Europe and the Future of International Organizations

It has been a pleasure and an honour to be hosted by Nico A. Heller in one of the conversations about the reshaping of democracy. It has been the occasion to talk about European democracy – what works and what doesn’t and how it could evolve – plus discussing reforming international global organisations and the need for postnational democracy in the XXI century to face global issues and manage global commons as the human family we are.

Many exciting interviews in the series at https://www.democracyschool.com/perspectives.

Thank you, Nico! I will be more than happy to come back with updates (and I hope to have updates to share, soon!)

Supranational Democracy Dialogue, IV Ed.

Once again, we are pleased to invite you to this flagship initiative at Università del Salento, the Supranational Democracy Dialogue (or SDD, as we call it), in Brindisi (Italy) in May 6-7, 2022.

In this dark hour, it is difficult to stop thinking of war and how it shakes the very roots of our coexistence, after the pandemic and with the ongoing deterioration of global commons, we could not imagine that things could be worse, yet they are, far worse.

Yet, building peace and understanding is more important than ever, as well as keeping alive the spirit that brings us to believe that a different world is possible (and even within reach).

As we had planned already for the 2020 edition (then moved online because of the Covid -19 pandemic, this edition will be hosted in my hometown, Brindisi. The city, located only half an hour away from Lecce, hosts some new courses of Università del Salento, namely a master degree in Science for international cooperation  (which has as institutional partners UNGSC and UNHRD) and a degree in Climate Change and Sustainability. This town is, furthermore, a symbol of peace around the world as it is the main hub for the UN peacekeeping activity and for most of the international humanitarian aid. It is also an easy place to reach as its airport is well connected with many daily flights with Rome and Milan and several low-cost flights with other European capitals. After two virtual editions, it will be great to meet again in person and share interesting conversations and pleasant moments.

For those who wish to contribute, here is the call for papers:

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SUPRANATIONAL DEMOCRACY DIALOGUE

A dialogue among scholars, civil society, and creative thinkers about global democratic solutions to global challenges.

IV Edition

Brindisi May 6-7, 2022

The University of Salento will host 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 March 31 2022, addressing one of the following topics:

Contributions are also welcomed 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.

  1. The Seeds of Supranationality. From Jean Monnet to Global Governance.
  2. Democratic Models for Sustainability. A Conversation across Social and Natural Sciences.
  3. Technology in the Age of Interdependence. Democratic Spaces and Threatens to Democracy.
  4. Civic Engagement as a Tool for Peace.

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 at the e-mail address info@supranationaldemocracy.net.

The authors of the selected abstracts will receive two nights’ accommodation.

How Europe Evolves Through Crises

… and why on some dossiers it does not.

There are European reforms that require years of gestation and reforms of the founding treaties.
It takes at least a couple of years to revise the treaties: unanimous agreement on the new drafting and 27 national ratifications: the outcome is uncertain, some revision processes fail, as it happened in 2004 for the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.

Then there are reforms that do not require a change in the treaties, just making the most of the existing rules.

It happened in the middle of the pandemic when, without the competence to legislate in health matters, joint tenders for vaccines were made, pharmaceutical research was financed, health devices (and the trucks that transported them) were made to circulate.

It happened again with the adoption of the Next-generation EU, the largest investment plan in European history doubling the budget, issuing Eurobonds and imagining new tax revenues that do not directly affect citizens.

And now, crisis after crisis, the worst we could imagine is real, we have a war again in the European continent, something we had imagined we had left behind in history. I know wars are not over in other continents. Sadly enough, we European citizens are sorry for that but we don’t get identified as we feel we are now with Ukrainians, our neighbours whose lifestyle and values are so close to ours

With an unprecedented initiative, the European Union jointly buys weapons to be sent to Ukraine, supports the ban of Russian banks from swift and closes its airspace to Russian aircraft.


Yet, what Europe can not do without amending its founding treaties is adopting a true common foreign security and defence policy.

Although there are already numerous forms of military collaboration among EU countries, foreign policy remains blocked by the unanimity vote
Without eliminating this structural obstacle (the same that has always paralyzed the UN Security Council), we are going nowhere. Military partnerships are of little use without a common foreign policy.

On the platform of the Conference on the future of the Union, citizens are asking for a more incisive role of the Union on the international stage, a European defence policy, greater solidarity and a more efficient joint response to crises.
But, first, we must abolish unanimity.
Once and for all the Union should be enabled by its member states to act on the international stage with a single voice, together we are stronger. And we can do more to prevent wars like the Ukrainian one and other tragedies.

Eventually, we should never forget why European Union was created in the first place: to make war impossible among its member states, and for me as well as for many people who were born inside it (then European Community), it really sounds like an absurdity even to imagine.

Article 21 of the Treaty establishing the European Union, at the opening of the chapter dedicated to its external action states that “The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world”. It is a long article listing European values and goals, but this sentence, in my opinion, summarizes it all.

Somebody could see the opening for Ukraine to join the EU as a deliberate provocation to Russia, yet Russia too has been for years a partner of the Union and it could become a closer partner with a different kind of government. I hope so.

EU is not an alliance against something or somebody, it is a challenge for the governments inside it, not always successful, but supported by strong roots in the values of peace and collaboration.

EU Democracy Lab

The Conference on the Future of Europe is at the moment, the most advanced and innovative experiment in both participatory and deliberative democracy and an EU flagship initiative

Participatory Democracy:

There is a web platform which offers to all European citizens a unique opportunity to contribute to the conversation on Europe’s challenges and priorities and to sketch the future they want for the European Union. If you are European or you live in Europe, you may be interested in registering at https://futureu.europa.eu/, getting involved, sharing your ideas or even organizing an event and making it known to everybody on the net. If you are not European you could do just the same, if you are curious and open to experimenting with democracy.

Deliberative Democracy:

The experiment becomes even more interesting if you are one of the 800 citizens randomly selected. Four European Citizens’ Panels are organized to allow citizens to jointly think about the future they want for the European Union. Each of them is composed of 200 European citizens selected by an algorithm, from the 27 Member States (one third under 25), reflecting the EU’s diversity: geographic origin, gender, age, socioeconomic background and level of education. Each panel meet three times in total and appoints 20 representatives who shall take part in the Plenary, present the outcome of their discussions and debate them with other participants. Never such a trans-national multi-lingual exercise in deliberative democracy has been experimented until now.

The two streams of discussion are going to meet as panels shall take on board contributions gathered in the framework of the Conference through the digital platform. The European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission have committed to listen to Europeans and to follow up, within their sphere of action.

By spring 2022, the Conference is expected to reach conclusions and provide guidance on the future of Europe.

Does this make the Union the most advanced democracy ever? An out-and-outer, a non-plus-ultra of democracy? Nobody would believe it, neither we do.

Yet it proves, once again that Europe is a work in progress open to very interesting experimentations on democracy beyond the borders, the most advanced lab we have on such a big scale (on the small scale of communities the experiments are many and very interesting).

Will it be a success? Will it produce interesting outcomes? Will EP members, national governments and commissioners draw on this reservoir of ideas for a real Treaty revision or at least some innovative policies? Will some NGOs succeed in making these deliberative and participatory democracy tools permanent as they wish?

We can just wait and see.

What I will never be tired to suggest is that the European brave experiments are not just for Europe. Whatever proves successful in sharing decisions and policies, in a continent that has been for centuries a cradle for wars deserves attention.

The lessons learned can be transferred – with all the necessary adjustments – in other regions of the world or even on the global scale, to manage some issues which are just too big for the national and even for the continental dimension.

How I Learned the Post-National Democracy Mindset and Why I Share It.

The current pandemic is just the last issue in a series, compelling us to think global. Climate change, migration waves, rising inequalities, pollution of the oceans, financial crises, had already tested our ability to look at the big picture overcoming the national borders.

Full awareness is needed about the importance to think global even when acting locally for moving towards more advanced forms of cultural and political responsibility and increased solidarity, up to the task of fairly managing global issues. Such awareness starts from individual behaviour and enlarges to the collective and social dimension: each of our individual choices and actions has a ripple effect well beyond our direct perception.

Yet feeling and acting as global citizens is not subsequent to our rational understanding of its importance. There is all the well-known distance between the mind and the heart: the rationale and the deep-rooted feelings of belonging, anxiety for the future, disbeliefs dictated by fear, social conditioning and realpolitik.

How could we humans learn with the heart and not just with the mind?

This post aims to retrace my personal learning journey and how I came to believe – with mind and heart – that this shift is possible, doable, and not scary at all. A second question, yet to be answered, is how all this learning which took decades of my own life experience can be communicated or even taught.

I have chosen autoetnography “as a research method: it allows the researcher to talk about their personal experiences in order to broaden our understanding of specific phenomena” (Lehtonen and Gatto).

This is quite a challenging choice for a law professor not used to write from a subjective perspective and to expose personal vulnerabilities. Yet, as this journey revealed to myself the power of passion in learning, getting motivation and increasing resilience as a learner and a teacher, I hope this kind of reflexivity could be useful for others as well.  

My First Steps: Self – Education and Advocacy.

There are reasons rooted in my personality, my education and my personal experiences which explain a certain inclination towards universalism. I bet they are far deeper and older than my studies and I suppose that listening to John Lennon in my teen years was a symptom more than a cause.

So, if you ask me how I became passionate about this topic which is now the subject of my academic research, I cannot but describe a very personal path, and I perceive all the difficulty of explaining in rational terms something that for me is a deep- rooted feeling.

The most significant cultural influences in my early youth came from humanities and the almost omnivorous taste for reading. I could add a somewhat solitary attitude, the contemplation of nature and the fascination for the New Testament and its message of brotherhood and universal love.

When I attended an Italian public school in Southern Italy, a “liceo classico”, and, later, I followed a traditional law school curriculum, foreign languages and school exchanges were not in the picture. My parents – open-minded, and for sure free thinkers – had not exactly an international mindset, nor were they passionate travelers. Yet, I benefitted from learning how Europe and the whole Mediterranean area came to be a cultural pot-pourri: Still today, Greek and Roman ruins are scattered all around; Middle Age clerics travelled from monastery to monastery and artists from court to court; migratory waves influenced the formation of the languages we know today; similar ideas sprouted all around in different soils as variations on the same theme – from philosophy to architecture to music and figurative arts. A second push came from literature, the Russian, the French and the British ones being my favorites during the school years (later followed by the American one and by occasional discoveries of other cultural climates). It is difficult not being universalists when so many human creations speak to your heart.

But the real turning point came when, only seventeen, I met on my way the Young European Federalists movement, and I was turned into an activist in a blink. The movement I joined had a powerful narrative behind it: it was born during WWII and was imbued with democratic universal values, as equality and fundamental rights, parliamentarism and representative democracy, in opposition to nationalism, xenophobia and discrimination. It was standing against the balance of powers built on weapons, which was under our eyes in the bipolar world of my childhood and promoting the unification of Europe through democratic institutions as a first step to unify the world.

It was an authentic call of the heart: I felt I had found my cause. In a few years and almost without teachers I started to speak in public (and I was, really, shy!), I learned the basics of English and French, and a little about leadership too. All this learning became a curriculum that I built for myself and that for many years flanked my official curricular studies. My heroes were – and still are – Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. I am pretty sure that, if I were born in the 21st century, Malala and Greta would have inspired me even more, as I would have loved to see young girls challenging the world as they did.

It was, probably, to anchor inside reality such an idealistic personality that I started my law studies. At university I discovered the underrated function of law to unite rather than divide – through shared institutions and participatory mechanisms – as well as the panoply of tools created to negotiate rather than to litigate and how the best negotiation is the one landing to win-win solutions.

Of course, (!) I was fascinated by European and international law. But I do not underestimate the role of the States which have been unifiers, in turn, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when populations were addressing their need for cultural identities, safety, shared rights. I do not deny that States have been the second cradle of democracy, reborn in a different shape after a long winter that had left the seeds of Greek democracy and of the Roman Res Publica buried deep in the earth.

My parallel political path brought me to pay specific attention to all the concepts and tools about democracy. I could easily understand that democracy is not a fetish or a flag to be waved, but a delicate plant to water and fertilize and how deeply different classical Greek democracy, post-revolutionary American and French democracies, contemporary democracy are. I never doubted – neither I do now – that democracy is going to evolve over time just as our own idea of human dignity, being the two so strictly interconnected.

Democratic and in more general terms institutional systems – just like ecosystems – aspire to sustainability, as non-sustainable legal orders collapse. That I got from direct observation. The turn of events I witnessed in the Nineties struck my attention and made me think. I remember well the end of the bipolar world, the collapse of the Soviet Union, then the war in former Yugoslavia – a border State – and even more, the end of the Albanian regime after fifty years of seclusion. Ships overloaded with 27,000 expatriates entered the harbour of my town, Brindisi, in two days, in 1991. These events hit a sensibility used to speculate on borders, democratic values, and ways to improve the world.

Two Paths Destined to Merge.

After my law degree, and not without fierce family opposition, came my academic experience, equally divided between European and international law. The opposition was not to the academic career itself, but to the choice of avoiding national law and so skipping any “normal” career as a lawyer, judge, or public officer. Almost naturally, my research addressed the (then) European Community institutional system and decision-making process. My PhD dissertation was dedicated to the big novelty of the day in the early Nineties: the prospect of European economic and monetary union – with all its governance implications. Other topics which fascinated me later were the soft power of the EU in external relations, European citizenship and almost naturally, the evolving democratic formula of the Union and the possible applications of it in other international organizations.

Moving from there, the curiosity to investigate global economic governance was almost natural. No doubt, my early imprinting was naturally guiding me. International law provided me with a realistic approach, which I very much needed, and the fast-evolving European Law gave me a dynamic perspective and provided a set of democratic tools to be analyzed, which were being experimented above and beyond borders. We had in Europe, since the Fifties, a rich and lively debate on the so-called European democratic deficit, addressed, again and again, revision after revision of the founding treaties. Indeed, it was food for thought. The EU is – almost by definition – a work in progress. As the just launched Conference on the Future of Europe, several of these exercises over the years called me like many other activists to express opinions and get involved.

In the same years, my path brought me to several European institutions as a scholar and a trainee: I saw the States’ perspective from the privileged viewpoint of the Council’s Legal Service and I was in the ECB’ Legal Service in the first year of its very existence when you could still breathe the atmosphere of a construction site. I was, frequently, in and out of the European Parliament – then less influential (and less guarded) than it is now – where I could listen without filters to the Parliamentary Committees’ work and ask questions to EP members. The Europe of 12 of my youth was a bit more homely and, before 9/11, the safety measures were nothing compared to the current ones.

My activist path rested in stand-by for a while before evolving in an advocacy path. I gave up demonstrations and became a quiet scholar, very much for not disconcerting my tutors and master. Or at least, this is what I was thinking. But, looking back at those early years of  my academic career I can see that I was channeling  my reformist impulse into my studies, so that that underground river surfaced not many years later when, as a young professor, I went to Washington DC – destination IMF and World Bank – with a plan of interviews in my pockets and the determination to understand their governance structure and – among other things – if after monetary unification European Member States were still in their full power as members of the Bretton Woods institution (answer: they were, by the way they still are). Many Executive Board members in the financial institutions were not so difficult to get in touch with as I thought they would have been, and some were even willing to contribute to an academic research. For a strange coincidence, I had started to work on the BW institutions just a few years before the global financial crisis and I was again on top of things.

It was then, in 2009, that with a group of university colleagues, we created “The Group of Lecce”, a think tank offering unsolicited advising to international financial organizations and G20 political leaders. The communiques from the Group of Lecce circulated well beyond our expectations and some national chancelleries replied ceremoniously to our letters addressed to the Heads of State. As a representative of the Group of Lecce, I was invited to join the Bretton Woods Committee and I also started attending the Civil Society Policy Forum organized annually by WB and IMF to convene civil society and have them discuss in their premises the most cutting- edge topics. This was a great occasion to meet activists from all the corners of the world, supporting many different causes, all worthy: developing poor countries; managing of social priorities, like health, education, unemployment; greening finance; stopping climate change, cancelling overwhelming public debt and (yes!) democratizing global governance. I started even supporting the Engage4Climate Network as a pro bono advisor.

Some interesting lessons came from all these DC experiences: (i) in the new internet era, nothing and nobody is really beyond reach; (ii) you never know if you will get a reply until you do not address somebody – be him/her the emperor of the Universe; (iii) an academic “Id” is quite a pass, no matter if your university is not exactly Harvard; (iv) global civil society already exists, in embryo; (v) the dialogue among people coming from different paths may be very fruitful.

Approaching our days, these lessons gave me the necessary confidence to start in 2015 a blog, called “Supranational Democracy”, and later on, in 2018, a series of events called Supranational Democracy Dialogues (SDD), a place where scholars, civil servants and activists could discuss informally such topic, inspiring each other. I was supported by a great team of young scholars and by the students themselves. Another lesson learned: the moment you start to follow your most authentic call, other people will come willingly to share your path. The power of passion in learning and teaching is a well-explored topic, yet, showing your own passion requires openness, confidence vulnerability. As passion emerges inside us and becomes part of who we are, we start wondering how we can recognize it in students and collaborators and encourage them to express it too. The SDD experiment showed me the power of leading by example just allowing my enthusiasm to be seen.

All these experiences influenced my relationship with my sons and my students.

Teaching the Lessons Learned

The first beneficiaries of my experience were my two sons since their early childhood. They learned the “beyond borders” mindset in a much easier and faster way attending an international preschool: they get used very soon to the existence of people from many different cultures, speaking many languages, with lots of different habits. I suppose it was great vaccination against racism and xenophobia as they were spared, at the beginning of their life, fear and distrust towards diversity.

I remember my older son, at three, being questioned by the grandma about the language talked at school. He replied naturally to his anxious nonna that his school was such a great place where everybody could speak the language one preferred. The Italian elementary school appeared (hélas!) a gloom place compared to the liveliness of the preschool melting pot.

Along the years, I shared with my kids the stories and reports of my travels and encounters, accompanied by photos and explanations. I could not hide my embarrassment when my younger son, at eight, wrote in a school essay, that the Paris Convention on Climate was so important that even his mom attended it! Nonetheless, I loved that they could see events on TV around the world and think they were not estranged from them, be it because of a mom’s trip or of the place of origin of some schoolmate. In the same period, we started travelling around, and savoring first-hand the different cultures, museums as much as parks and restaurants.

With my university students the lessons learned surfaced almost as naturally.

My lessons on European institutions were easily enriched with anecdotes and personal experience. Guests come and visit me in my classes both from European institutions as well as from civil society – even more now (online) during the pandemic, at no costs. Students willing to do a research are encouraged to get in touch with relevant actors around the world, as I encourage them to be bold as I have been. Yet, the question in my mind is always the same: How much of my own experience can be transferred, being it a mix of passion, opportunities, and different institutional frameworks’ conditioning?

Of course, students may be encouraged to express themselves (also to contradict the teacher, which is as much useful) and to find their cause. Pursuing a personal motivation, having a big “why”, pushes to study, learn, experiment, and challenge yourself, it made miracles in my life. In times of global issues, sustainability can be the “Big Why”, as it is all about the survival of the human species on the planet.

Vision and narrative feed the emotional side of learning. As far as I have a vision to share and stories to tell – personal experiences as well as historical accounts – it is easier to teach lively lessons as well as empathize with students’ visions and stories. 

Just as happened to me in the last ten years I encourage students to do things that make them feel useful. I suppose that making a difference is a very human aspiration. As small as the difference may be – a cleaner corner of the world, a step forward in community building, fighting poverty, raising awareness – anyone gets motivation from things done and goals achieved.

But it was only in 2019, thanks to the Jean Monnet Chair I was awarded on “Legal Theory of European Integration: a Supranational Democracy Model”, that I was officially in charge of designing courses and classes on supranational democracy, which offered me the occasion to develop ad hoc teaching tools and techniques, which, then I had to move on-line because of the COVID 19 safety measures.

But teaching is another (long) chapter of my story and it will the subject for some other post!


Scientific & Academic Marathon for Ahmadreza Djalali

Life

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Everyone has the right to life.

No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed

Right to the integrity of the person

Everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity

Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Thought

___________________________

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers

The arts and scientific research shall be free of constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected.

Justice

____________________________________

Everyone is equal before the law.

Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law.

Everyone shall have the possibility of being advised, defended and represented.

________________________________________________

These rights are from the European Charter of Fundament Rights (2000), one of the youngest children of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948.

The doctrine of human rights is one of the fruits of the WWII, which exposed which atrocities humans are capable of against fellow humans. The idea was, in a sense, to inoculate antibodies, setting a universal standard for the respect of human dignity beyond borders.

Respecting the rights of my fellow humans I respect myself, my humanity and humanity as a whole.

All the rights aforementioned have unfortunately been violated in Ahmad’s vicissitude.

The initiative by the colleagues of Università del Piemonte orientale to organize an international academic marathon to drive attention to his story deserves to be known.

The Good Country Equation: Math for a Better World

Last week I had the real pleasure to read this beautiful book by Simon Anholt. it was hardly a surprise to me to find out that I was in agreement with virtually every statement. I have to admit that I knew it in advance: I have been following the work of Simon since he started publishing the Good Country Index and, later on, I happily joined the audience of voters of the Global Vote. One year ago I welcomed as well the Good Leader Index, so you definitely can categorize me as a Simon Anholt fan!

Yet, I knew nothing about his previous work experiences and about his advisory work for many governments in different continents of the world and how he came to the ideas behind these indexes and social experiments which answer to the simple question: Is that true that everybody (individuals and governments alike) want to be classified among the good ones? The answer is an enthusiastic YES.

Before you think I’m confusing international relations with an episode of The Good Place, let me explain….

The Good Place - Stagione 3: Eleanor & company nel poster della serie

Earth IS “the Good Place”, it might look like the Garden of Eden if we only accepted the simple idea that we are all connected and whatever we do as individuals and as citizens, as electors ad as elected politicians has an impact on the other individuals, the other governments, the other states.

And so this is one of the key ideas you will take from the Good Country Equation: every country has positive as well as negative externalities. These externalities may, as well, be measured and offer us a clear picture about who are the good and the bad ones. It is the well known “naming and shaming” we all learned on the school desks.

And it is not just about being good.

Being perceived as a positive country has a value that any government (and its citizens) could monetize in many ways. Depending on the reputation of the country, States can make better agreements with other countries, exporting companies can get better contracts, workers can be offered better jobs and salaries, citizens could be welcome or not. Each of us could offer plenty of examples of this conditioning by prejudice about countries. The good news is that prejudices can be reversed. By facts.

And it is funny and interesting to read about the author’s experiences with the governments he advised to help them going up in the ladder of international reputation because being good was good for the world as well as for them. It is, definitely, in the utmost self-interest.

Just imagine the transformation of our beautiful planet if governments would start wondering if their political choices are aligned with the highest and best good! A win-win-win: for People, Planet and Prosperity.

It is hard to eradicate – after millennia – the competitive model in international relations in order to establish an authentic collaborative approach, yet this book is a leap forward as it shows in a simple and pleasant language – with a lot of examples – how it is the best model we can imagine of, not just for the world, but for ourselves.

What struck me at the end of the book, is that I am what Simon defines a “natural cosmopolitan”. It is a character trait which doesn’t depend so much from the country you happen to be born in. I hold my vision of how the world could work better which may be different from the one that other fellow cosmopolitans have, yet we all are curious, open to cultural diversity and pluralism, concerned about social harmony, trustworthy, optimistic, ready to compromise our interest with others to benefit a larger audience.

We come from different experiences and have different cultural approaches and different recipes for the world. Yet there is so much we have in common. And if we can agree so easily on the principles and the goals as I agree with the ideas in Simon’s book, then this world has some real chance to work better.

This book makes the perfect gift for any politician friend 🙂

Join the On-line International School: The Mediterranean and climate change: Impacts, people, action.

ocean wave
Photo by Simon Clayton on Pexels.com

As we all know, the relationship between we, humans, and the planet is at the core of the paradigm shift towards collaborative solutions which is so absolutely needed for our species to survive. To this aim, education is a pre-condition and multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary events are the best tools to get to know all the ideas, actors and tools which can be mobilized to manage global issues as oceans’ pollution and global warming. For all these reasons I am glad to pass word about this timely international on-line school. The only regret I have is that I cannot attend it myself as I will be busy in another not less topical on-line conference whose title is “How Democracy Survives: the Crises of the Nation State” (the subject for the next post!)

The International Oceans-Climate School, running on-line from October 28 to November 1 2020  will be an “exploratorium”: a participant-oriented forum for the hands-on, collaborative exploration of known issues through a new lens with the purpose of opening up pragmatic, action-oriented pathways to progress.

It is open to all stakeholders with an interest in the well-being of our oceans, especially the Mediterranean.  The School will be of interest to organizations that and people who have a stake in planning and acting for the future of the oceans, especially the future of the Mediterranean, as it will be shaped by accelerating global warming and climate change.

​​​Stakeholders may include:  Researchers, decision makers, citizens, scientists, students, activists, environmental organizations, NGOs, scientific institutions, local and central government agencies and their representatives, business and industry, local politicians, health, tourism, utilities, military and transport.

​The Oceans-Climate School is an official event of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, as part of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

For all those who are interested, the link to know more and register is:   https://oceansclimate.wixsite.com/oceansclimate

The Overview Effect: How Traveling in Space Would Improve the State of the Planet

 

nasa-apollo8-dec24-earthris.630x360 (1)

The famous “Earthrise” picture. Credit to NASA

Since the first image of Planet Hearth seen by humans in the far 1968, taken by the Apollo 8 mission, much has happened.  

Now, race to space belongs to the past. Maybe. Nowadays, at least up there, missions are multinational and they are supposed to be in the interest of the whole humanity, expression of its longing to enlarge borders and knowledge. They are close to getting self-funded, as space tourism takes off, bringing to space a few billionaires at crazy prices.

What is nowadays more multinational than the International Space Station? And which flag a joint mission will plant on the next planet it will land on?

Definitely, we need to develop an earth consciousness and a planet flag, happy that artists and designers are already thinking about both.

 

 

And… here it is an interesting side effect of the walk in the space immensity.

You get to see the Earth.

Having a glance at the planet as a whole is an unforgettable experience not only because of its beauty as a blue marble ball on a black screen but really because of this “wholeness” which is easily missed when looking at it from the surface as we tiny humans are used to doing.

People having this experience experimented with the so-called overview effect. In the words of astronaut  Edgar D. Mitchell, as quoted by Raya Bidhshari, <<seeing Earth from space causes one to “develop an instant global consciousness…” >>.

Not only you realize how small you are, but also how trivial are many political issues, how shortsighted most of political ed economic choices, how silly the conflicts. You start thinking about how better we could all live on this beautiful planet as a brotherhood of men and women. Borders disappear, blue and green triumph in their beauty, cities glow like lights in the night, in the same way, no matter the continent they are in.

From space, the increasing phenomenon of nativist populism so well described by Eirikur Bergmann appears really as an “infantile disease” due to the lack of perspective. I quote Einstein, here, to be compassionate towards those who, for cultural heritage or traumatic experiences miss the big picture. I am sorry for them. I am less sorry for those speculating on the fears nourished by separation and conflict to gain a bunch of votes.  Not sure, yet, where to put the blurring line between the two fields. Anyway, I would send all of them to space (don’t take me wrong, with a return-ticket).

The overview effect has been described in the book by Frank White in 1987, in the movie Overview by the Planetary Collective and it is the subject at the core of the Overview Institute.

I will copy here part of the article by  Raya BidhShari, which expressed these concepts beautifully, a few years ago, on the SingularityHub:

A Cosmic Perspective

What the overview effect leads to is a cosmic perspective. It is recognizing our place in the universe, the fragility of our planet, and the unimaginable potential we have as a species. It involves expanding our perspective of both space and time.

Unfortunately, many world leaders today fail to take such a perspective. Most politicians have yet to develop a reputation for thinking beyond their term limits. Many have yet to prioritize long-term human progress over short-term gains from power or money.

What we need is for our world leaders to unite rather than divide us as human beings and to promote global, and even cosmic, citizenship.

What if every world leader and politician truly experienced the existential transformation of the overview effect? Would they still seek to become “momentary masters of fractions of dot”? Would they continue to build walls and divide us? Probably not. It is likely that their missions and priorities would change for the better.

Obviously, giving everyone a trip to space is impractical—that is, unless space tourism becomes cheap and effective. But there are other ways to promote the much-needed “big-picture thinking.” For instance, we must upgrade the kind of values our education system promotes and equip future generations with a cosmic mindset. We can continue to educate and engage the public on the state of our planet and the need to upgrade our morality in the grand scheme of things.

But there are even other ways. One exciting organization, called The Overview Institute, has developed a virtual reality program that will allow users to experience the overview effect. It is a scalable tool that will make the existential transformation of the overview effect accessible to many.

An Existential Awakening

In the words of Sagan, the image of Earth from space “underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.’

Experiencing the overview effect and developing a cosmic perspective is known to inspire more compassion for our fellow human beings. It stimulates a determination to successfully resolve all the problems we have here on Earth and focus on the issues that matter. It upgrades our consciousness, our values, and the kind of ambitions that we set forward for ourselves, both as individuals and as a species.

It is a powerful awakening of the mind and  a fundamental redefinition of what it means to be human.

 

So, virtual reality could make the trick.

But we can move a step forward. If this cognitive shift is so helpful, why not moving the experience and the comprehension of it back in time, making it part of our educational programs starting from elementary schools wherever on the planet? It seems to be strategic to prepare kids for such a big thing as taking care of the planet where they happened to be born.

 

 

Do We Need an International Organization for Risk Management?

I had the pleasure, a couple of weeks ago, to discuss this topic with two distinguished colleagues: prof. Fabio Bassan (University Roma Tre, Italy), prof. Larry Catà Baker (Penn State University, US).

It was an occasion to reflect on a topic whose importance cannot be missed, as crises are more and more on the global agenda.

 

 

The unprecedented interconnectedness of states, populations, markets, is increasingly contributing to generate global crises. The risk of contagion of financial crises, of diseases, but also of social and political phenomena as terrorism – even the risk of spreading fake news threatening democracy – makes the world a global village. Issues which 50 years ago would have been national become now easily global. The International organizations were not created to manage the global village, but for the need to coordinate states i.e. compartmentalized national markets and national communities.  The current state of the world was unpredictable when most of the international organizations were created after World War II, so – not surprisingly – they are not equipped with proper competences and tools. They are built on rigid founding treaties which cannot be easily modified.

Some global issues, as rising temperatures, water scarcity, deforestation, generate more issues, as extreme weather events, migrations, conflicts, extreme poverty. Crises are often interrelated, multifactorial, cross-sectoral. The current pandemic crisis is also a major economic crisis and it is generating increasing inequality.

Yet, in international law, we see a fragmentation of roles and functions,  as most of the international organizations are sectoral, with a specific focus and field of interest (WFP, UNCCC, UNHCR etc…). Yet, there is a need to deal with the big picture as issues are often interconnected.

There are a few coordination fora, such as the G20 or the UN (and namely the Assembly and the Economic and Social Committee), yet the first lacks legitimacy being a group of self- selected states (just like all the Gs), the second lacks effectiveness, as it does not have legal tools for the enforcement of coordination.

Finally, there is an increasing demand for legitimacy and accountability. We assist in a multiplication of participation tools in the global public sphere – petitions, transnational political movements, structured dialogues of international organizations with civil society. Debates on the improvement of international organizations or the creation of a new international organization cannot avoid taking in these democratic expectations to some extent. The latter cannot be but multilateral as well as multi-stakeholders.

The solution proposed by prof. Fabio Bassan builds on a set of organizing premises. These include, first, that States consider systemic crises a challenge and an opportunity to be seized, in a ruthless competition not only between companies and markets but also between legal systems and between States, which in the dynamic of international relations now devoted to market power, have the effect of transforming the latter into political supremacy. Second, the fact that the marginal benefit thus acquired by one State entails a significant sacrifice for one or more other States and therefore entails a sub-optimal balance, constitutes a secondary but not irrelevant aspect. Given these premises, solutions ought to be guided by a principle of proportionality, among those that minimize the costs for the States in terms of transfer of sovereignty and reduction of competition between legal systems and between States in dealing with the crisis, but at the same time allow to coordinate the reaction to systemic crises.
In this context, IOs must be reconstituted to be able to perform coordination functions of
national actions in the immediacy of the crisis, in its management, and in overcoming the crisis.
In that reconstitution, IOs should be equipped with internal and operational rules suitable for managing and early warning functions and with a coherent power to direct and coordinate the actions of the States that are part of it. This organization should have legitimacy, at the highest level. The decisions would consist of coordinating the actions of national governments. The decisions should consist of identifying ways and forms of coordinated reaction to critical events.
These methods could integrate the use of existing economic institutions. And lastly, an
institutionalized form of connection and cooperation of this organization with the International Organizations responsible for economic, financial, health, climatic matters could also be envisaged, in order to acquire practices, protocols, information necessary for the adoption of decisions.

I entirely agree with the need to fill this gap in the current system of the international organization.

A valid alternative to a new organization is the revision of the existing system of IOs to increase legitimacy and accountability, to create (or upgrade) existing bodies equipping them with the necessary competences and tools, to provide them with data and practices already developed and spread in different organizations, to set transmission chains for information and coordination.

There is a long record of proposals to create a UN Economic Security Council. In this line, an interesting one has been put forward by J. Ocampo and J. Stiglitz:  the creation of the Global Economic Coordination Council (GECC). Even if this body, inside the UN institutional system would not be focused on crisis management, yet it would complement and complete the organization flanking the Security Council. It would meet at leaders’ level (Heads of States) and its representation would be based on the constituencies mechanism (a restricted yet elected body). The option for multilateralism is clear as well as for a more legitimate and representative system. The new body would be in charge of coordinating all branches of the UN that operate in the economic, social, and environmental fields, including the Bretton Woods institutions, so encompassing the ECOSOC competence. Even the WTO, would be brought into the UN system by appropriate agreements.

Another way to manage (economic) crises would be the upgrade of the  Ministerial Councils inside the Bretton Woods institutions– now just advisory bodies -to entrust them with a role of political guidance similar to the one currently played by the G20. The IMF has been created to deal with conjunctural crises and it could play a much bigger role in such occurrences, yet it can just manage national crises, not really systemic, transnational, and global ones. This is due, in our opinion, to its governance: a Board of Governors made up of 189 members representing governments of all member states (usually at ministerial level) and an Executive Board of  24, each representing a single country or groups of countries appointed for two years and full-time officials. So, the political body is just too big to make decisions (which are taken instead in G20, as previously in the G7), the body in charge for the administration lacks political legitimacy and the competence to take the most important decisions. The Ministerial Councils, instead, would represent not just themselves, but the whole membership of the organization through the constituencies’ mechanism. I have described this proposal in detail here.

In more general terms, the eminently technocratic management of many IOs has proved often inadequate, when it gets necessary to move to politically sensitive decision-making (hence the fortune of the Gs) so, the need for a political dimension in the global sphere appears evident. The two problems which need to be solved are the deficit of politics and the crisis of multilateralism (due also to its lack of effectiveness). Action can be taken on both fronts giving to a high-profile, adequately legitimized political body the competence to build strategies, inside a genuine, multilateral organization.

Multilateralism itself could be improved, as we see emerging actors such as the global civil society or companies having now a systemic impact on transnational public opinion and lifestyle, as the “Big Five” (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft). So, multilateralism could now evolve towards multi-stakeholders’ platforms, something we have already seen, for instance, in the internet governance, in some environmental bodies (as UNEA) or in the Committee on World Food Security. Nothing would prevent to give, right now, a small but significant role to civil society. For instance, it could play an advisory role, by commenting and contributing to the first drafts of policy and strategy documents of IOs posted online. No reforms are needed to spread such best practices already tested.

Coming back to the proposal by the colleague Fabio Bassan, it seems to respond to these needs as well as to fill a real gap, nowadays increasingly important, as the management of cross-sectoral crises. Of course, it fits in the European Solution as described in the video by professor Catà Baker – i.e. grounded on common institutions and shared values- and I suppose my comments and additions fit in the same box. It is maybe more than a cultural tribute, our European forma mentis.

I know both solutions are difficult to imagine in the current political agenda of many countries, and especially of some key actors, such as US, China, Russia, or Brasil. European Union, at the moment, is focused inward, on its own upgrade. Yet, as you know, it is not in the spirit of this blog to skip reasoning on something only because it looks unlikely at the moment. Let’s keep reasoning!