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from issue no. 12 - 2005

The international body that brings together the parliamentarians of 143 countries throughout the world

Dialogue is never futile

An interview with Pier Ferdinando Casini, president of the IPU now for some months: «This assembly is an instrument of real utility even for resolving international crises because it represents all the citizens, whereas governments are more the expression of majorities. Unfortunately the IPU has suffered for many years from a lack of visibility»

Interview with Pier Ferdinando Casini by Roberto Rotondo

The Interparliamentary Union (IPU) is the oldest of international bodies. It has 117 years of history and brings together 40,000 parliamentarians from 143 countries. Few people know it and it can seem the Cinderella of international organizations. Instead the IPU has always been a privileged forum for dialogue, even between unfriendly countries or those with serious on-going disputes. The principle that dialogue is never futile has seen to it that the IPU has seen the participation, for example, of the countries of the Soviet bloc at the time of the Cold War, and countries where parliament has only a consultative function, as in Saudi Arabia, have been accepted. Finally, the fact that the national groups are made up of parliamentarians coming both from the majority of the government and from the opposition guarantees that issues, problems, contributions of the whole country are represented and not only of the government of the moment.
On 19 October 2005 Pier Ferdinando Casini was elected president of the Interparliamentary Union by a large majority. We discussed with the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, now President of the IPU the role of this international body and the agenda for his three-year mandate.
Casini among the IPU delegates during the one hundred and seventy-seventh session held in Geneva in October 2005

Casini among the IPU delegates during the one hundred and seventy-seventh session held in Geneva in October 2005

How did the idea of an Italian candidacy arise?
PIER FERDINANDO CASINI: My election demonstrates that the Italians, when they want, can achieve results, on condition that they work as a team. My candidacy was actively backed, in fact, by all the forces in Italian politics. In this way we won more than two thirds of the votes of the Interparliamentary Union and the backing of colleagues of every geographical, political, religious and cultural extraction: from the Israelis to the Palestinians, from the South Americans to the Africans, from the Asians to the Arabs. I must thank the commitment of such parliamentarians as Giulio Andreotti, who led the Italian delegation at Geneva and backed the “refreshing”, not only in terms of age, of the IPU. It was he who asked for a language closer to citizens in our speeches: an end to the jargon of legal cavils, true political documents open to all. And I, in taking on the post three months ago, expressed the wish as primary point in my program that the IPU be known for greater politic authority, less bureaucracy, more visibility, a weight matching the female representation. The democratic tradition of Italy has been, over all these years, an example to many new democracies in countries that have had historical links with us. Certainly my experience as president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the role of guarantor for the majority and the opposition will have played in my favor. I haven’t acted as rubber stamp for the government in Italy, I shan’t act as rubber stamp for anybody in the IPU.
Did your relation with the Interparliamentary Union begin when you became President of the Chamber of Deputies or did it already exist beforehand?
CASINI: My predecessor had already potentiated in very effective fashion the international image of the President of the Chamber of Deputies. During my term, that role has grown further. In five years as president I’ve had more than 700 meetings of an international kind. They were not only with my counterparts, the speakers of the national parliaments, my direct equivalent, but heads of State and Government, foreign ministers, those in charge of international bodies, world figures in politics and culture. I’ve visited aid and cooperation centers, places of worship, Italian communities abroad. I was guided on the one hand by the national interest, and on the other by a scheme of the values that, according to me, parliaments can represent more effectively than any other body, leaving aside political and national adherence. I’m referring to values such as solidarity, freedom, peace, the dialogue between the religions, law and its instruments, multilateralism, the fight against terrorism, an equal starting opportunity in the quest for affluence, the family and the right to life. All this was already part of the range of values in my political militancy and my commitment as a Catholic, today I’m employing it also in the service of my parliamentarian colleagues throughout the world.
What have been the most important moments in your commitment to the Interparliamentary Union?
CASINI: I’ve participated with passion in all the institutional commitments of the Interparliamentary Union that we’ve had as Italian delegation in these years. I’m thinking among the rest of Marrakech in March 2002, of Geneva and New York in 2004 and 2005, of the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliaments in the Hague, of Budapest, of Strasbourg, but also of the Italo-Somali parliamentary seminar in February 2005 and of the meeting with the African Parliamentary Union in Algiers in November 2004. More in general, a great many missions that had diverse purposes and topics come within the international activities of the President of the Chamber of Deputies: the reunification of Europe, re-established harmony with the former Soviet Union, Italy’s contribution to reknitting transatlantic relations after the misunderstanding with parts of Europe because of the intervention in Iraq, the renewed link with Latin America and our communities abroad, the dialogue with Islam pursued in repeated missions to Arab and Islamic countries, the keeping alive of memory and the defense of human rights with visits to the Nazi camps and the “Yad Vashem” museum of the Shoah, up to the meeting with the women of Plaza de Majo, the backing of our soldiers involved in peace missions throughout the world, the initiatives for Africa and against hunger in the world, such as participation at the FAO assembly in 2002. I’m particularly concerned to recall the missions to places symbolic of the frontiers and divisions overcome or still to overcome: to Cyprus, the Palestinian Territory, Berlin, but also to Ground Zero immediately after 11 September.
The Interparliamentary Union has never broken off its gatherings even in periods of grave international crisis or in the period of the Cold War. It has thereby been a privileged forum for parliamentary collaboration and dialogue. Is it still useful today or is there a danger of its becoming a merely symbolic superstructure?
CASINI: I’d say exactly the opposite: the Interparliamentary Union is an instrument of real utility, potentially extremely strong because it represents all the citizens as compared to governments that are instead the expression of the majorities; unfortunately it has suffered for many years from lack of visibility, from an image not matching its importance. The IPU doesn’t get itself listened to enough. Its voice has been too weak, too timid. My first long-term aim is to turn the IPU into a genuine forum for dialogue and, as expression of the parliaments, in the interface with the UN General Assembly that instead represents the governments.
What line will the Interparliamentary Union be taking in the coming three years?
CASINI: In the first place the Interparliamentary Union must support the processes of formation and consolidation of democracy in many countries, encourage the building of parliamentarian rules and procedures, spread the vocabulary of democracy and freedom. This also means helping the up-dating of staff and giving technical assistance. Our Chamber of Deputies has been doing so for years, along with other parliaments not only European. An experience to employ in the interests of all peoples, of security and co-existence. In Tunis recently, along with the United Nations I launched a center for “Information and Communication Technology” the aim of which is to put parliaments on the Net, promote information exchange, facilitate access for citizens and for the acquisition of the necessary equipment. The principle that will inspire my three years of presidency of the IPU is that international politics is not conducted only through the relations between States, therefore between governments, but also through parliamentary bodies that reflect all the issues of society. Parliamentary diplomacy can be a very useful instrument even in terms of the fight against terrorism and of security.
Can the Interparliamentary Union cooperate to resolve international crises such as that in Iraq? And how? In what other kind of crisis can it intervene?
CASINI: Let me give you two examples: Iran and the Middle East. At the moment of greatest crisis in Iran’s relations with the rest of the world caused by the unacceptable pronouncements on Israel from Amadinejad, a debate was opened in the Interparliamentary Union and I wrote a letter to the President of the Iranian Parliament asking him to clarify the matter and distance himself from those threatening declarations. At the same time, thanks also to the IPU, a channel for discussion remained open, indispensable for not shelving the possibility of restoring normal relations. As for the Middle East, it’s significant that Israelis and Palestinians went along in backing my candidacy. I have very good relations with the ones and the others, both; within the IPU collaboration is assured. The possibility of discussion is the very condition for preserving a concrete hope of peace and going ahead with shared initiatives.
Pier Ferdinando Casini with Giulio Andreotti

Pier Ferdinando Casini with Giulio Andreotti

What are the major difficulties that the Interparliamentary Union finds in its way?
CASINI: They’re the ones I’ve stressed since my first missions as president of the IPU to New York and then to Washington. First of all to the UN, because that is where the IPU must get its voice heard most of all, for the reasons I’ve given: because it is, in absolute, the most representative body in the world in that it is the expression of the parliaments and, so, of the peoples; a role that is still not acknowledged as it should be, but to which I am personally committing myself and that I hope and believe to have already begun to strengthen in these early months. Then to Washington, because it is fundamental, for the prestige and strength of the organization, that the United States come back to participating fully in the work of the IPU, after withdrawing some year ago.
The Interparliamentary Union accepts the membership also of countries that do not have a democratic system as we understand it and in which parliament is sometimes only a consultative body. In the past it didn’t even reject the countries of the Communist East. This decision, born of the wish to exclude no one, what fruits has it given?
CASINI: The principle of exclusion is not a good guide in international politics. I believe in the unceasing pursuit of the global democracy, but for every step it takes time, constancy, passion. Democracy itself, that is a fundamental value, can take different forms in different countries, according to the history, traditions and sensibilities of each. Despite that, one always manages among parliamentarians to find the grounds for debate, a shared language. Even where democracy is in its infancy or incomplete, parliament remains the driving force of the democratic process. That is our hope, and it will be my daily task. The fruits? They’re there for all to see. Single parliaments have helped other parliaments to take shape and grow. I’m thinking of Afghanistan, that is coming out of a dark period and is heading towards full democracy. The marvellous spectacle of millions of men and women going to the polls, daring the persistent threat of terrorism, and of the experience that we Italians have gained in helping the new parliament in Kabul to constitute itself, demonstrate that that is the right path. The same is true for Iraq, where despite many people and the horror of the suicide bombers and attacks, the process of forming a new, young democracy has been set on its feet and is moving ever more quickly, with ever wider sectors of the population gradually becoming persuaded to join in. Let me add that the role of women is decisive precisely in those countries. The women constitute for all of us an example of determination and courage. They are bearers of a formidable human, political, institutional sensibility. Women and, I would add, the young. All of us parliamentarians must become ever more adept at addressing the young generations, involving them ever more in healthy politic activity. It was the first thing I said after my election in Geneva last October: if young people don’t understand us, the fault is ours. We must learn to talk first of all to them.

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