Seeds of Supranationality in Times of Crisis

A Few weeks ago, in Brindisi, Italy, the Università del Salento – actually my wonderful little team and myself – hosted the fourth edition of the Supranational Democracy Dialogue. It is a two-days recurring event, 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. Since 2019, this event is supported by the Jean Monnet Chair “Legal Theory of European Integration: a Supranational Democracy Model?”.

The formula is very simple: we publish yearly a call for papers, some months in advance, to invite all those willing to contribute, listing a few topics which are hot or which can be considered a permanent challenge humanity is facing. What we ask to our potential panelists is to be positive, to offer solutions instead of analyses of current problems.

It is easy to see how this kind of conversation cannot but be fruitful for everybody: as creativity is a requirement and speakers come from different paths in life, everybody has something to offer and much to learn from others.

Another interesting quality of the event is that it is quite serendipitous. The special random combination of people and content is different every time, so both their contributions and the interactions among them are always a discovery. As a result, we do not know in advance what will be the real focus of the conversation when people meet.

This year it did not start under the better auspices.The event was in person after two on-line editions and still resenting the effect of the pandemic which took us in physical isolation for nearly two weeks. Yet, the enthusiasm at having again real people meeting under the same roof was hindered by the shadow cast by the war in Ukraine.

Talking of global democracy while we face a reality of war, after several years of regression of democracy in many countries – according to all the renowned democracy indexes- after a pandemic which for safety reasons limited significantly personal freedom, after a global financial crisis, after wave after wave of migrants and refugees…. well, it takes unshakable optimism and strong determination, or – and this is something many panelists since 2018 shared with us – the certainty that no other choice is left.

As counter-intuitive as it may appear, we need vision more than ever. Not by chance, the first topic listed on this years’ call for papers was “The Seeds of Supranationality. From Jean Monnet to Global Governance”. We cannot forget that the seeds of European integration as well those of global multilateralism (UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO- back than ITO- and so many international organizations) were planted during the Second World War. Those who had witnessed the war, who had even fought in it, were the leaders and front-runners in building what they hoped would be lasting peace.

Some of them were political leaders but others were just citizens like you and me, sharing innovative ideas. The Ventotene Manifesto – written by Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni in 1941 – while in confinement accused of anti-fascism – is a brilliant example. The road open by these few pages smuggled into Switzerland is history. Not less known is the recognized influence of Jean Monnet, another private citizen, in shaping with his ideas the European Coal and Steal Community, as testified by the 9 May 1950 declaration, which, after, expanded and flourished into the European integration process. It was, nonetheless, essential to this aim the fervent support of the French minister Schumann and, immediately after, that of the political leaders of the six founding member countries.

Addressing this topic during the awful war in Ukraine, we could sense some similarities in trying to imagine a better world when the current order is showing devastating flaws. Yet we could also take stock of what worked and what didn’t in the institutional formulas imagined more than 70 years ago.

Clearly the UN Security Council is to be placed among the tools which did not work. In more general terms, the UN allowed the countries of the world to collaborate on many significant issues. Yet collaboration is maybe not enough and when it comes to peace and war, it happens that collaboration is totally suspended. It is even too easy to consider hopeless an international body where the US, Russia or China enjoy a veto power, and for sure it cannot be considered a bulwark against wars. Needless to say, any war started or supported by a permanent member of the UN Security Council will never be addressed, even less sanctioned.

Yet the discourse is larger than that. The reason for addressing supranationality and not international multilateralism as a topic for our conference is that traditional international organizations like the UN may prove effective and even successful in bringing many states around a table or even having them voting on something, but they do not address the very roots of pacific coexistence. Being international, which means intergovernmental, they bring around that table states’ representatives focused on their national interest, and it is starting from there that they try to compromise. An addition of national interests is not the same as a genuine common interest.

The EU proved a bit more effective in dealing with the emergency as it decided immediate sanctions, supported in several ways Ukraine and allowed protection to refugees. Even there, though, when it comes to foreign and security policy the model is international and the veto power of all the member states is there. It is much easier to adopt a decision on asylum seekers, as we have seen, than to move in the direction of a single voice in negotiating a truce and a humanitarian corridor. Yet, an organization which is mostly supranational, i.e. with its own legitimacy and accountability – an elected Parliament, a Court of Justice an executive body, the Commission, independent from member states but accountable to the Parliament- exerts a force of attraction far more effective than the international ones and allows States to coalesce around a core of common values by offering a predefined path.

Our conversation in Brindisi, in its first session, focused on the seeds of supranationality and explored it from an original perspective, that of individuals – an essential ingredient in any democratic formula, yet totally absent in the intergovernmental and diplomatic formulas. So, it was a talk about what it takes to make the Union a real Republic, about the role of individuals in pushing for its evolution since its very beginning, not only in the political arena but even in courts, through litigation. And, also, enlarging the perspective to the top and to the bottom, about how one could imagine a multilevel governance from the local to the global dimension. In this big picture, the role of individuals appears relevant not only in their personal capacity, but also as members of social bodies and as economic actors.

Particularly fascinating has been, in this framework, the contribution by dr. Wolfgang Pape on omnilateralism, a term used by him to define a model, beyond multilateralism, both multilevel and multistakeholder.

Two following topics have been at the core of further discussions, both addressing the increasing interconnection in the human family from different perspectives: The first one has been the environmental perspective, the second the technological one. Both address a core necessity of our times, the need to take responsibility for global commons in terms of management/governance as well as in terms of awareness and personal responsibility. The biosphere has no borders and ecosystems do have borders different from the national ones, their fragile balance when altered may result in a permanent damage endangering all the species, humans included.

Internet too has no borders and is similarly a global public good which needs to be managed with
care. Rights and threats come from the same infrastructure, civic participation may depend on it and
misinformation may spread on it significantly impacting democracies and legal orders.

The two conversations had different focuses and if the first one was centered on sustainability, future generations, and rights of nature, the second turned on a spotlight on the big divide among more and less advanced economies and more and less democratic and open societies. Yet both benefited of a true open interdisciplinary dialogue, made up not only of presentations, but also of questions and answers, comments and doubts. It is certainly not possible to solve the problems of the world in two days, but it is at least possible to open the mind to the diversity of perspectives and consider the point of view of the other.

The challenge of inclusion and participation has never been so acutely perceived as in the era of
interdependence we live in, in which everyone is connected and interconnected, not only by
technology, but also by cause-and-effect phenomena as the environmental and atmospheric ones, or
as recently the pandemic. The last and all-encompassing topic has been the one of civic engagement and, in the current situation, it seemed relevant to assess that it is a tool for peace in the broadest sense as it is a tool for coexistence and collaboration and as a way to practice awareness and compassion.

It has been interesting to discuss the role of citizens in the perspective of the participatory and
deliberative democracy, as recently in the process called Conference on the future of Europe, but
also in the challenge of inclusion, which could be effectively pursued through very practical projects and, in the end. also in daily life of citizens who chose to engage in worthy causes.

It may be interesting to notice that supranational and transnational models, those involving directly citizens, support a smooth process leading to pacification i.e. reconciliation, which is more than peace, or, maybe, it is the real peace. Only when people are involved, work together, participate to common decisions, former enemies may overcome hatred and distrust and – as pointed out in the Schumann Declaration “create a de facto solidarity”. Young Europeans from Germany, France, Italy and all the other EU countries do not hate each other and make easy friendships through their free circulation and the exchange programs among their universities.

Unfortunately, hatred and distrust are not only heritage of wars, but also of other past wounds. In several former member countries of the Soviet Union and of the Warsaw pact, the feelings towards Russia are not exactly friendly, they span from detestation to suspicion to fear. Even more now after the brutal aggression to Ukraine. Nevertheless, it is good to remember that the choices of the Russian government do not reflect those of a people who has inside it divergent positions – brutally repressed – and non-irrelevant manipulations. Even if, apparently, it was non needed, a pacification among former controlling and controlled countries would have been most useful for pacific coexistence, even if we cannot say it would have prevented war. It will be the next challenge on the European continent once the most urgent one, that of peace as the end of war, will be accomplished.

The full recording of the conference is online here, as are online the previous editions. Hope to meet you at the next one!

Susanna

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

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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

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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.