As Brazil’s Senate approves creation of BRICS Bank, grouping enhances parliamentary cooperation


From left to right: Renan Calheiros (President of Brazil's Senate), Eduardo Cunha (President of Brazil's Lower House), Sergey Naryshkin (Chairman of the State Duma), Valentina Matviyenko (Chairperson of Russia's Upper House, the Federation Council), Zhang Dejiang (Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Parliament), Thandi Modise (Chairperson of South Africa's National Council of Provinces), Solomon Tsenoli (Deputy Speaker of South Africa's National Assembly) in Moscow. Not in the photo: Shashi Tharoor, Chairman of the Indian Parliament's Standing Committee on External Affairs.


In an article published last week, The Economist observed that "recently, [Brazil] has made the BRIC grouping that joins it with Russia, India and China a priority." The fact that a leading international affairs magazine misspelled the most important international platform led by non-Western powers (it is called 'BRICS' since South Africa joined in December 2010) shows just how little time and energy Western observers spend seeking to understand emerging powers' perspectives and their attempts to strengthen so-called South-South cooperation. To most analysts in Europe or the United States, the grouping is little more than an ephemeral oddity bound to disappear soon, and thus requires little attention. That points to a more fundamental disagreement about the nature of today's global order: For the West, a world order that is "easy to join and hard to overturn" simply does not need new structures. Several emerging powers, by contrast, articulate their grievances of what they consider a hierarchical order where the strong often enjoy special rights, and where existing institutions do not offer sufficient space for newcomers.

This dynamic became yet again apparent yesterday when most US-American or European news outlets decided not to cover the first BRICS Parliamentary Forum ahead of the BRICS Leaders Summit in early July. The meeting in Moscow brought together around one hundred legislators from the five member countries to discuss ways to strengthen intra-BRICS cooperation. The fact that both Renan Calheiros, President of Brazil's Senate, and Eduardo Cunha, President of Brazil's Lower House -- both among the country's most powerful politicians -- traveled to Moscow suggested that at least they believed the encounter was more than a mere photo-op. In the same way, the delegations from other countries were made up of high-level parliamentarians.

"All sides agreed to take advantage of parliamentary cooperation and to facilitate the implementation of results achieved at meetings of BRICS leaders, in a bid to provide legal guarantee for economic cooperation and cultural exchange within the bloc" argued Chong Quan, member of China's National People's Congress Foreign Affairs Committee, in a joint interview with BRICS media in Moscow.

It is too early to assess what that will mean in practice. However, establishing ties between members of each BRICS countries’ parliaments (meetings will take place on a yearly basis) is a notable step in the grouping’s institutionalization, enhancing further the range of actors involved in intra-BRICS cooperation. In principle, such a move should be welcomed. Broader cooperation that involves establishing a joint development bank (approved by Brazil's Senate last week) requires interaction not just by government ministers, but also by legislators, academics and civil society organizations, contributing to the quality of the public debate about these topics.

In the case of Brazil, this matters greatly: As Brazil has been governed by the same party since the grouping's inception, opposition politicians have rarely worked on BRICS-related issues. Enhancing ties between legislators is thus important to assure that possible future governments from different ideological camps acquire knowledge of Brazil's role in the BRICS grouping. Tellingly, many opposition politicians in Brazil still regard the question of the BRICS as an ideological matter -- clearly a sign of a limited understanding of the issue. In addition, it is important to strengthen the debate about international affairs in both Brazil's Senate and Congress, which have traditionally only played a minor role in the domestic debate about Brazil's role in the world.

All that does not mean that Brazil should agree with everything Russia will propose during the coming weeks. According to Valentina Matviyenko, Russia sees as a key task of its presidency in the BRICS gradual transformation of the organization from a dialogue forum and an instrument of coordination of positions on a limited range of issues into "a full-format mechanism of strategic and tactic cooperation on key issues of global politics and economy." Given that the BRICS grouping is crucial for Russia to make up for Western sanctions, such eagerness is understandable. Rather than analyzing the grouping in a purely West vs. non-West worldview, Brazil must think about so-called "growth towards the inside" and strengthen ways to enhance intra-BRICS cooperation according to Brazil's interests. The government's recent parallel decisions to strengthen cooperation with the OECD, and attempts to fix ties to the US show that Brazil can strengthen ties to several actors at the same time.


Observation: The full transcript of the 1st BRICS Parliamentary Forum is available here. In addition to Cunha and Renan, the Brazilian delegation was made up of Átila Lins (PSD-AM), Beto Mansur (PRB-SP), Gilberto Nascimento (PSC-SP), Leonardo Picciani (PMDB-RJ), Bruno Araújo (PSDB-PE), Maurício Quintella Lessa (PR-AL), Jovair Arantes (PTB-GO), Mendonça Filho (DEM-PE), André Figueiredo (PDT-CE), Arthur Oliveira Maia (SD-BA), Andre Moura (PSC-SE), Rubens Bueno (PPS-PR) and Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ), and the Senators Lindbergh Farias (PT-RJ), Vanessa Grazziotin (PCdoB-AM) and Ciro Nogueira (PP-PI).

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Photo credit: BRICS Parliamentary Forum official website