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Parliaments’ role in diplomacy: An interview with the President of the Dutch Senate, Professor Jan Anthonie Bruijn

Professor Jan Anthonie Bruijn, President of the Dutch Senate.

On October 6th, 2022, Professor Jan Anthonie Bruijn, President of the Dutch Senate, flew to Jakarta, Indonesia, to participate in the P20 meeting. This meeting gathers parliamentary representatives of the countries which are members of the G20, a high-level diplomatic group bringing together some of the most powerful states of the world.

The P20 meeting is part of a broader field of diplomacy called parliamentary diplomacy. In an exclusive interview with Diplomat Magazine’s Publisher Dr. Mayelinne De Lara, the President of the Dutch Senate, Professor Bruijn, explained what parliamentary diplomacy is, and the role that the institution he represents plays in diplomatic efforts.

While the media’s spotlight is often on diplomatic visits by high-level figures such as Heads of State and Prime Ministers, diplomacy actually consists of a number of different channels of contacts among states. These include meetings not only among ambassadors, diplomats and civil servants, but also among members of parliament (MPs) and Speakers and Presidents of parliaments.

At the Presidents of parliaments’ level – Professor Bruijn explained – the focus is not on political issues, which fall under the remit of the government or of the members of parliament representing specific parties. Rather, Presidents of parliaments represent their respective institutions, and therefore their discussions focus on broader and less politicized topics, such as the working of democracy and parliaments, as well as the overall ties between various countries and their peoples.

The Dutch Senate and Professor Bruijn are very active on the diplomatic front, regularly meeting with foreign ambassadors and welcoming high-level delegations from all over the world. Dutch MPs are also very active in a number of inter-parliamentary frameworks, such as those of the Benelux, the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

During the interview, Professor Bruijn sought to stress that, in these frameworks, it is the precious work of many of his fellow MPs that allows parliamentary democracy to flourish. As examples he mentioned,’amongst many, many others’, the prominent role played by MPs such as Tiny Kox, Petra Stienen, Ria Oomen,  and Farah Karimi, praising their and their colleagues’ activity in the various frameworks mentioned above. The role of the Senate and its President – Professor Bruijn said – is that of providing organisational and technical support to these engaged representatives.

Professor Dr. Jan Anthonie Bruijn, President of the Dutch Senate.

The high level of diplomatic engagement of the Dutch Senate reflects the strong emphasis that the Netherlands as a country puts on diplomacy. “We realize that we are a small country, and as such we need to be very active in order to play a role internationally. Diplomacy is very important for us” – Professor Bruijn explained. These diplomatic efforts may be at times visible and at times less so. Regardless of their visibility, Professor Bruijn argued, such efforts are key to enable the exchange of views among countries, with the aim to ensure peace, respect, and contacts among peoples.

Over the past months, the war in Ukraine has created new challenges for the field of diplomacy. Asked about the implications of these developments for the diplomatic work of his institution, Professor Bruijn explained that it is not primarily up to the Senate to determine a political stance, which is instead the task of the government and the House of Representatives. However, “we try to contribute to dialogue anywhere and anyway we can”, he explained, mentioning his multiple meetings over the past months, both in person and digitally, with the Speaker of Ukraine’s parliament.

Occasions such as the recent P20 meeting in Jakarta also create avenues for precious diplomatic work. For instance, this year’s P20 – hosted by the Indonesian Parliament, in collaboration with the Inter-Parliamentary Union – became a meeting point for lawmakers from not only all G20 members, but also other countries. The list of participants included representatives from both Russia and Ukraine, as well as from the United States and the United Kingdom, creating a platform where each representative could deliver their own message.

During this occasion, Professor Bruijn, who also teaches immunopathology at the Leiden University Medical center, made a speech in which, reflecting on the Netherlands’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, he illustrated the importance of parliaments in ensuring the proper functioning of a country’s democracy. This speech shed light on the key role that parliaments play – both at home, where they ensure that democracy remains solid and vibrant, and abroad, where they create avenues for connections among countries. 

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