The president of the National Council, Andreas Aebi (SVP/BE), and the president of the Council of States, Alex Kuprecht (SVP/SZ), took part in the 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, which was held in Vienna, Austria, on 7 and 8 September.

More than 110 speakers and deputy speakers from around the world attended the 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament on the theme of ‘parliamentary leaders for a more effective multilateralism that ensures peace and sustainable development for the people and the planet’. The former vice president of the Afghan National Assembly, Fawzia Koofi, who was on one of the last flights out of Afghanistan, cut a symbolic figure at the event.

The conference, which imposed strict public health measures including mandatory testing for participants, provided a unique opportunity for in-person interaction and exchange. This proved to be a particularly valuable experience after a year in which the pandemic had prevented international parliamentary conferences. The parliamentary speakers discussed a broad range of issues in a series of panel discussions at the event, such as the global response to the pandemic and post COVID-19 recovery, the climate emergency, countering misinformation, the participation of young people in political life, and gender equality.

Moderating the panel discussion on the theme of ‘mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on democracy’, Mr Kuprecht said in his opening statement, “Rarely in recent decades has the discussion and debate on democratic structures and values taken place so comprehensively and fundamentally as today.” He added: "As elected parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to remain vigilant in protecting democratic norms and practices, even – or especially – in times of crisis.”

Mr Aebi, for his part, answered questions from young Austrians on democracy and parliamentary work in a workshop on democracy. He also took part in a panel discussion on the theme of ‘parliaments’ openness, transparency and accessibility versus security: How to strike a balance’. During the discussion, he explained that security “is not only about physical protection measures”, but that parliamentarians have “a mandate to ensure the well-being and security of society as whole”. He concluded that they should do so “in a way that promotes cohesion, rather than one that sows discord.”

At the end of the event, which was organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Austrian Parliament, the Speakers adopted a high-level declaration on parliamentary leadership for more effective multilateralism that ensures peace and sustainable development for the people and the planet. The declaration stresses the importance of international solidarity and cooperation among parliaments in recovery efforts following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, concluded in his closing statement, “This conference sends two important messages to the world. Firstly, international parliamentary dialogue has resumed, with parliamentarians from all over the world being able to meet face-to-face in Vienna. Secondly, the importance of finding international solutions to global problems should be recognised, as evidenced by the rapid development of coronavirus vaccines, for example.”

While in Vienna, the presidents of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly also took the opportunity to enquire about the public health situation in Austria and to meet with other speakers.

Due to the health situation in 2020, the first part of the 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament was held virtually on 19 and 20 August. Organised in cooperation with the United Nations, the World Conference of Speakers of Parliament takes place every five years. Its purpose is to strengthen the parliamentary dimension of global governance.