At the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (or, as everybody says, the COP27), held in Egypt from 6 to 20 November 2022, delegates from 197 countries, civil society and other institutions met again to discuss the further implementation of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The usual “too little, too late” refrain usually filling the comments was somehow disrupted by an apparently colossal step forward: the historical (?) decision to establish a new financial instrument: a Loss and Damage Fund. Its goal would be to share among the richer countries the burden on those most affected by climate change, unfortunately mainly classified among the developing or least developed countries.
Yet, reading the papers anyone can quickly realize that the historical decision is an empty one: it is easy to agree on the establishment of a new institution/fund/financial tool (still we don’t know what it will be) if you don’t have to agree to the how, when, where and who…. and especially to who pays and how much.
Yet, at least one decision was taken: who would be on the Transitional Committee in charge of all these decisions. Almost. In fact, this “who” is quite unspecified.
We just know they will represent 24 countries, comprising 10 members from developed countries and 14 from developing countries. Among the 14, we also know that 3 will be from Africa, 3 from Asia and Pacific, 3 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 2 from small island developing States, 2 members from the least developed countries; and to get to 14, 1 from some category non specified above (which?).
Why 24? Maybe because this is the size of the IMF and (until a few years ago) World Bank boards. Does it mean that the fund, more than a financial instrument will be an international financial institution? One that we could classify as an international organization? Maybe.
If so, great opportunities lay ahead. After so many years of discussions on how to revise IMF and WB to make them more equitable and closer to their “clients”, both geographically and culturally, we could just take the new Fund as an occasion to design an entirely different way to build an equitable world organization. In fact, what best opportunity than starting from scratch?
The process in itself is not exactly transparent
The same Decision -/CP.27 -/CMA.4 establishing the Committee (not the Fund) was quite hidden among the COP27 documents. Moreover, it would be interesting to know who are the 24 selected countries and who are their appointed representatives. As these 24 people are in charge of submitting a detailed proposal for the real creation of the Fund on the occasion of the next COP, their knowledge, experience and wisdom are quite relevant.
I would also love – and maybe many experts and activists would as well – to know how to get in touch with them to submit suggestions or, even better, contribute to the work in progress.
I had a very interesting conversation about this topic with Nico Heller, founder and CEO of the Democracy School. You can listen to it here:
And here are a few suggestions to add some democratic features to the new financial institution, if they dare!
A Multistakeholder Assembly, as a second chamber flanking the (usually intergovernmental) Governing Council;
A Ministerial Committee with the same composition as the Transitional Committee to be renewed on a rotating basis, to provide political guidance;
An independent Executive Board, appointed by the chambers after a proposal by the Ministerial Committee;
Membership of regional integration organizations as an alternative to membership of States, with full rights;
Transparency, transparency, transparency (e.g. motivated decisions, to be published online);
An advisory role for civil society (e.g. online consultations on drafts of policy and strategy documents;
Structural links with other international organizations whose role is related or overlapping to avoid duplication of functions, fragmentation and dispersion of resources. We could start with…
It does not happen every day that an interesting case study for institutional engineering is also a crucial tool to tackle a global issue.
And we didn’t talk about financing! There we have an even greater challenge as the new institution should be able to support itself and finance its grants somehow. Would be too much bold to imagine states’ contributions based on some kind of algorithm where both emissions and GDP are part of the equation? Could that not encourage indirectly reducing emissions? Just saying…
On January 17, the Deliberative Democracy Cohort was launched as a multi-stakeholder group forming part of the Summit for Democracy. The group is co-led by the European Commission and the Government of Ireland.
To understand the historical meaning of this further step to enhance democracy in times of crisis we need to enlarge the perspective.
Democracy, in its multiple meaning of government “of” the people, “for” the people -or the even more elusive – “in the interest” of the people is a controversial concept, which has received in the course of its now multi-millennial but episodic history various attempts at theorization and even more varied concrete applications.
The idea that its first complete application takes place in the Athens of Pericles is highly accredited, despite it being an improvement of the legacy from previous generations. The first conceptualizations of Plato and Aristotle are well known. However, even then the word was ambivalent: “demos” means undeniably people, yet “kratos” is power (or strength), not necessarily good governance. Other words were preferred by the Athenians themselves to designate their own form of government, because the power of the people, or more correctly of the majority, resembles much to what we would call populism today.
The introduction, over time, of a series of counterbalances to the majority rule, has been decisive in the evolution of the very idea of democracy. Another determining element of evolution, which has gradually merged with the previous one, is in the set of individual rights and freedoms which – starting from equality before the law – makes democracy effective.
The notion of democracy is an evolving phenomenon whose connotations change over time and according to cultures. The typically western formula that informs liberal democracies today has evolved quite a bit from the Athenian polis to the American and French revolutions and from these to the present day; although history has decreed its success, the experiments of other peoples and cultures must not be forgotten. The fair sharing of choices and responsibilities in a given social grouping can take various forms as Amartya Sen pointed out.
The recurring democratic element seems to be the presence of assemblies. The decisional process may be closer to consensus than to the majority voting, achieved through methods of comparison and composition of interests ranging from dialogue to storytelling. The delegation of power to those in the assembly may be some kind of election but the appointment may be achieved in other different ways, based for example on age and experience, or even on rotation and sortition. The attention of this contribution focuses precisely on the latter hypothesis: the rotation carried out by drawing lots, with all the interesting enrichments that come nowadays from the use of mathematical and IT tools.
The reason for the growing attention to deliberative democracy and specifically to the assemblies of citizens designated by lot is not the happiest.
The ongoing crisis of democracy is attested by numerous indexes and can be easily verified: the number of undemocratic or not fully democratic countries is increasing and even where democracy resists it is threatened by anti-politics and abstentionism – serious symptoms of the distance between administrators and administered. The polarization that takes place in the political arena as well as on social media – also due to political profiling – and behaviors such as the diffusion of fake news and the use of hate speech don’t help the conversation and civil confrontation among different groups and parties which is an essential element of parliamentarism. If all this were not bad enough, recent scandals have revealed how attacks on democracy via social networks can be the result of precise strategies, as revealed by the scandal of Cambridge Analytica or by the UN reports concerning the Rohingya genocide in Myanmair.
There is a clear need to restore trust in the process of democratically challenging the others as well as, once elected, reaching a consensus with them on the big issues. A need to accept the debate and the other’s perspectives as equally legitimate. We need to take a stape back and adopt a fresh look.
Maybe we can start where it all started, in Athens, Vth century BC.
At the origins of deliberative democracy by drawing lots is the Athenian experience of the classical era. The Boulé – the council of 500 – was composed as a result of a draw among those who were available. The mechanism of sortition was intended to guarantee the equality of citizens and aimed at avoiding the interference that wealth or social position in the selection. Laws were voted on by the Ecclesia, the assembly of all the citizens, but only after the initiative of Boulé, a combination of deliberative and direct democracy.
The democratic nature of the process, however, was not only in the drawing of lots, which translates into practice an idea of equal opportunities, but even more so in the deliberative moment: in the exercise of debating that led to the formulation of choices.
In direct democracy, the positions expressed by the individuals are the result of autonomous deliberation whenever we are in a dimension bigger than a small community where everyone can be part of a conversation. Its current typical instrument is the referendum. Each individual choice sum-up with those of the others but is formed autonomously, at risk of manipulation or polarization. Conversely, in a deliberative democracy model, i.e. in an assembly, the main goal is achieving a shared will or at least gaining some collective wisdom, through a process of smoothing out the differences through dialogue.
The spring of deliberative democracy based on the lot dates to the last two decades. Particularly significant in this area were the studies conducted within the OECD, which actually followed a series of interesting experiments conducted at a national level on issues of primary importance which demonstrated the effectiveness of the formula. In Europe, after the financial crisis of 2008, both Ireland and Iceland experienced constitutional revision with this formula. However, this is a global trend (see, among others, the experience of British Columbia in Canada in 2004 and Australia in 1998).
Fast forward, we have now permanent assemblies by sortition running from the local level, such as the Paris’ Assemblée citoyenne or the G1000 in Belgium, to the European level as the panels of the Conference on the Future of Europe, run from May 9, 2021, to May 9, 2022. We will see more of them as the European Commission has announced that the same kind of gatherings by sortition will precede the adoption of important legislative proposals on food waste, learning mobility and virtual worlds.
Making the instrument permanent has an added value, it serves to communicate to citizens the message implicit in the rotation: anybody could be next to sit in the assembly and take decisions. It makes all citizens potential actors. Not surprisingly, many think tanks and grassroots movements are supporting these processes.
Technological evolution has brought two important evolutionary factors into the process:
a) The sortition may be the result of an algorithm aimed at reflecting the diversity of the administrated or at favouring certain specifically interested categories. The four panels set up within the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe were intended to pay attention to both objectives: they reflected socio-economic, geographical and gender diversity and at the same time privileged the category of citizens under 25, who were assigned a third of the seats.
The second is the fact that artificial intelligence can contribute significantly to pooling ideas and organizing the outcomes of discussions, to extract the shared will and the main options. This too has already been tested in the European process. More digital tools are being produced and tested for this aim.
The Conference on the Future of Europe concluded its work with the presentation of the Final Report to the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission. It includes 49 proposals comprising more than 300 measures spread across 9 themes.
On 4 May 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the follow-up to be given to the Conference, and shortly after, on 17 June, the Commission released a Communication. Both the supranational institutions clearly took the side of the citizens and chose to respond to their expectations. In fact, the Commission prepared an analysis with the 49 proposals divided into thematic areas and subdivided into categories according to whether there were legislative initiatives already in progress, actions planned for follow-up on proposals (but not yet or not necessarily at the initial stage) and new initiatives, but also requests that require revision of the Treaties, accompanied by the intention of following them up. It also specified that implementing the proposals through existing instruments and revising the Treaties were not alternative options, but that what could be done without resorting to revision should be done. The Commission also declared the intention to remain “on the side of those who want to reform the Union to make it work better”, also through the reform of the Treaties, if necessary, as may be necessary for the fields of health and foreign and security policy.
The Parliament was even more direct, adopting on June 9th, a Resolution with the formal request to convene a Convention for the revision of the Treaties.
Among the citizens proposals, one, the 36 no 7, is particularly meaningful:
“Holding Citizens’ assemblies periodically, on the basis of legally binding EU law. Participants must be selected randomly, with representativeness criteria, and participation should be incentivized. If needed, there will be support of experts so that assembly members have enough information for deliberation. If the outcomes are not taken on board by the institutions, this should be duly justified. (…)”. It clearly shows that those in the process found it to be useful and learned within it a new way to be citizens.
SUPRANATIONAL DEMOCRACY DIALOGUE A dialogue among scholars, civil society, and creative thinkers about global democratic solutions to global challenges. V Edition “FOCUS ON TOOLS” Brindisi May 18-19, 2023
The University of Salento will host the new edition of the two days event – the only one of its kind aimed at bringing together scholars from any background, NGO leaders and political activists, businessmen and innovative thinkers to discuss together the big challenges facing humanity.
Those willing to contribute are invited to send an abstract by February 28, 2023, addressing one of the following topics:
I. The Building of a Political Public Sphere beyond Borders. II. Civic Participation and Citizens’ Activism. III. Digital Democracy & AI IV. Litigation for the Advancement of Collective Rights. V. Regional Integrations and Multilateralism. VI. Balancing Conflicting Interests: a Task for Politics and Jurisdictions
Contributions are also welcome if they lay at the intersection of two or more topics (cross-cutting themes such as governance, inequality, transparency…) or if they have a wider focus and include a case study falling within one of the four topics listed above. The ideal contribution is not just an analysis of the problem, but a proposal for addressing it democratically in some original or unconventional way, yet feasible. The abstract (max 500 words), together with a short bio (max 300 words), may be sent to the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. The authors of the selected abstracts will receive two-night accommodation.
With the support of
UNGSC, Maison Jean Monnet, Democracy and Culture Foundation, Atlas, Democracy Without Borders, The Streit Council for a Union of Democracies, CesUE, Euractiv.it, The Democracy School, Italian Association of International Law Professors (SIDI)- Interest Groups on International Economic Law (SIDI DIEcon) and on Humar Rights (DIEDU); Association of Italian Experts of European Law (AISDUE)- Forum on International Projection of European Union (PIUE); Jean Monnait Chair and modules at Università del Salento.