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Parliamentary Development

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Anonymous 8 July 2012

As one of the cornerstones of modern democracies, parliaments form important entry points for supporting democracy. Parliamentary strengthening, nonetheless, is a relatively young domain. Between 2000 and 2010, the EC has supported parliamentary development in over thirty countries, for a total sum of approximately EUR 140 million. The main beneficiaries of this support are located in Africa, however, the geographic focus of parliamentary strengthening is steadily widening towards global coverage.

In 2010, the European Commission performed a thorough review of its parliamentary development activities worldwide, taking stock of past practices in a variety of different contexts. Based on this review several important lessons were drawn, leading to the formulation of practical guidelines for parliamentary support worldwide in a reference document.

Support to parliaments today is moving beyond the traditional modalities of capacity building for MPs and secretarial staff and increasingly includes a wide range of relevant actors such as parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs), parliamentary committees, think tanks, Supreme Audit Institutions, media, etc. New areas of attention include, among others, the role of parliaments in the national budget process, and strengthening oversight over the security sector. Moving into the second phase of parliamentary development, the EC is making efforts to further integrate parliamentary support in the broader democratic and transitional processes. Parliamentary performance is progressively being assessed on a case-by-case basis, leading to a more integrated, and effective approach to democracy support.

Framework for the design of parliamentary support programmes

To improve parliamentary development programming, the EC has developed a comprehensive framework for the design of parliamentary support programmes. This framework consists of an evaluation of the preconditions for parliamentary development (pre-assessment), followed by a three phase process:

  1. Context analysis and identification of the main informants
  2. Assessment phase: a comprehensive assessment of performance in key parliamentary functions
  3. Interpretation of results and a systematic input of results into the programme design.

This framework allows practitioners not only to assess the preconditions and baseline for parliamentary support and to pinpoint areas in need of assistance. In addition, it helps to develop an understanding of the underlying causes and processes, while identifying valuable entry points for support programmes.

Indicators for Parliamentary Performance

The European Commission recently launched two studies to address the existing shortcomings and methodological weaknesses in the design of performance indicators in electoral assistance and parliamentary support projects, and to make available to project formulators a set standard of quality indicators and comparative data.

The general objective of these studies is to produce tools, reinforce knowledge sharing instruments and mobilise expertise to assist relevant staff in EU Delegations with project formulation of democracy support projects, particularly in the design of high quality and effective logical frameworks and performance indicators.

The studies’ specific objectives are:

  • To develop methodological guidelines on the process by which performance indicators are identified.
  • To establish a standard set of performance indicators that shall be available for project formulators to draw from, as appropriate to the project objectives and activities.
  • To provide guidance on appropriate target-setting by making available comparative data between projects and countries.
  • To carry out a comparative projects' impact analysis, including the reasons for eventual success or failure to achieve expected results.

How is support to parliamentary development delivered?

Legislative strengthening

Legislative strengthening focuses on the role and responsibilities of parliament in preparing, introducing and considering legislative proposals and amendments. These programmes implement activities aimed at providing courses in legislative drafting, improving the functioning of standing orders through reform and supporting the passage of enabling legislation.

Strengthening the oversight function of Parliament

The oversight function of parliament is in many ways its most crucial role, and encompasses much more than fiscal accountability. The inability of parliaments to be effective in this role often reflects their institutional operating environment. There are often either major power imbalances in national institutional structures or an absence of acceptable norms for good governance. Civil society is often too weak to effectively demand the accountability of government to the population. Examples of the types of activity carried out vary from ‘training on oversight responsibilities’ to multi-vector activities that aim to increase both parliamentary capacity and the demand from civil society for parliament to play a key role in fostering accountability.

Parliament and the national budget

EC-supported projects to strengthen the effectiveness of parliaments in national budget processes included a fairly narrow range of activities around different aspects of training for finance committee members and staff on the budget process.

Strengthening the representative function of Parliament

The representation function is critical to the long-term sustainability of democratic systems. The population must feel that it is being heard by its democratic representatives and that issues that arise will be taken seriously and addressed. Numerous difficulties arise for parliaments in developing country democracies in carrying out the representation function. Institutional resources to permit regular outreach are often lacking. More fundamentally, the relationship between the legislator and the citizen is often problematic. There is often poor understanding among the populace of the division of responsibilities between the executive and the legislature, with the expectation that the legislator can personally carry out executive programmes. Parliamentarians often play up this misunderstanding by claiming personal credit for service delivery or by lobbying for constituency funds that they administer themselves. The range of activities that the EC has supported in strengthening the representative function of parliament is impressive and includes, for example, the development of parliamentary magazines, websites, open-door policies, outreach programmes and petition systems, the strengthening of links to civil society and national civic education on the role of parliament.

Supporting parliamentary administration

ACP parliaments often lack staff with expertise in key areas such as legislative analysis, oversight and the national budget process. Basic facilities are often insufficient. For example, ICT, library services, archiving, translation, minute-taking and the production of the parliamentary record may not be carried out efficiently or be professionalized. Internal financial accountability is often an issue, and opposition and minority parties may be unable to access resources to support them.

Fostering inclusivity

Inclusivity involves ensuring that parliament genuinely reflects the whole population and its diverse needs. In this area, EC parliamentary development programmes over the past decade mostly focused on gender equity. Future gender programmes should focus on developing specific action plans that aim to reflect equity in parliament and in its deliberations. Gender inclusivity has generated many positive examples which may inform related areas where more remains to be done, including in minority representation and supporting constructive social dialogue.

Institutional strengthening through budget support

The EC is also committed to expanding direct budget support. Parliament’s role in ensuring the success of the budget support modality will intensify as the EC’s delivery of development assistance is consolidated with national budgets. There are provisions in the budget support modality for support to institutional strengthening, including parliamentary strengthening. The budget support for institutional strengthening programmes for parliament tend to be quite small. For the five programmes for which we have figures for EC contributions to parliamentary support, these vary up to EUR 250,000 (Burundi). The figures cover between two and five years. Activities typically include strengthening of the parliamentary budget/finance committee and improved coordination between the parliament and the supreme audit institution.

AGORA: The Portal for Parliamentary Development


AGORA is the leading Portal for the parliamentary development community, uniting international organizations, parliamentary development experts and professionals, but also MP's, parliamentary staff, NGO's and civil society organizations active in the field of parliamentary development. Implemented by UNDP, the European Commission, the World Bank Institute and International IDEA, it is a one-stop reference center and hub for knowledge sharing on parliamentary development.

 AGORA’s main objectives are:

  • To serve as a crossroads of information and expertise on parliamentary management and parliamentary strengthening programmes.
  • To promote the global streamlining of parliamentary development activities and advance parliamentary strengthening worldwide.
  • To promote parliaments as the drivers for change.

AGORA is centered around a public Portal, centralising knowledge on parliaments and parliamentary development worldwide, and aTrusted Area, an online community platform where members exchange knowledge and practices, engage in discussions and stay up to date on developments in parliamentary affairs.

The public Portal offers a unique and up-to-date collection of knowledge and practical information on parliamentary development. This is done through an extensive and growing library, which collects references from all relevant organizations and institutions in the field and a calendar section listing events on parliamentary affairs. Members can also access Mapping, which provides details on past and curent parliamentary development projects worldwide.

The Agora Trusted Area has developed itself as a virtual meeting place for practitioners and professionals in the field, where members can exchange news, documents, media and ideas at the click of a mouse.

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