“2020 was a year like no other in living memory. Our societies were knocked off balance by an unprecedented pandemic which continues to rage and will have a lasting impact for years to come,” says US Congressman Gerald E. Connolly, President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA), in his introduction to the 2020 Annual Presidential Report.
In this unprecedented moment of crisis, the NATO PA continued to provide a forum for legislators from across Europe and North America to exchange both on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the full range of challenges facing the NATO Alliance.
This first-ever digital Annual Presidential Report lays out how the Assembly tackled these challenges across its 2020 reports, recommendations and activities.
Throughout last year, lawmakers focused on the coronavirus crisis and adopted a range of special policy outputs on the crisis, its impacts, and the way ahead. In his message, President Connolly pays tribute to his predecessor, Attila Mesterhazy (Hungary), who stood at the helm of the Assembly between December 2019 and November 2020, for guiding the NATO PA through this response.
“Throughout the year, under the leadership of my predecessor, Attila [Mesterhazy], the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has played its part in highlighting how our collective nations could better support each other in this crisis and what lessons we must learn going forward in the future,” notes President Connolly.
In early 2020, the Assembly was compelled to completely reinvent its tools of parliamentary diplomacy and move online when it could no longer meet in person, organising some 30 webinars and other meetings, including its annual session bringing together close to 250 members of parliament.
“COVID-19 threatened to obscure or draw away attention from longstanding challenges to the transatlantic Alliance. But the threats to our collective security have not subsided, and in some cases they have actually become more pronounced”, says Congressman Connolly. “Democracy is under attack as the march of autocracy has hastened its step. The rise of China risks a shifting international balance of power. Russian aggression and subversive activities target NATO allies and partners. The threat of terrorism continues. And climate change of course imperils the future of our very planet”, he adds.
At the start of a pivotal year for NATO, President Connolly’s video message looks ahead, too: “In 2020, the Alliance launched an important reflection process to define its priorities for 2030. And beginning this year, Allied Heads of State and Government will chart the way forward. Our Assembly will be an engaged and active contributor and partner to this process.”
President Connolly has identified the strengthening of democratic values which undergird NATO as a key priority in this regard. He notes: “Early this year, we were reminded that democracy is fragile. We must constantly work to protect our democratic institutions and counter all those attempts to undermine them”, adding this is “a priority our Assembly, as an interparliamentary body is uniquely able to champion”. To support this goal, the Assembly President has proposed the creation within NATO of a Democratic Resilience Centre – a recommendation he first made on the occasion of NATO’s 70th anniversary in 2019.
The report is released on the first day of the Assembly’s annual Joint Committee Meetings, which normally take place in Brussels. Some 150 members will discuss with NATO leaders, national officials and key experts how the Alliance must continue adapting to new strategic realities and open a new chapter in transatlantic relations.
The Meetings will also include the annual meeting with the Permanent Representatives to the North Atlantic Council under the joint chairmanship of President Connolly and Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General and Chairman of the North Atlantic Council. These events are not public. There will be no media opportunity.