Parliaments 3.0 for a world in pandemic
COVID-19 has modified various procedures at a global scale. Parliamentary sessions were not the exception. Since March until today, chambers from a good part of the orb have had to urgently look for new ways to continue their job.
Therefore, new laws or flexibilization of some, which are already in force, have been some of the main changes. All this in favor of accomplishing social distancing and, of course, continuing the parliament’s work remotely.
The Coronavirus pandemic has led to some rapid innovation in parliamentary operations and undoubtedly there will be some legacy effect. How much this will herald a shift to a more virtual way of working is questionable, with many parliaments firmly rooted in the oral tradition”.“Virtual Members: Parliaments During the Pandemic”, from Dr. Andy Williamson, researcher and parliament consultant.
New parliaments for coronavirus times
To get to know how the pandemic has changed the way the parliament works and contributed to the implementation of sanitary measures, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) created a repository of information on its website.
In their website they state that it is not an exhaustive list and that summaries are provided for informational purposes only. The point is basically to share the parliaments practice and ease interparliamentary communications. Let’s get to know two European cases.
In the European country a more flexible interpretation of the laws came into play. This has allowed parliamentary reunions to continue remotely. According to the IPU, until the 1st of May, the Parliament of Estonia (Riigikogu) handled urgent matters, celebrated sessions only on Mondays and question time on Wednesday. While the public and the media could see the sessions live through the web.
The past 14th of September, in the beginning of the fall session, Henn Põlluaas, President of the Riigikogu, stated that “we have developed a relevant platform during the Summer and it is already being tested. Only a few parliaments in the world have that possibility of electronic sessions, and I dare say that ours is above all of them. In the near future we will all have the opportunity to try it”.
The United Kingdom approved hybrid sessions for its parliament. These meetings were a combination of members of the chamber physically present and others via videoconference. There were also some cases in which everything was completely virtual, where the members participated via videoconference using Zoom and other such arrangements.
The 22nd of April particularly is a historical date for the English nation. On that day the House of Commons celebrated their first virtual session. This session had some members present. In that occasion a few concerns regarding the safety of using Zoom were expressed. About that the Commission of the House of Commons explained that the National Centre for Cyber Security had informed that the app was adequate if administrated carefully. After that, the parliamentarians voted in favour of its use.
Since June, the House of Commons has returned to face-to-face work, while the House of Lords continue using virtual procedures for now, according to IPU.
There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has shifted parliamentary practices. Technology is here to stay, in a world where social distancing has been imposed to save lives. What do you think about this topic?