As part of its celebrations of the International Day of Democracy, held each year on 15 September 2016, AWEPA held an exclusive interview with Hon. Louis Michel, a prominent Member of the European Parliament, AWEPA member and Co-President of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
As this year’s International Democracy Day focuses on the future of democracy and the special role parliaments play in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Hon. Michel shares his valuable insights into the importance of democracy for sustainable development and peace, the essential role of parliamentarians and the value of AWEPA’s work.
In what way is democracy important for ensuring development, peacebuilding and reconciliation? Could you give us some highlights of your work in relation to this?
Democracy requires rights and freedoms to be protected, the rule of law to be respected, free discussion to be guaranteed, and debate to be encouraged. Democracy is not solely about fulfilling the theoretical conditions for freedom but also a workable system providing just and available means for all citizens to improve their day-to-day lives.
So, the consolidation of democracy needs good governance. Democratic governance is essential as an institution that provides citizens with rights and guarantees impartiality. In return, it asks citizens to be committed to their constitutional duties. Good governance is essential for an impartial administration and justice system; free access to health, education and services, which help the individual to maximise their potential.
As I often say: there will be no African development without lasting peace and without security. There will be no social, human or economic development without prosperity. It is certain that human, economic and social development enables parliamentary democracy to function more easily.
Only a comprehensive approach based on economic development, good governance, security and respect for human rights will enable to the African continent to make progress towards stability.
For example, the positive role played by the army in Niger in ensuring the transition towards democracy; the justice reform and reconciliation in Rwanda after the genocide, supported by EU; the Arusha negotiations chaired by President Mandela and attended by me and President Clinton: the negotiations were difficult but those accords opened the way to a positive process of peace, stability and reconciliation. Arusha allowed the Burundians to become reconciled with themselves and with their history.
How would you describe the role of parliamentarians in Africa and Europe in strengthening the voice of the people in Africa to establish and maintain a healthy democracy?
Parliament is an essential organ of the democratic process. Parliament acts as the repository of the people’s will and consent. It represents the source of legitimate authority and the guardian of oversight and responsibility.
It can play a key role in instituting, sustaining and developing democratic governance in order to mediate and resolve conflict at each level (local, national, regional and continental). For example, we can underline the outstanding resistance of the Parliament of Nigeria to modifying the constitution for a third presidential term in 2006.
What is the importance of AWEPA’s work to strengthen parliaments and ensure dialogue between African and European parliamentarians?
AWEPA plays a key role in the exchange of opinion, experience and practice in the field of parliamentary work. It is a place where the representatives of various countries sit together with the specific aim of promoting the interdependence of the North and South.
Beyond the confines of individual states, AWEPA can contribute to the promotion of a culture of dialogue and peaceful discourse conducive to the prudent management, prevention of conflict. For example, AWEPA can explain that free and fair election are essential, but insufficient for true democracy and that democracy is a permanent quest, requiring respect for pluralism, majority rule and minority rights, the rule of law and a legal framework within which no party can amend the constitution to its own benefit.
Could you describe your hopes for the future of democracy and development in Africa?
Africa, the cradle of humanity, is also the continent of the future. The world is changing and Africa’s relationship to the world is changing in response to new economic realities and the geopolitics of globalisation.
Africa has the potential to not only transform itself and the life of one billion Africans, but also to transform the lives of people around the world.
The major challenge that Africa faces is improving political and economic governance. At the political level, governance falls under the concept of “the just state”, one that guarantees democracy and the fundamental rights of citizens. It is fundamentally important that each citizen feels that he or she has the right to be treated with fairness, justice, respect and dignity.
Economic development and human rights are intertwined: It is clear that respect of human rights is essential for sustainable economic growth and that a government lacking popular support is built on shaky foundations.
From my point of view, Europeans and Africans are natural allies. Together they can play a determining role in shaping a new world order characterised by greater justice, solidarity and freedom.
As said Desmond Tutu, holder of the Nobel Peace Prize, once said:
“The gift we can give the world is our concept of Ubuntu, where you say: my humanity is bound up in your humanity. I need you in order for me to be me. I need to be you…. And so we say, there is no way in which we can be free, except together”.
Hon. Louis Michel is a Belgian Member of the European Parliament. He served as European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid from 2004 to 2009. Hon. Michel is a prominent member of the French-speaking liberal party, the Mouvement Réformateur, and served as Belgium’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister from 1999 to July 2004.