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The Emergence of International Parliamentary Institutions: New Networks of Influence in World Society

Robert M. Cutler

International parliamentary institutions (IPIs) are international institutions of a parliamentary nature, whether legislative or consultative having three or more member states (the parliamentarians being either selected from national legislatures or popularly elected by the electorates of the member states) and which is a regular forum for multilateral deliberations on an established basis, either attached to an international organization or itself constituting one. Defining four stages of institutional development types allow IPIs to be compared with one another. IPIs must first evolve internal functions that allow them stable instutional relationships with their constituent member states. Institutional takeoff requires the successful establishment of rule-creating and rule-supervisory activities. Institutional spillover, involving acquisition of international juridical autonomy, is characterized by certain types of interactions with other international organizations, complemented by necessary internal institutional and normative development. Of course, if IPIs are a part of regional integration organizations, their relations with the executive of those organizations and with member states will influence their evolution. There are many types of parliamentary and quasi-parliamentary institutions in the world. Using the restrictive definition just given, it nevertheless comes as a surprise that there are over two dozen; the European Parliament is only the best known. This chapter surveys the growth of IPIs over three international systems: the Cold War system, from 1947 until 1973; the system of multilateral interdependence, from 1974 to 1991; and the international transition, from 1992 until the end of the century. Consideration of their growth opens into a discussion of the emerging international system and how this affects the institutions structuring the current international order. IPIs establish ongoing transnational relationships that restrain old power politics where civil society and NGOs are underdeveloped and politically constrained. Relatively autonomous regional international systems are emergent multilateral networks; among other things, they produce IPIs. The proliferation of regional IPIs is thus an aspect of this development of complex world society. The idea of complex world society combines the world society approach with the insights of complexity science. The complexity of present-day international politics has implications for the level, for the scope, and for the scale of analysis. The phenomenon of IPIs illustrates how current developments in world politics manifest increasing complexity in the level, scope and scale of international politics. IPIs catalyse the self-generation of NGOs and inter-NGO networks. IPIs in the future will be able to establish co-operation more easily with other IPIs and with other international organizations. In a complex world society that is more networked than hierarchical, new types of IPIs may accumulate more functions and encourage the creation of new international structures that mediate relations between member states and themselves. IPIs will also in the future be able to establish co-operation more easily than in the past, with other IPIs and with other international organizations.
[0. Preliminary Remarks]
 1. Neither World Public Opinion nor Global Civil Society
            1.1. World Public Opinion
            1.2. Global Civil Society
 2. International Parliamentary Institutions in Complex World Society
            2.1. The Complexity of World Society and Its Politics
            2.2. A Taxonomy of Institutions in Complex World Society
 3. IPIs Defined: Distribution and Types
            3.1. What Is and Is Not an IPI
            3.2. IPI Distribution and Typology
 4. Assessing IPI Development
            4.1. Two Taxonomies in Search of a Typology
            4.2. From the IPI Taxonomy to a Ladder of Institutional Development
            4.3. The European Parliament: Its Example and Normative Significance
 5. Conclusion: IPI and International Order
            5.1. IPIs as Both Institutions and Networks
            5.2. What IPIs Can Do
Originally published as:
Robert M. Cutler, "The Emergence of International Parliamentary Institutions: New Networks of Influence in World Society," pp. 201–229 in Who Is Afraid of the State? Canada in a World of Multiple Centres of Power, ed. Gordon S. Smith and Daniel Wolfish (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001). Copyright © University of Toronto Press.
      Traduction française: Robert M. Cutler, "L'émergence des institutions parlementaires internationales: De nouveaux réseaux d'influence dans la société mondiale," pp. 213–242 in Qui a peur de l'État? Le Canada dans un monde aux structures polycentriques de pouvoir, sous la direction de Gordon Smith et Daniel Wolfish (Montréal: Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 2001).

[ page 201 ]

[ Preliminary Remarks ]


Democratization and transnationalization are two fundamental trends in the evolution of international affairs today. They come together in the neglected phenomenon of international parliaments and inter- parliamentary associations, which, for the sake of brevity, I group together as international parliamentary institutions (IPIs). The academic literature pays almost no attention to IPIs. Some recent research confirms that the European Parliament (EP) is significant not only for the political and economic life of citizens of its member states, but also for the conduct of international affairs in Europe at large.[1] To demonstrate this point, one need only mention the EP's forcing of the resignation of Jacques Santer and the entire European Commission in March 1999. The European Commission's attention to environmental questions as an aspect of international security in Central and Eastern Europe derives from an impulse first provided by the EP and embodied in its legislation. To observers, it is obvious that the EP has affected important choices along the road of the European Union's development. It has even constructed a good number of the road signs. For example, the Treaty of Maastricht developed out of a series of proposals presented to the EP by a caucus of its members in 1984.

The significance of IPIs is wide-ranging and growing. The EP is only the best-known example. There are nearly two dozen such international institutions in the world today, with varying scopes and responsibilities. Scepticism over the efficacy of IPIs is no longer justified; a blanket dismissal cannot be defended. IPIs introduce national elites from countries that are not yet fully democratized to ranges of views

[ page 202 ]

and perspectives, particularly from democratic oppositions in other regimes. IPIs have also given birth to a new form of diplomacy called parliamentary diplomacy.[2] This represents today, from both an analytical and a practical standpoint, an important middle ground between the traditional level of interstate diplomacy and the new level of transnational co-operation among grassroots non-governmental organizations (NGOs). IPIs are developing into an important societal mechanism for oversight on traditional executive-based diplomacy. IPIs also establish ongoing transnational relationships that restrain old power politics where civil society and NGOs are underdeveloped and politically constrained. In such a manner they prepare a middle ground for interstate co-operation.

This chapter analyses the emergence of IPIs – a type of institution that has been in existence for half a century but has recently started to proliferate. The chapter uses IPIs as a vehicle for discussing the nature of the emerging international system and how this affects the institutions structuring the current international order. The first section of the chapter offers a brief explanation of why neither 'world public opinion' nor 'global civil society' adequately describes the impact of world society on world politics. The second section explains why the intersection of the concepts 'complexity' and 'world society' accurately characterizes the new international environment. It also outlines briefly what this means for the level, scope, and scale of analysis of international affairs. The third section surveys parliamentary and quasi-parliamentary institutions in world politics as well as defining and offering a typology of IPIs. The fourth section discusses how to assess their institutional development. For this purpose, it synthesizes two seemingly contradictory frameworks (functional and epigenetic), showing them to be complementary. It traces the development of the EP according to this framework in order to illustrate its aptness. Finally, the conclusion reflects on the implications of IPIs for the evolution and design of future international orders.

[ page 227 ]


[Note 1]. George Tsebelis, 'The Power of the European Parliament as a Conditional Agenda Setter,' American Political Science Review 88, no. 1 (1994): 128–42; George Tsebelis and Amie Kreppel, 'The History of Conditional Agenda Setting in European Integration,' European Journal of Political Research 33, no. 1 (1998): 41–71.

[Note 2]. Victor-Yves Ghébali, The Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on European Cooperation and Security, 1973–1991: The Contribution of Parliamentary Diplomacy to East-West Détente (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1993); 'Parliamentary Diplomacy,' special issue of Romanian Journal of International Affairs 1, no. 3 (1995).

Dr. Robert M. Cutlerwebsiteemail ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.

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