- “Why is there no elected world parliament that would exercise democratic oversight on behalf of the world’s citizens?”
As global interdependence becomes ever closer and more complex, more and more issues cannot be dealt with by states acting alone. To a large degree, achieving prosperity, development, and security depends on international collaboration and integration. The Brexit vote is an anomaly and an irrational response to this global trend. While the new British government is preparing for the exit negotiations with the EU, the African Union plans to introduce a continental passport and to abolish border controls just as it’s the case in the EU Schengen area. Whatever xenophobic and nationalistic demagogues would want people to believe, a Zombie-like resurrection of “national independence” is not a viable option and will only wreak havoc in the world.
Intergovernmentalism undermines democracy
There is a growing recognition, however, that the current form of globalization cannot continue. It accentuates class divisions as economic benefits are distributed in a very uneven way. At the same time, it undermines democracy through intergovernmental cooperation. In many cases, national parliaments are reduced to rubber-stamp institutions that are expected to approve of whatever the government negotiated, if they are consulted at all.
The UN and its many specialized agencies, the international financial institutions, the World Trade Organization and various intergovernmental networks already perform many of the functions of a world government. But this regime primarily serves the interest of a global elite. As Mary Kaldor put it some weeks ago, “in theory we should be able to influence decisions through national membership in global institutions, but in practice such institutions are shaped more by the interests of the global elite than by ordinary citizens.”
In a previous post, Danny Sriskandarajah argued that the system of global governance is supporting “the blatant, endemic collusion between economic and political elites.” He made the case for “radical new forms of representation and oversight” at the global level. At the EU level, the directly elected European Parliament guarantees that there is a democratic connection to the citizens. It is the most distinctive expression of the global democratic deficit that no such thing exists in the system of global governance.
Strengthening world citizens against the global elite
Tax evasion and the use of anonymous shell companies by the super rich is a major assault on the capability of states to provide public services and augments global inequality. It is said that between $24 to $36 trillion are hidden in tax havens today. In June, following the spectacular publication of the Panama Papers, the European Parliament established an inquiry committee to look into the issue of tax evasion and money laundering.
Why is there no elected world parliament that would do the same and exercise democratic oversight on behalf of the 99% of the world’s citizens? “The Panama Papers confirm that the world’s elite cheat, lie, and steal,” wrote Fredrik Deboer and proclaimed, “Taxpayers of the World, Unite!” Considering the inability or unwillingness of national governments, the OECD and other bodies to actually deal with the problem, a world parliament composed of government-independent delegates seems to be the best way forward.
A UN Parliamentary Assembly
Bold thinking is necessary. The concept of global governance—that pretends that government functions can be provided at the global level without the form—is past its best. It is a good sign that leading scholars in international relations, political science, philosophy, sociology, economics and other fields have joined last year to establish a World Government Research Network.
For sure, a world parliament cannot be established from one day to the other. But it’s an alternative and progressive approach to the notion of “taking back control.” It is based on the values of global solidarity and world citizenship. A first step would be possible right now if sufficient political will existed: the creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA). It could be set up by the General Assembly without the need of Charter reform or the Security Council’s approval.
More than 1,500 parliamentarians support a UNPA
Boutros Boutros-Ghali who was UN Secretary-General from 1992 to 1996 (ousted by the United States) was an outspoken proponent of this project. When the international campaign for a UNPA was launched in 2007, to no small part due to his encouragement, he declared that “we need to promote the democratization of globalization, before globalization destroys the foundations of national and international democracy. The establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations has become an indispensable step to achieve democratic control of globalization.”
To date, the international appeal for a UNPA is supported by a broad range of individuals and institutions from more than 150 countries—in particular, around 1,500 sitting and former members of parliament. Last May, the Pan-African Parliament called on the African governments to advance the project at the UN. The African Union’s parliament declared that “a UNPA is necessary to strengthen democratic participation and representation of the world’s citizens in the UN” and that the new assembly would “contribute to strengthening democratic oversight over UN operations, particularly in Africa.”
The best interest of humanity
Indeed, there would be a lot to do for a UNPA. Who, for instance, would be in a better position than the representatives of the world’s citizens to assess the progress on the new sustainable development goals? A UNPA should set up its own human rights commission. It should pressure governments to proceed on disarmament issues. It could monitor the progress on climate change mitigation efforts. Over time, a UNPA should be vested with rights of information, participation, and oversight vis-à-vis all relevant global governance institutions.
According to a recent poll in 18 countries, more than half of those surveyed in emerging economies saw themselves first and foremost as global citizens rather than national citizens. This sentiment would be the dominant feeling of most world parliamentarians. They would be called upon to pursue the best interest of humanity as a whole. In contrast, whatever career diplomats might feel, their duty is to represent their government’s views.
The most important proposal to give world citizens a say at the UN
The UN and the institutions of global governance are in dire need of reform. The system is fragmented and often ineffective. There are a myriad of issues that need to be addressed. One of the best overviews in recent times was provided by Joseph Schwartzberg in his book Transforming the United Nations System. Many proposals are also included in the report of the Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance that was released last year.
The creation of a UNPA, however, is the most important one if the world citizens are to have a say at the UN and in the future direction of globalization.
Andreas Bummel is co-founder and director of the Committee for a Democratic United Nations (KDUN), a non-partisan and non-governmental group located in Berlin, and a Council member of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP) in New York. Since 2007, he has been coordinating the international Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly.