideration in due course to
the separate issue of appropriate status for the United States Congress”
I must recall that, at that time, a number of influential
members of the United States Congress expressed interest in establishing
a dialogue with the Assembly. I quote the letter sent to the then
President of the Assembly, Miguel Angel Martínez, by the Co-Chairmen
of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Tom Lantos and John Edward
Porter (November 1995):
learned with great interest of the August letter in which Assistant
Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke expressed to Secretary General
Tarschys the interest of the United States in acquiring formal observer
status at the Council of Europe. …
... We further understand that, should a relationship
of this nature be established, the Parliamentary Assembly would
desire and expect a similar linkage to be established with the Congress
of the United States, in order to permit a dialogue among legislators,
like the one which will result between the member states and the
United States as a newly admitted observer.
While it is premature at this juncture to make any commitment
as to the nature of such an eventual interchange between the US
Congress and the Parliamentary Assembly, we would like to assure
you, Mr President, of our keen interest in expanding dialogue with
fellow legislators concerning the transition to democracy and respect
for human rights in central and eastern Europe. We are well aware
of the valuable role played by the Parliamentary Assembly in advancing
the cause of human rights in Europe. Accordingly, we want to convey
to you the interest of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to
serve as your point of contact with the United States Congress until
other permanent arrangements can be worked out.”
9. In practice, however, the United States Congress has since
then shown no further interest in developing a stable relationship
with the Assembly, let alone in the issue of observer status. Moreover,
for many years now, members of the United States Congress have not
used their right to participate, on an equal footing with other
delegations, in the annual debates on the activities of the OECD
held by the Assembly.
10. This does not mean that the United States congressmen take
no interest in European affairs, and in particular in the issues
dealt with by the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly.
On the contrary, during my visits to the United States and my contacts
with members of the Congress, as I informed my counterparts of our
activities, I could feel a genuine interest in obtaining information
and looking for opportunities to co-operate on matters of European
(for example, stabilisation in the Balkans, situation in the countries
of the former Soviet Union, in particular in the Caucasus, etc.)
and wider international politics (Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan,
conflict prevention and post-conflict rehabilitation, non-proliferation,
terrorism, drugs, corruption, trafficking, etc.).
11. However, one has to bear in mind a number of factors which
may explain the lack of enthusiasm of the United States lawmakers
to engage actively with our Assembly.
12. Firstly, the United States Congress is rather reluctant when
it comes to institutionalised international relations, and prefers
pragmatic forms of co-operation and ad hoc contacts. It does not
participate in the activities of the IPU and has only three standing
official delegations for relations with foreign partners (Canada, Mexico
and the European Parliament).
13. Secondly, there is a question of preferences. In its relations
with European partners, the United States Congress clearly gives
priority to those institutions and formats where it enjoys full
membership and is the key actor, such as the parliamentary assemblies
of the OSCE and NATO and the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue
with the European Parliament.
14. As concerns the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, American participation
is ensured by the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation
in Europe (“the Helsinki Commission”), where both the Senate and the
House of Representatives are represented, as well as members of
the executive branch. Members of this commission attend meetings
in Europe at least three times per year: annual sessions and winter
and autumn meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
15. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly (formerly North Atlantic Assembly)
also enjoys active participation of the United States congressmen.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly holds two sessions a year in Europe (“annual
sessions” in November and “spring sessions” in May), and once a
year organises a Parliamentary Transatlantic Forum, a meeting held
in Washington DC focusing on transatlantic relations. In addition,
each year, one of the five committees of the assembly holds a meeting
in North America.
16. In the framework of the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue
with the European Parliament, two meetings are organised per year,
one in Europe (usually in the capital of the country holding the
European Union presidency) and one in the United States. When meetings
take place in Washington DC, participants are often received at
the highest political level (namely Vice-President, Speaker of the
House of Representatives), which shows the importance that the United
States leadership attaches to these relations.
17. Although these three formats differ on many accounts, they
have a number of features in common: the United States congressmen
participate as fully fledged members; they often assume key positions
in the structure of these institutions/fora; they have a decisive
say on the political agendas to be dealt with. Moreover, when meetings
are held in the United States, it makes it easier for the congressmen
18. At the same time, one has to bear in mind some practical aspects
which the United States congressmen face when getting actively involved
in international co-operation.
19. On the one hand, it should be recalled that foreign policy
issues, however important, do not have the same priority for the
majority of the United States congressmen as those relating to domestic
20. For many of them, participating in international contacts
abroad can only come at the expense of an active involvement in
their constituencies and is often seen as risky for their political
careers, especially taking into consideration the media pressure
which has substantially grown since the beginning of the economic
crisis. Visits to Europe are often depicted as “leisure trips” and
mostly receive negative media coverage.
21. On the other hand, the rhythm of political life in the United
States is extremely intense, with elections to the House of Representatives
taking place every two years. The calendar of legislative activities
keeps congressmen mobilised in Washington DC almost all week. On
weekends, most congressmen return to their constituencies. One should
not forget the dimensions of the United States, which make travelling
across the country very time-consuming, and the distance between
the United States and Europe. As a result, it is not easy for the
congressmen to find time in their agendas for international activities
22. In addition, due to the economic crisis and budgetary constraints,
both chambers of the Congress have recently introduced additional
restrictions on foreign travel of their members.
3 Options for improving
23. All these considerations taken into account, one
should not have too high expectations as regards the prospects of
future co-operation between the Congress and our Assembly.
Realistically, I do not see any chances for the United States
Congress to attempt to enter into any kind of formally institutionalised
relationship with the Assembly in the near future, inasmuch as it
has not shown any interest until now. Furthermore, our Assembly
would not be in a position to grant it on grounds of principle.
In particular, as far as observer status is concerned, I recall
that in Resolution 1253
on the abolition of the death penalty in Council
of Europe observer states, the Assembly resolved as follows (paragraph
“The Assembly decides to
henceforth only grant observer status with the Assembly to national parliaments,
and to only recommend the granting of observer status with the Organisation
as a whole to states which strictly respect a moratorium on executions
or have already abolished the death penalty.”
25. That said, without being unnecessarily optimistic, I believe
that some forms of pragmatic interaction with the American congressmen
could be found, provided that we identify the purpose of such interaction
(and the benefits sought), the issues which could be of common interest
or common concern for both the Assembly and the United States Congress,
and the possible partners within the Congress.
26. In my opinion, co-operation with the United States
Congress should seek to (a) make the activities, experience and
achievements of the Assembly known to American partners; (b) offer
channels for frank discussion on issues of concern in order to avoid
misunderstandings, as well as on issues of fundamental disagreement
(for example, the abolition of death penalty); (c) explore possibilities
for co-ordinated efforts in promoting democracy, respect for human
rights and the rule of law, and in tackling major threats and challenges
to modern societies.
3.2 Possible issues
27. As mentioned above, my contacts with American colleagues
have shown their interest in a broad spectrum of issues dealt with
by the Assembly, with particular focus on matters relating to European
stability. Taking into account its specific activities in the framework
of its monitoring procedure, the Assembly has a lot of information
and experience to share on democracy building in the former communist
countries. Other European issues of interest for the Americans are
the stabilisation in the post-conflict or potentially hot spots such
as the Balkans and the Caucasus, and the situation in Belarus. In
a broader international context, my interlocutors were sensitive
to our activities in relation to the Middle East and Iran, as well
as to various transversal matters like conflict prevention and post-conflict
rehabilitation, non-proliferation, fight against and prevention
of international terrorism, modern-day maritime piracy, drugs, corruption
and money laundering, organised crime, trafficking in human beings,
3.3 Possible counterparts
28. In my view, the best partner for the Assembly to
build practical and flexible relationship would be the United States
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (“the Helsinki
Commission”). It is composed of members of the Senate and the House
of Representatives who have both the experience and the interest in
European issues, and who represent the United States Congress in
the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. My meetings with the co-chairmen
and the staff of the commission showed interest in establishing
some form of co-operation.
29. In the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs,
there is a Europe Sub-Committee. Similarly, the Senate Committee
on Foreign Relations has a Sub-Committee on European Affairs. Those
two sub-committees seem to be natural partners for the Assembly
as regards the exchange of information and possible interaction
on European issues.
30. Furthermore, in both chambers’ above-mentioned committees,
there are sub-committees dealing with international organisations
and human rights (namely the Sub-Committee on International Operations
and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues
in the Senate, and the International Organizations, Human Rights
and Oversight Sub-Committee in the House of Representatives). Those
two sub-committees may also be interested in contacts with the Assembly
on human rights related matters.
31. Another possibility would be to seek to revive contacts with
the former Congressional Human Rights Caucus which has now been
formally institutionalised as the “Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission”.
It aims to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognised
human rights norms as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.
32. I would also mention, as potential partners, those members
of the United States Congress who have official functions or participate
in the activities of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and in the
Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue.
3.4 Opportunities for
contacts and co-operation
33. For many of the reasons explained above, it is not
realistic to expect the regular presence of American congressmen
at the sessions of the Assembly, or any other kind of burdensome
commitments on their part. That should not be the goal for the Assembly.
I believe that, rather than establishing a formal relationship without
substantial grounds for it, it is much more important to create
the fabric of mutual relations, and to fill it with substance.
34. The President of the Assembly could consider taking the initiative
to revitalise the relations with the Congress, bring to the attention
of the leaders of both chambers of the Congress various opportunities
of co-operation with the Assembly, including the annual debates
on the activities of the OECD where the United States congressmen
may take part as fully fledged participants, and encourage to make
use of them.
35. Relevant committees of the Assembly, in particular the Political
Affairs Committee, should be encouraged to seek to establish ad
hoc substance-oriented contacts with their American counterparts, exchange
information within their respective work programmes, and organise
when appropriate joint discussions through modern communication
technologies (videoconferences, for example). Similarly, where appropriate
and feasible, rapporteurs of Assembly committees might participate
in hearings organised by various congressional committees, subject
to the availability of budgetary resources. The staff on both sides could
be asked to liaise regularly and to keep each other informed on
the respective work programmes, agendas and calendars of meetings.
36. It should be possible to arrange, on an ad hoc basis, meetings
between the Assembly representatives and the United States congressmen
who attend various activities in Europe. For instance, members of
the Assembly who represent it at the meetings of the OSCE and NATO
Parliamentary Assemblies meetings (annual and other sessions of
both assemblies, Rose-Roth seminars, etc.) could systematically
be asked by the Bureau to meet the United States Congress delegations
37. Furthermore, the Assembly could make more effective use of
the opportunities to participate in various meetings organised by
the OSCE and NATO parliamentary assemblies where American congressmen
are present, and make substantial contributions reflecting the Assembly’s
work and positions.
38. The presence in Europe of the American participants in the
Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue could also provide opportunities
for arranging meetings with representatives of the Assembly. Moreover,
one could explore the possibility for the Assembly to be associated
in one form or another with these meetings. My understanding is
that there would be no opposition to it from the American side.
39. One concrete example of an Assembly activity in which some
of my interlocutors showed interest is the visit to the United Nations
organised once every two years by the Sub-Committee on External
Relations. Given the traditional scepticism of the Americans towards
the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, it might
be useful to organise on these occasions some joint European/American
meetings with United Nations officials and discuss ways to make
this global institution more efficient and active in promoting and
defending universal values. Likewise, opportunities for parliamentary
dialogue and interaction in other international organisations could
be further explored.
40. Last, but certainly not least, a regular exchange of information
between the Assembly and the Congress should not be too difficult
to establish, at least as regards the resolutions adopted by the
Assembly which could be of interest to the Americans, or which deal
with issues related to the United States.
41. Contrary to what some of us might think, the transatlantic
parliamentary dialogue is ongoing, but the Assembly is not currently
part of it. In my view, this situation is unfortunate and should
42. I am convinced that the involvement of the Assembly in the
dialogue with the American congressmen would be beneficial for transatlantic
partnership as it would enable issues which are very important to
the Assembly to be brought to the table, and would contribute to
the promotion of the values and principles of democracy, human rights
and the rule of law.
43. While any kind of formally institutionalised relationship
with the Congress is unrealistic, the Assembly should take new initiatives
to establish working contacts with the United States Congress, as
well as make use of the existing forms of Euro-American dialogue,
with a view to developing pragmatic and meaningful interaction and
co-operation with our American colleagues.