W-2012/8: EU's Engagement with African (Sub)Regional Parliaments of ECOWAS, SADC, the EAC and the AU
One of the remarkable untold stories in the recent strides made in many countries to ascertain democratic freedoms has been the silence and reticence of regional parliaments. Many regional entities of the South, especially those in Africa, now have parliamentary organs showing a clear ambition towards a European Union (EU) Parliament style organ; demonstrating that there is recognition, across many regions, that regional assemblies matter. However regional assemblies or international parliamentary institutions (IPIs) have not been very active. This paper will discuss how the EU has been engaging with other regions by enhancing regional parliamentary organs in Africa. In doing so the paper explores some of the opportunities, challenges and prospects which merit increased attention and ought to be integrated in the (sub) regional parliaments in Africa. In addressing these issues it presents the various forms of parliamentary and joint parliamentary constellations that exist. It considers their mandates, which often hover on the power of direct legislation (rarely) or the power to exert political pressure through non binding resolutions and recommendations (common). Apart from the East African Legislative Assembly, which has the power to adopt acts that are directly binding at the national level, the majority of sub regional and regional assemblies tend to be weak in terms of what they can actually do. At the continental level the Pan African Parliament can only adopt resolutions. In Southern Africa, there is the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Parliamentary Forum, and in West Africa, the ECOWAS’ (Economic Community of West African States) Parliamentary Assembly which is limited only to adopting resolutions. The paper discusses some of the ways in which inter-regional engagement between the EU and these regions could be translated into more effective law making and pressure wielding parliamentary organs. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on encouraging the national governments and parliaments to embrace their regional assemblies. As discussed in the paper, the strategies to enhance the role of regional parliaments will have to be recognised and adapted to acknowledge this fact.