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Speech of the Secretary General of the Hellenic Parliament Mr. George Mylonakis at the meeting of the Secretaries General of Parliament of Council of Europe member-states on the topic “Parliaments

In the framework of the works of the Conference of Presidents of Parliament of Council of Europe member-states, the Secretaries General of Parliament convened today to discuss the topic “Parliaments after the pandemic: the way forward”. The meeting was chaired by the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Dr. Despina Chatzivassiliou, and the Secretary General of the Hellenic Parliament, Mr. George Mylonakis.

Addressing the Secretaries General of Parliament, who were in Athens on the occasion of the Conference, Mr. Mylonakis said:

“Dear colleagues,

It is my great pleasure to see we are thirty-six Secretaries General of Parliament here, to exchange views, experiences and good practices, despite the difficulties and restrictions that are still in place because of the pandemic.

It is a great honor to be hosting and jointly organizing, for the first time in Athens, the birthplace of democracy, the Conference of Presidents of Parliament, and indeed in a landmark year for us, as we are celebrating our 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution. 

The pandemic affected every aspect of our economic, political and social activity. We were all called to fulfil our duties under difficult and unprecedented conditions.

Lockdown measures and the need to avoid crowding in indoor -and other- spaces have disrupted the smooth functioning of Parliaments. And there was no time to waste; we all had to adapt to these emergency conditions. We tried several different solutions, according to the needs and the institutional framework governing the operation of each Parliament.

Many Parliaments applied changes to their proceedings, made extensive use of remote work and digital sessions and passed a great volume of emergency legislation. Those moves were defined by constitutional restrictions, the IT system infrastructures available to the healthcare system of each country, as well as political correlations.

 

In the Hellenic Parliament, for example, we amended our Standing Orders and continued our operation as usual, constantly readjusting the limits in terms of the physical presence of MPs and our staff, depending on the current epidemiological facts. We actually adopted a model of hybrid operation, minimizing physical presence and taking advantage of the possibilities offered by technology nowadays. We limited activities that are not directly linked to parliamentary work, such as educational and cultural programs or visits of the public to the premises of the Parliament. 

Apart from the difficulties we were faced with, the pandemic became a unique opportunity to upgrade systems and services. Within a few months, we adopted a series of new technologies. We operated a new system for protection and control of the Parliament systems, a new multi-purpose platform for parliamentarians and their associates, as well as an automated recording and transcription system in the shorthand unit.

We also upgraded the material and technical infrastructures of our meeting rooms, in order to facilitate the work of the parliamentary committees, as there was a need for remote access and interpretation in multiple languages. This way, we managed to prevent disruptions in our lawmaking planning and ensure smooth exercise of parliamentary scrutiny, safeguarding in parallel the health of our MPs and staff.

This reform momentum has already produced results that are here to stay. The pandemic opened up new horizons, which is a remarkable legacy for the future. 

Besides, it is known that Parliaments, as representative institutions, are required to ensure, by parliamentary scrutiny and good lawmaking procedures, that the policies designed and implemented by Governments respond to the needs and safeguard the rights of citizens. Given that the pandemic is still here, we have to establish mechanisms to further support these procedures.

We have the obligation to utilize the lessons learned from the pandemic in order to develop response mechanisms for emergencies that may affect our operation, such as a natural disaster, an extended economic crisis or even a cyber-attack.

In times of intense uncertainty, such as the current period, citizens should trust their representative institutions, such as Parliaments.

Compliance with the Constitution and maintenance of the Parliaments’ oversight function play a crucial role and ensure both good lawmaking and control of the Executive Power. It is clear that the need for emergency measures cannot be to the detriment of constitutional order and the proper functioning of the legislative power. 

To this effect, close cooperation among our parliaments, exchange of good practices, as well as cooperation with multilateral Organisations, are the cornerstones for a successful response to the challenges we are faced with. This is the only way to transfer know-how and shape appropriate crisis response strategies in view of ensuring the smooth functioning of parliamentary procedures, respect for legality and enhancement of transparency in policymaking. This is the most important contribution of the European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation, which has evolved into a precious tool that we need to further utilise. 

Thematic one-day conferences based on the findings and periodic reports on burning issues, such as network security and digital transition, have a lot to offer to our collective effort, in my view. This crisis has taught us a lot that we should not forget. It has taught us that we have to think “out of the box” and make smart use of all the available resources; that international solidarity goes hand-in-hand with health security and we are stronger together.

I wish today’s discussion can become the springboard for deepening our collaboration on matters of mutual interest.

Thank you very much.

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