How parliaments are fighting COVID-19

How parliaments are fighting COVID-19
The humongous impact of COVID-19 has forced 20% of the global population into lockdown and isolation, with the essentials of society such as democratic institutions still operating as close to normal as they can. Parliaments in normal times can be densely packed and traditionally resistant to technologies entering the democratic process. These institutions are having to ‘practice what they preach’ when it comes to social distancing, Inavate explores how parliaments around the world are embracing a digital democratic revolution to keep their states functioning.

House of Commons – United Kingdom

British members of parliament (MPs) held its first ‘virtual parliament’ session that allows them to participate in questions (including Prime Minister’s questions sessions), pose urgent questions and ministerial statements via video link. Some MPs (no more than 50) can still meet in the House of Commons whilst adhering to 2M social distancing rules in what the British parliament is calling ‘hybrid proceedings’, with large screens lining the chamber walls to allow members of parliament to speak directly to members in the chamber.

Up to 120 MPs took take part via video link over the course of “hybrid proceedings”, which will constitute the first two hours of each sitting.

UK MPs also voted on a motion virtually for the first time in the House of Commons’ history, using an online platform installed on the digital ‘MemberHub’ system for MPs.

MPs cast votes on a motion through computers or mobile devices during a 15-minute window.

European Parliament 

Travelling to the European Parliament can be a convoluted and travel-heavy process for member states in normal times, but the closure of the Schengen travel zone and risk of infection from flights and tightly packed spaces such as the European parliament has led to MEPs working from home.

While the parliament is “meeting” both with members in the chamber and virtually at the institution’s Brussels parliament building, MEPs are still conducting virtual meetings as well as voting on and passing legislation by using a new secure system.

The European Parliament allows MEPs to attend committee meetings remotely via a ‘special’ video conference system, with members able to connect via a link provided by the parliament that is accessible for accredited MEPs.

MEPs can use a tablet with an internet connection, headphones and a microphone as well as an undisclosed videoconferencing parliamentary platform which allows for a large number of participants, with interpretation provided in a variety of languages.

Every member who wishes to take the floor in committee meetings, and who is authorised to do so by the chair, can take the floor remotely or physically in the Parliament.

During plenary sessions, only group leaders and Council and Commission representatives can intervene remotely in the debate, followed by members who are present in the Hemicycle.

Interpretation in almost all EU member state languages is provided, with the meetings being web-streamed via Parliament’s Multimedia Centre and Europe by Satellite, EbS+.

NATO Parliamentary Assembly

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is made up of 269 delegates from 30 NATO member countries. Each delegation is based on the country's size and reflects the political composition of the parliament.

Since the pandemic hit, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has taken steps to introduce a comprehensive program for virtual proceedings, using Microsoft Teams for internal staff and informal meetings with legislators.

KUDO language interpretation is also used for formal meetings its member parliaments.

The Parliamentary Assembly’s standing committee, its governing body, now meets over Kudo. Voting on policy now takes place with the use of this system.

The Parliamentary Assembly is now holding online committee meetings and is continuing to host webinars throughout the summer as the pandemic continues.

House of Commons – Canada

The House of Commons of Canada held its first virtual sitting over Zoom as part of a special all-party COVID-19 committee, being used as a test-bed for a virtual House of Commons sitting with live translation in both English and French, with footage of the proceedings being both streamed and broadcast.

The House of Commons is using a modified version of Zoom that differs to the free and commercial versions on the market, allowing the House Administration to manage and configure the technology and impose security controls where needed.

The first session was not without its difficulties however, with delays in the live translation service and muted microphones coming up as inevitable teething issues for parliamentarians unfamiliar with the system despite a dry run beforehand.

Saeima Parliament – Latvia

The Saeima Parliament in Latvia called upon a Latvian IT start-up to design a virtual parliamentary system for its 100 MPs,

The Latvian ‘e-system’ allows MPs to use an app to recreate the parliamentary system on a computer screen, with each MP logging in with an e-signature embedded on a chip in the MP’s digital ID card.

By replicating and displaying the information that MPs need to partake in the parliamentary process, MPs can access the full agenda, a list of participants and a visual image of the current speaker.

MPs can ask to speak on any amendment or law and can also vote remotely by pressing one of three buttons displayed on the screen (For, against or abstain).

More than 90 Latvian MPs took part in a recent proceeding, registering their presence, debating and voting om more than 70 amendments to a law on territorial reform.



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