Tackling the Political Challenges of 2021: A View from our Parliamentarian Steering Committee
As part of our efforts to recognize the needs of parliamentarians and address these adequately, we receive strategic input from our Parliamentary Steering Committee. The Committee is a group of 10-15 MPs selected on a yearly basis to act as the special Advisory Council for the Open European Dialogue.
The Parliamentary Steering Committee of the Open European Dialogue (OED) is composed of diverse political voices from across Europe, representing different beliefs and perspectives. The input of its members is crucial in maintaining the inclusivity and broader perspective of the OED network and it contributes to shaping the future direction of the OED.
On 18 December 2020, the Parliamentary Steering Committee gathered for its yearly strategic reflection meeting. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic were ubiquitous among European policymakers alike, pressing several challenges from the spheres of public health, education, labor, and international trade. Critical to the OED network are not only the social-political rifts the pandemic has caused in many European countries, but also its geo-strategic aftermath as much of the global economic activity has been brought to a halt. The Parliamentary Steering Committee underscored the importance of informal dialogue as a tool to advance policy in 2021: open dialogues are essential to build collaboration and discuss equally shared challenges.
The suggested focus for the OED in 2021 is then two-fold. First, to promote inter-European parliamentary collaboration in dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to seize a unique opportunity to take parliamentary collaboration beyond the borders of the European Union, as best-practices for common problems will be found not just in Europe. Second, the OED should continue to highlight the benefits it provides to its existing network in providing good offices characterized by trust, openness, and active listening.
COVID-19: A Window of Opportunity?
The short–to–long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remain the main source of concern for policymakers all over Europe. The health and economic response strategy to the pandemic maintains its top position in public and governmental agendas, but it continues to be a delicate and often divisive topic.
2021 will be the year of Next Generation EU. Questions on how such a large-scale program will help the Union’s recovery and then promote a more economically and socially resilient Europe is at the center of national debates across the continent.
MPs all over Europe are tasked with a great challenge: setting the priorities of a post-pandemic world while still dealing with its immediate emergency. Concerns such as the vaccinations rollout and other crisis response operations intertwine with much broader and forward-looking policies on the future of work, social justice, and youth. Meanwhile, at the center of Next Generation EU is a fundamental, green, and digital restructuring of Europe’s economy which poses very specific challenges which vary from country to country.
For many parliamentarians across Europe, the pandemic is presenting a rare window of opportunity to launch an ambitious plan of structural reforms. The large, ‘post-pandemic’ topics are also ripe platforms to spark innovative citizen engagement strategies and improve upon our democratic institutions. The anxiety deriving from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic is mixed with optimism as MPs look through the window of opportunity to a different Europe. The OED is excited to lend its processes to explore such unique efforts for Europe’s parliaments.
Looking Beyond our Own Backyard: The Need for More Geostrategic Thinking
Another main point stemming from the conversation is the growing appetite for dialogue and exchange with geopolitical actors beyond the EU’s borders.
The Parliamentary Steering Committee displayed a strong interest for sharing best practices to address common policy challenges, as well as to develop a more refined understanding of the point of view of other global players on questions of high politics, strategic thinking, and shared values.
The future of the transatlantic relationship and the question of how to better maintain ties with colleagues in the UK were mentioned as important aspects to focus on in the year ahead, as well as the EU positioning towards Russia, China, and the countries of the MENA region. Establishing more direct links with other global regions will greatly help policymakers understand their own position in the world.
The Good Offices of the OED: Trust, Openness, and Active Listening to Tackle the Complex Problems of the Future
‘Good offices’ are, simply put, someone’s set of abilities to help another achieve their goals. We see our good offices as our platform’s ability to help our members achieve their policymaking and networking objectives. MPs recognize the value of the good offices provided by the OED network: trust, openness and active listening are all crucial elements that together contribute to the creation of a safe space where it is possible to engage with one another, across party and country boundaries, in fruitful conversations. The Steering Committee highlighted that just being able to tap into the network to reach other MPs across geographical and ideologies borders is an extremely valuable resource to their work. After all, the possibility of constructively managing the complex challenges of the future rests in our shared ability to engage in open and trust-based dialogue between different political stakeholders.
The informality and the diversity of the OED network are recognized by its members to be core strengths through which the OED dialogues become a much-needed exercise in political diplomacy. The MPs recognize the need to continue working toward expanding the diversity of voices represented within the network, while also taking care to ensure that confidentiality within the network is preserved thanks to the OED House Rules. As ambassadors of the OED, the MPs of the Parliamentary Steering Committee have confirmed their commitment to continue supporting the recruitment process of new voices for the network in line with the OED’s mission to promote inclusive and diverse space for political dialogue.
A Flexible Dialogue Space by MPs for MPs
A cornerstone to the OED’s provision of good offices is its ability to get parties across the political spectrum to engage in meaningful dialogue, which allows them to remove a large barrier to sharing in best practices by allowing them to engage with the political ‘other.’ In addition to this, the open-agenda nature of the OED is an incredible opportunity for policymakers to actively contribute to and shape a common space in which they can learn from each other. The OED aims to recognize the various needs of parliamentarians and address these through different dialogue and workshop formats. There is an enormous potential for ownership in the way MPs can use the network and its tools during the various dialogues and workshops the OED offers. For example, parliamentarians can volunteer their expertise on a topic and propose their own initiatives, as well as ask for experts’ input on specific aspects of a theme relevant for their parliamentary work. It is thanks to the input of the OED Steering Committee and our constant engagement with members from our network that we can respond to the emerging needs of Europe’s political class. Our Steering Committee confirms that openness and agenda-setting are important tools for reacting adaptively to our fast-paced political environment, providing MPs with a channel to quickly activate constructive political exchanges on risings topics of concern.