Starting With Why

The global challenges and concerns we face today are well known: the peaceful coexistence of states and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the climate change and the need for sustainable development, the threats to financial stability, the tragic inequalities across the planet in wealth and democracy.

We need to do something. And, first of all, we need to reflect on what to do.

To face such challenges and to guarantee global public goods, the international community has created after world war II a number of international organizations responsible for the pursuit of specific goals, which have been given more or less adequate competences and tools.

Are these organizations democratic? Are they efficient? if the answer is no (or not enough) how could they be improved?

This is the topic to be explored here.

Answers will be offered, comments and contributions will be welcome. The aim is starting a fruitful dialogue because – as history teaches us – democracy is the result of a social pact: we are all involved.

Democracy nowadays cannot just be national as problems and challenges are getting more and more global.  It’s globalization, baby.

To try to respond to the challenge, I decided to focus on what are (at least for me!) the three key ingredients of a modern democracy: legitimacy, accountability, inclusiveness. I built on them a paradigm for democracy in international organisations which I called democratic experimentation.

As individuals are an essential ingredient of democracy, I think that democratic international organization should be supranational, or move towards more advanced forms of supranationality. But how individuals can interact on a global stage, legitimize global institutions, hold them accountable? It’s not that easy.

They may interact as civil society or just as informed public opinion. Internet plays a major role in allowing them to become global citizens, if (and where) internet access is guaranteed.

So many topics to discuss about, so important to deepen the analysis and offer solutions. The debate is open and you’re all welcome!

Susanna

To Brexit or Not To Brexit

The nowadays famous article 50 of the EU Treaty didn’t exist before the 2009 Lisbon reform.

The founding fathers’ vision of an ever closer union didn’t contemplate a way back … or a way out. The marriage had to be for life. But then, after the big enlargments in 2004 and 2007, some practical minds decided to foresee the possibility of a divorce.

And here we are, with a divorce we didn’t expect to see.
As a British colleague made me notice, the 48% of the voters who expressed the will to remain are not parties in this divorce process, they are the victims: the children.

And the divorce is not formalized yet and this doesn’t seem to happen anytime soon.

Those who say that enacting art.50 is a competence of the British parliament are certainly right, as the  parliament ratified and enforced the European treaties in the British legal order and cannot be bypassed by the goverment, repealing these acts. By the way, both the parliament and the government  look reluctant as they didn’t really want this outcome.

Those who say that the will of the citizens cannot be ignored are right too. It is absolutely reasonable that such an important decision should require a larger majority, but there wasn’t any rule about it and a majority won.

Both the fields -the Brexit supporters and the remain supporters – have solid arguments on their side.

But there isn’t only the British membership of the European Union at stake. That would be too simple an assumption.

The remain voters are not necessarily supporters of this Union, which has its own undeniable flaws. Most of them stand for an idea: being united with our  diversities, being  stronger together, being peaceful as a family which solves its own divergences discussing at a common table.
Most of them know that the Union is a work in progress which can be improved only from the inside. And they know there is much to gain from the EU’s open borders and European citizenships’ rights if you are willing to move, explore and challenge yourself and your national limiting beliefs. They reasonably don’t want to lose these rights.

The Brexit  voters come from a range of different experiences:

  • Some of them  have suffered and still suffer austerity;
  • Some identify Europe with a suffocating bureaucracy and  a political failure, which is how Europe as been sold to British people for decades: as a useful scapegoat.
  • Some expressed a feeling of antipolitics, they would probably have rejected any political establishment and just prove the  crisis of democracy we all see around us.
  • Then there are the champions of national sovereignty, and all sorts of nationalism.
    This feeling has been fueled by the huge migrations from the southern shore of the Mediterranean. It is a real emergency and nationalist attitudes won’t help to find a solution whatsoever. But still we can understand where this feeling comes from: fear. Fear of invasion, fear of sharing already meager work opportunities and national resources.
  • Finally, some think that a free rider state will thrive on the global market, possibly a more and more deregulated global market. This is a completely different attitude, but still anti-EU. And more than the other views it looks anti-historical as the world goes in the opposite direction: solving problems which become more and more global will require more integration, not less. Even little tax heavens are (finally!) under threat of extinction.

    I am totally empathetic with the “remain” voters and still, while I wish the best outcome for them, I wonder if a Brexit is politically avoidable.

    However the dilemma will be solved, some lessons need to be driven:

    ⁃       austerity has not been the solution to the financial crisis. In some countries it even worsened the economic situation. In many states unemployment is still at record level. The price was especially paid by the weaker part of the population, poverty and inequality provided a good soil for populism and nationalism. Moreover, it has been errouneously attributed to Europe, while it was a national solution (as I already explained).
    ⁃       There is a crisis of democracy and a rise of antipolitics almost everywhere. I have my theory about that: the nation states are not anymore the right institutional framework for tackling most of our problems, we need to go more local and more global at the same time. But – be right or wrong my explanation – we need a serious reflection on our contemporary democracies.
    ⁃       Finally, we need to work for a better Europe, we owe this to those who voted against it as to those who voted in favour. I have written about this and for sure I will write more extensively in the future. I’ve already been too long!

    For those who arrived to the end of my reflections: these are challenges not just for polical elites, not just for governments and states, but for all of us. And this is a call of duty for new brave political leaders at all levels.

Sustainable Development = Intergenerational Equity

From the Development Education Program of the World Bank Group:

What is Sustainable Development?

There are many definitions of sustainable development, including this landmark one which first appeared in 1987:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

— from the World Commission on Environment and Development’s
(the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

But what does this mean? What are the needs of the present? Take a minute and jot down five to ten needs that you have in your own life.

Have you listed any needs that conflict with one another? For example, if you listed clean air to breathe, but also listed a car for transportation, your needs might conflict. Which would you choose, and how would you make your decision? If within ourselves, we have conflicting needs, how much is that multiplied when we look at a whole community, city, country, world? For example, what happens when a company’s need for cheap labor conflicts with workers’ needs for livable wages? Or when individual families’ needs for firewood conflict with the need to prevent erosion and conserve topsoil? Or when one country’s need for electricity results in acid rain that damages another country’s lakes and rivers?

How do we decide whose needs are met? Poor or rich people? Citizens or immigrants? People living in cities or in the countryside? People in one country or another? You or your neighbor? The environment or the corporation? This generation or the next generation? When there has to be a trade off, whose needs should go first?

The Long and the Short of It

People concerned about sustainable development suggest that meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social, economic, and environmental objectives–or needs–when making decisions today. Some of these needs are itemized around the puzzle diagram.

What social, economic, or environmental needs would you add to the puzzle?

Non 

Many of these objectives may seem to conflict with each other in the short term. For example, industrial growth might conflict with preserving natural resources. Yet, in the long term, responsible use of natural resources now will help ensure that there are resources available for sustained industrial growth far into the future.

Studying the puzzle raises a number of difficult questions. For example, can the long term economic objective of sustained agricultural growth be met if the ecological objective of preserving biodiversity is not? What happens to the environment in the long term if a large number of people cannot afford to meet their basic household needs today? If you did not have access to safe water, and therefore needed wood to boil drinking water so that you and your children would not get sick, would you worry about causing deforestation? Or, if you had to drive a long distance to get to work each day, would you be willing to move or get a new job to avoid polluting the air with your car exhaust? If we don’t balance our social, economic, and environmental objectives in the short term, how can we expect to sustain our development in the long term?”

The notion of sustainable development highlights two different dilemmas:

I. How do we  balance  conflicting interests which can be equally important, ethically legitimate, both compelling? Admitting that evolution in technology, governance, infrastractures, investment flows may change the scenario in every moment: how can we adjust decisions over time? How will we avoid new imbalances?

II. How can we integrate in our evaluations the interests of future generations? How do we guarantee the rights of our children and grandchildren?

The answer are not simple ones, I even wonder if you or me or anybody else has such answers…

But, before working on the answers, we need to work on “how” we could arrive to such answers!

Mine may be the typical legal mind approach, but – follow me-  it has some merit:

I. We need to integrate in this evaluation all the possible perspectives. No matter how good a political decisor may be, the authority in charge cannot know everything. The largest the number of people having a say, the better. And we need to know who these stakeholders are: NGOs, civil society at large, lobbies, experts…. Whoever bears an interest should be invited to intervene, admitting that they declare who they are and what they stand for.

II We need the best data available at the moment of the decisions, and in case of conflicting or uncertain data a precautionary principle should stop doubtful decisions.

III Then, once the perspectives and the data are collected, the authority in charge – governments, parliaments, international organizations, agencies, technical authorities – should decide and take full responsability for their decisions. Systems of checks and balances should ensure proper accountability mechanisms. Procedures for claims are necessary. Affected individuals, at least through collective organizations, should be granted a right to dispute the decisions, and impartial courts and bodies should be in charge of these evaluations.

IV Finally, decisions affecting sustainable development should be revised if new data, new technologies or other relevant elements affecting the previous evaluations change.

How can we be sure that interests of future generations will be granted ? We just cannot.

It would be great to have an advocate for future generation in the main international fora, just imagine the representative of future generations as a member of the G20 (+1)!

As we are maybe not ready for that,  we can only hope that our grandsons and grandaughters, looking back at the way we managed their planet, will concede us that we did our best with what we had and using our current knowledge. Setting a good procedure.

 

The Global Vote

If you go to The Global Vote, you can pick an election, wherever in the world, and express your vote.

For sure, I will vote on Brexit and on American presidential elections and next year for the French ones…  Why? Because they affect me deeply, even if I live in Italy!

Why should we care who runs other countries?

Because to make the world work, we need a world of good leaders. Leaders who consider the needs of every man, woman, child and animal on the planet, not just their own voters.

We, the rest of the world, will achieve this aim by reminding each candidate that we’re here, we care, and we’re watching. We need them to do the right thing for their own country and for the whole of humanity, if they are elected.

By asking each candidate about their international intentions, election after election, that question will eventually become accepted as part of the normal election process for any Head of State or Head of Government. No leader will be able to stand for election unless they have a clear policy for their country’s role in the world and a vision of how they will co-operate and collaborate with other leaders and other populations.

Letting leaders know that we are watching them and evaluating them, we’ll make them pay more attention to the impact they have not just on their country, but on the world.

 The more people vote, the more impact this project will have. Can I ask you to spread the www.globalvote.org link around your own friends, family and networks?

With your help, one country at a time, we can build a world of good leaders. 

This is another great initiative by Simon Anholt, creator of the Good Country Project.

No Man is an Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Active Global Citizenship: Making the Climate Convention Work

First published on Vocal Europe

 

We are all shocked because of the floods in Paris and across most of central Europe: from Germany to Belgium to Romania. We are scared for the increased frequency and violence of such exceptional climate events, we are worried for our future and the future of our sons.

Yes, some commentators pointed correctly out that this kind of events – as exceptional as they are – already happened in the past, but everybody agrees that global aggregated data on temperature rise are unprecedented, at least as far as we humans can record.

And no events like natural disasters make us feel more powerless, just victims or scared observers.

Still, an attempt has been done – if not to restore the previous climate conditions – at least to slow down this crazy growth of temperature by limiting the impact of our species on the Earth’s ecosystems, to make it finally sustainable. This is the Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015 by 196 delegations, signed by 177 states and already ratified by 17 of them.

Unfortunately, as ambitious as it is, the Paris Agreement is not enough.

In the text, which is the result of the twenty-first meeting of the Parties (COP21) of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the member states “…Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind”, commit to hold “ the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”.

The goal, so, it is not a correction of the current situation, but just the effort to stop further worsening.

While the convention offers some interesting guidelines to help to reach the goal –subsidiarity, transparency, responsibility – unfortunately it does not provide any real enforcement mechanism nor sanctions in case of infringement. The respect of so important commitments depends solely on the good will of the signatories and on the peer- review mechanism every 5 years.

We know that this isn’t enough, but how could we – the citizens – do something about that?

Well, actually, we can do something.

Through an initiative called “citizens’ climate engagement network” we can all do something.

And I have to thank Joseph Robertson, global strategy director at Citizens’ Climate Lobby for starting this wonderful lab for the empowerment of citizens across the world.

He was right when he wrote to me some days ago: “supranational democracy is underway!”

CCEN could be defined as a new global framework to support and expand direct citizens’ and stakeholders’ engagement in the intergovernmental process, in the surveillance over the States and the way they keep their commitments, in promoting new ideas and ways to stop climate change.

In practice, anybody can host a local working session, to contribute local insights and experiences to the global climate policy process. A toolkit for local sessions is on-line, ready to use. A platform will provide exchanges of views inside this community of engaged citizens. Finally, an Advisory Coalition meets once a month to share insights, think through challenges to meeting the mission of the CCEN, which is to ensure any voice from anywhere with an idea worth sharing can be heard in the global conversation.

The governance is completed by a secretariat and a global team of local networks of leaders, stakeholders and collaborators. The mission is to build a global base of local knowledge, relating to the Paris Agreement, and to bring all the local insight into the COP22 negotiations, making all voices heard. So increasing the legitimacy and the accountability of and the inclusion into the Paris Convention framework.

Representatives from several UN agencies and dedicated NGOs joined the advisory coalition  in their personal capacity, and I’m very glad to be part of it. And the UNFCCC secretariat hosted the initiative in its newsroom. It’s getting big!

What is most relevant in this bottom-up exercise, we learned the lesson that organized citizens may take a stance for global goals, so filling the gaps of global governance. The CCEN is a precious lab. It shows how active global citizenship is possible, as a path towards a more democratic world.

The effort behind this accomplishment could be replicated for other goals, empowering communities of committed people to work together as active global citizens: I think of associations and NGOs promoting human rights, fighting poverty, claiming for women and children’s rights. And these are just examples.

If there is a lesson we can learn from the climate change challenge, it is this sense of belonging to the human family, sharing a “common concern” as humankind.

COP21_participants_-_30_Nov_2015_23430273715-897x494

 

Einstein’s Supranational Government

During World War II, just like Altiero Spinelli wrote the Ventotene Manifesto, Albert Einstein endorsed the idea of a supranational world government, which would have guaranteed global peace  without interfering in culture, economy and national politics.

They where not the only ones to think that supranational laws and institutions could promise a new era of peace and prosperity. The United Nations and other multilateral institutions set up in the Forties of the previous century are nothing but a resized realization of more ambitious visions.

But let’s go back to Einstein and his personal path which brought him to use – one of the few – the word “supranational“.

Of course, he was Influenced by his life experience as a citizen of several nations as well as by his international  career as a scientist, he couldn’t but be a cosmopolitan. His spiritual openness informed his universalist perspective. His vision for world government, inherently pacifist, was not far from Kant’s Perpetual Peace.

Distaste for nationalism and militarism pushed Einstein to revoke his German citizenship in 1896 and, until 1901, he lived without citizenship at all. Then he got the Swiss citizenship and kept it until his death (adding Austrian and American citizenship, and again the German one in different periods).

Knowing first hand that citizenship may be relative or temporary, but humanity remains the core of what we are, Albert Einstein offers a powerful example of how personal experience and beliefs  also forge a personal political vision.

einstein

 

“It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs.” – A. Einstein

From the Chaos, the Tiles of a New World Order

In many mythologies, order is born out of chaos. Well…  there is hope, at least !

What we see around us is quite a chaotic world: magmatic and unstable, full of emergencies, slipping out of the control of inadequate social and political structures.

Some of us have the impression that time is ripe for a big leap, a cultural revolution as the only  possible alternative to sinking into the anarchic collapse of our societies or, even worse, a new fall into the hell of nationalism and war.

Some philosophers or mathematicians could object that we are used to live on the edge of chaos, being the world a complex system whose balance is intrinsecally unstable. Hence, the  chaos theory seems to ignore  – at least in the social science – the important variable that I would call human evolution.

The choice is not simply between chaos and complexity, on one side, and stability and order, on the other (an illusion sold by many populist politicians). The third way is the most realistic one, even if difficult to walk: ethically navigating the complexity to promote the emergence of new models and solutions.

How could that be possible?

I think many of us have have had insights about it, different but all convergent. I’ll offer a number of inspiring examples.

First of all, I see a rise in awareness. Many people started to feel global citizens and experience this awareness. For instance, the huge community of global citizens has an impact on addressing extreme poverty; everybody, supporting Movements, can help an activist for human rights in need; people signing petitions on Avaaz  take a stance on causes which are perceived as global. Interestingly enough, active global citizenship is being born bottom-up.

There is also a way to express this awareness as economic players. Many years have passed since Klaus Schwab had the brilliant intuition that modern enterprises must serve all stakeholders to achieve long-term growth and prosperity. Since then, his creature, the World Economic Forum, grew exponentially, still committed to improving the state of the world.

Even if the concept of social responsibility of enterprises is not new,  it is getting more and more popular: together with the narrative of disruptive change, the narrative of positively impacting the world has gained traction in the entrepreneurial environment. Beautiful initiatives as XPrize or Hive are thriving.

Private foundations are now big players in financing development, education, health care, social justice: One, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Open Society Foundations and many more… Philantropists appear animated by the desire of giving back to humanity, by the deep consciousness of their impact on millions of lives and by the side effect of living more fulfilling lives.

The civil society  -after a long season of demonstrations in the Nineties (against  G7, WTO, globalization) – started building bridges to make their voice heard by international actors. NGOs are more and more global actors, starting original initiatives to make international organizations more legitimate, accountable and inclusive.

The newborn Citizens Climate Engagement Network deserves a special mention as a powerful example of what individuals can do even in the apparently out of reach challenge of stopping climate change.

In this changing climate, States are somehow hanging back, as bulwarks of the status quo, a problem that Simon Anholt is addressing with the Good Country project. He deserves all our support.

Finally which institutional shape would better fit this changing world? Which model would sort us out of this “competitive mode” and organise humanity as a single species sharing  a single planet? This is my issue and this blog is my thinking aloud about it. You can read here and there insights and bits of a solution. Something to work on for decades!

I apologize if I forgot to mention many worthy individuals and beautiful initiatives, I know many of you are on this path of progress and evolution and, if you want to add some information posting a comment, I really appreciate.

It seems to me important – in a world focused on bad news – turn on a light beam on the emerging tiles of a different reality.

How long it will take for the puzzle pieces to get together?

Ubuntu and International Law

Ubuntu is an ancient African word and it is difficult to translate it in a language that doesn’t hold the same concept.

It basically means: ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’ or: my humanity is inextrically connected to the group I belong; my happiness is their happiness; their sorrow is my sorrow.

The word became popular thanks to two African Nobel laurates, Nelson Mandela and the archbishop Desmond Tutu, and even more thanks to the Linux desktop bearing this name.

It recalls me a famous Latin quote by the poet Terentius “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” (I am a man, nothing human is alien to me), but ubuntu goes much further: not only everything human is not alien to me, it even affects me deeply. It tells us about belonging, interconnectedness, wholeness, even empathy and compassion.

It is not a legal concept, but for sure it is an ethical concept which inspired some legal statements about common concerns of humankind.

It is close to a legal concept which is around (and debated) since long time: the common heritage principle, which establishes that some resources or sites belong to all humanity and have to be available for everyone’s use and benefit. It is established as a guarantee for the future generations and the needs of developing countries.

The principle surfaces in many international legal texts, even if its most known application remains the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1975) which gives UNESCO the competence to designate the sites being of special cultural or physical significance. These, due to their outstanding cultural or natural importance belong to the common heritage of humanity and have to be preserved for the future generations. While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located, they have to be protected  in the interest of the international community.

The idea was not new, one of the oldest appearences is in the Antarctic Treaty (1959). It is stated in its preamble that its primary purpose is to ensure “in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord”.

A clear affirmation of the Common heritage of the mankind, not just  as a principle but as a rule, is in the U.N. Outer Space Treaty (1967):

Art.1: “The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind. Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies. There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and States shall facilitate and encourage international co-operation in such investigation.”

Art.2: “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”.

In the Moon Treaty, which came after (1979) we read that “[t]he Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind” (art. 11).

Then we had the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), where we read that “the Area and its resources are the common heritage of mankind” (art. 136). This means that the Area and its resources cannot be claimed, appropriated, or owned by any state or person (art. 137). All rights to resources belong to mankind as a whole, with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) acting on mankind’s behalf (Article 140). Here we can see a step forward: an authority in charge to guarantee the interests of mankind.

Finally, we can read in the preamble of the Paris Convention on Climate Change:

“Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

To date, the principle is still waiting for application in other important fields:

The UNESCO adopted two declarations inspired to it (which are just declarations, not binding treaties): the  Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights and the Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations Towards Future Generations, both in 1997They are potentially part of international customary law, if international or national judges can verify that they match the general practice of states and what states have accepted as law.

What about other resources which are at the core of our interdependence? Internet? Big data? Or, more trivially, the air we breath?

This application of the oneness principle to the difficult field of international law was first an intuition by Immanuel Kant in his essay Perpetual peace (1795), it is nowadays supported by cosmopolitanist theories and by the doctrine of global public goods. To be properly enforced, nonetheless, it requires a shift in legal paradigms that is really controversial (challenging traditional international law concepts such as acquisition of territory, sovereignty, sovereign equality, and international personality).

And it requires a shift in consciousness towards  Ubuntu.

 

 

Transnational Politics: The Idea Whose Time Has Come.

As Victor Hugo said :

rien n’est plus puissant qu’une idée dont le temps est venu

Abolishing slavery or giving voting rights to women were once crazy ideas.

But, one day, somebody started to think that such ideas were – after all – quite reasonable, or even that they felt righ. It took time to build a critical mass of people thinking that way, but it happened: the time was ripe… and such ideas became powerful.

There are ideas or opinions whose time has just come: that individuals are equal no matter their sexual orientation, that little girls have the right to get an education, that women deserve the same salary of men for the same job: in some places this is already obvious (and not from yesterday), but you can see now a global push for that. Time is ripe.

You may also notice that once every nation had its own time for these evolutionary leaps, even if the neighbouring countries and cultures had an influence on it. Europe has always been that way: a sort of civilization soup where ideas moved back and forth across boundaries.

Now, in the global village, ideas are more and more percolating across boundaries. Leaps will happen more and more on a global scale and critical masses will be, more often than not, transnational ones.

Becoming aware of that is a revelation which pushes us to look for our community across boundaries. I’ve found mine in all the individuals living as global citizens and pushing for a transnational dimension of politics, where individuals may play a role.

I want to mention here some friends:  Joseph Robertson from Citizens Climate Lobby -who is at work building an operative Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network, to improve bottom up accountability to the Paris engagements on climate; Philippe Mazuel, founder of the Party of the Citizens of Europe – PACE, who is candidate for the next French presidential elections in order to promote a real European dimension of politics (and if you are French you can support him on LaPrimaire.org);  and Sargon Nissan from the Brettom Woods Project  -who animates the  Bank and IMF’s civil society policy forum pushing for a stronger participation of civil society in order to improve the legitimacy of these global financial institutions.

I could have added more names and more examples, this avant-garde pushing for supranational democracy is not just composed of few isolated individuals, even if they’re not, yet, a critical mass. Ideas need to go their way and infect more and more individuals until, one day, time is ripe.

Then, they become powerful, as Hugo said.

Why Is Supranational Democracy so Difficult to Imagine?

The inadequate attention that international organizations’ statutes  give to legitimacy, accountability and inclusiveness hails from the limited role that IOs played at the beginning of their history and from the subsequent scarce attention to democracy in a setting different from the national state.

In today’s different international context, it is worthwhile to challenge the unsurmountable hurdles stemming from the use of the word “democratic” in connection with an international organization.

Even though there isn’t a generally accepted theory of democracy – or more broadly of supranational democracy – in international organizations, we can examine the possible portability of the individual elements that make up this notion from the state level – for which they were originally created – to the international level. This is the experiment I’m almost obsessed about.

However, two kinds of difficulties arise from the fact that we are not considering a community of individuals, but of nations.

The first obstacle is the difficult applicability of the principle of equality, inherent in the notion of democracy. It is based on the concept of equal dignity for all human beings which leads to ignore and even amend the differences that give some people a “birth right” to succeed. All states are sovereign and therefore equal inside the international community, but this principle is nothing but a fictio. Far from wanting to ignore or minimize the differences, the international community focuses upon the preservation of the status quo, which is attenuated only by the shared goal of the sustainable development and protection of fundamental rights. Even when all the countries will get, as we hope, to share similar levels of prosperity, they would be far from equal. Too many facets help mark the differences: the size of territories, populations and economies, as well as the control over natural resources and the weapon supply.

As a consequence, several organizations agree on the principle that states are differently represented to reflect their different situations. Other ones simply ignore their substantial difference, but special provisions or practices make some States more equals than others.

Important scholar studies try to offer solutions to this dilemma, but there isn’t any adequate diffusion and sedimentation of shared assessments. The reflection on the subject has followed two clearly distinct lines: the statism theory, which sees international democracy as the result of the joint action of the states, as essential building blocks; and the doctrine inspired by cosmopolitanism and transnationality, which is based on the assumption of a global demos.

Even if an international organization achieved the perfect representation of all its members and was thus fully legitimate to act, we couldn’t conclude that it was also, indirectly, fully representative of their citizens. In fact, if some of its member states weren’t democratic, or only partly democratic, they wouldn’t be representative of all their citizens. According to the Democracy Index 2015 of the Economist Intelligence Unit, only 20 countries out of 167 are full democracies.

Such a lack of legitimacy is inevitably reflected on the state’s opinions and stands in the institutions of the IO it is part of and on the overall credibility of the institutions themselves. This is a difficult legal dilemma, that can only be solved if the organizations require their members to be democratic – as the European Union does (even if it should keep a closer eye on their evolutions). It is obvious that in organizations with a universal membership the issue must be labeled as “non permanently solvable”and shelved.

There is so a good point for the cosmopolitan approach: only building on some kind of legitimacy driven directly from the global demos we can overcome the “states obstacles” which are their inequality and their imperfect democratic representation.

Even so, the imperfect representativeness that we assume as inevitable, could be compensated by accountability, which can be fully obtained at the supranational level also by designing and experimenting new legal and institutional forms.

International organizations are not really equipped for substancial legitimacy as they are not for full accountability. New channels and tools need to be imagined to provide that their decisions and lines of actions reflect the values and the will of the people.We need new and fresh ideas, in line with the reality (and the technology) of an interconnected society. 

Unfortunately, we are now accessing the realm of imagination, and here there are two more powerful obstacles.

The first one is the power of the status quo: the resistance of political and economic elites, the power of traditions and cultural heritages and the trite old say “it has always been so”.

The second obstacle lies in the fact that economic and legal minds are not really educated to work with imagination, at least not on a big scale. It’s easy to imagine a new interpretation of a rule or a new financial product, but what about a whole new system? Do we feel really empowered to do that?

We hear almost every day that challenging the status quo, working with imagination, “disrupting” are the new frontiers for entrepreneurs and marketers, but this is also true for those who want to want to prove themselves on institutional engineering… and maybe changing the world, for the better.

Human Dignity: the Value Behind the Values

Yesterday, I was speaking with a famous law professor, defending my theory of democracy in international organizations – grounded on the three core values legitimacy, accountability and inclusion – when he said something that hit me deeply:

“democracy cannot but be grounded on human dignity”.

He was, obviously, right.

Had I forgotten the basic value of human dignity? Of course not. I had assumed it, taken it for granted. And this was a mistake, I have to recognize it.

Not only it was a mistake because it  happens that the intrinsic value of every human being and every life is denied in many societies and especially to the weakest members of them, but also because if we want to understand each other on the meanings behind the words we cannot take anything for granted, we have a duty of clarity. After all, when I started this blog I took on this commitment, trying to define even words that everybody know, like democracy…. and I was forgetting such a meaningful ring in the chain of meanings!

How could we imagine a governance system legitimate by citizens, accountable towards citizens and inclusive of all citizens ….if citizens don’t have full dignity, just as human beings? Moreover, being all equally human beings, they all deserve the same respect and consideration, all enjoy the same fundamental rights.

This is clearly the grundnorm of every democratic system, what gives to legitimacy, accountability and inclusion their very meaning.

grafico dignity

There is another interesting consequence: all the citizens have the right to participate, all of them have the right to access the accountability tools (and this may even be considered a civic duty) but these are rights, never obligations. Individuals may as well chose to be on their own, do not use the democratic tools they are granted. The respect of their will to participate or not is, in the end, another way to respect their human dignity and their free will.