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!)

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.

Scientific & Academic Marathon for Ahmadreza Djalali

Life

_____________________________

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

Summary and Concluding Remarks from the Supranational Democracy Dialogue 2020

SDD_EVENTSMag020_DEFINITIVO

The Supranational Democracy Dialogues II (hereinafter “SDDII”) of 2020 is the second edition of a successful two-day event that took place in Lecce (Italy) in April 2018, at the end of which all the speakers and the majority among the organizers and the attendees decided to write and sign a “Manifesto for Supranational Democracy”.

The statements included in that act represented the summary and the shared conclusions of all the presentations and all the matters discussed in the SDD. It promotes, namely, the need for democratic institutions at all levels, from the local to the global, as well as the development of an inclusive dialogue about global democracy among all human beings, the raise of awareness among citizens, communities and populations and the support of democratic solutions to global challenges.

Unfortunately, after having completely organized the second edition event, originally scheduled for April 16th and 17th, 2020 in Brindisi (Italy), the Organizing Committee had to temporarily cancel it because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only to then rethink and reprogram it as a series of webinars.

The first webinar, entitled “European Union: improving democracy and participation”, took place on May 9th, on Europe Day, in 2020 also celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Shuman Declaration. The other meetings followed, precisely, on May 15th (“Rethinking global rules and institutions”), on May 22th (“European Union: improving economic governance and solidarity”), on May 25th (“Shifting the paradigm: new cultural models, new awareness”) and finally on May 29th (“Shifting the paradigm II: new rules for the world order”). The full playlist of the event is on the YouTube Channel of Università del Salento, here.

Panelists came from different backgrounds and paths of life: academia, civil society, activism, business/corporate environment, international institutions. They met in 5 webinars under the label Supranational Democracy Dialogue, to present different visions and perspectives on the future with a constructive approach. They offer an example of how a global political sphere and global political discourse could look like. It is impossible to condense so many diverse contributions in a single vision.

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All the panelists agreed on that: the state of the world may be improved and mankind can be in the near future far better than it is now. The international community should avoid getting out of the pandemic and back to the previous state of the world. A number of issues need to be addressed without delay, among them, are:

– A non-sustainable relationship with nature, a current model based on exploitation;

– Inequalities, fostered by an unfair system of tax -avoidance made possible by competition among states as well as by fight  for control over natural resources in the interest of the few;

– lack or inadequacy of policies implementing shared values, as the fundamental human rights, at the global level and SDGs.

Yet, a double paradigm shift is required: a paradigm shift in cultural models and awareness and a second one concerning global rules and institutions. New technologies may help, but just as tools serving clear purpose-driven goals.

The human species could be able to live as part of an ecosystem where all other species equally thrive, in harmony with nature and as part of nature. Education may encourage the development of creative and critical thinking, contributing to prepare global citizens to take full responsibility for the planet and empowering them. The economy may serve the collective good while serving entrepreneurs and workers. Leaders should be in service of their communities and offer the example of compassionate and mindful leadership.

Ideas and Proposals for the Global Governance

The international community could take this incredible opportunity to move towards more sustainable standards in the relation between human species and the environment and towards more cooperative and supportive global governance. Panelists, in different ways, all supported a more democratic model for global governance, empowering individuals, also in the aggregate form of civil society, to have a meaningful say over issues affecting their existence. They could do so in participating in negotiations, having a dialogue (or being represented) within global institutions, ultimately be part of a new “omnilateral” vision of international relations. Such a model would better pursue the goal of reducing inequality and fostering inclusiveness and gender equality.

 UN or a new international organization could be in charge of the management of crises. The existing global institutions could be reformed – WHO for instance could raise a little tax and then provide for free patents and coordinated solutions – international agreements could oblige companies and states to internalize costs for environmental damage. Simultaneous national policies could provide a frameworks solution; a point for a global government instead of global governance was made as well. Whatever the chosen solutions, the need for global solutions to global issues was stressed as well as the need for legitimacy and representation, for instance through parliamentary bodies (as the suggested UNPA), or by online open consultations, or other tools yet to be invented. The global governance should be part of multilevel governance, where all levels – even the smaller as the local community – is empowered and responsible. 

All levels have to be accountable to citizens and this is especially important for the global one, now escaping any kind of accountability. Inclusiveness has to be cultivated through education, access to the internet, and easily usable tools for participation at all levels. National judges are on the frontline to make common rules enforced also at the national and local levels.

Many suggestions emerged during the five webinars. Some are ready to use:

– the two proposals from Petter Ollmunger (Democracy without borders): (i) establishing a UN parliamentary assembly and (ii) introducing a proposal initiative from the citizens of the United Nations. Both of them do not require a UN Charter review process.

– the proposal by Jerome Bellion-Jourdan of an International Negotiation Platform, which is on its way shortly after “Exploratory talks” convened by the Graduate Institute’s Global Governance Centre, in cooperation with Executive Education.

Most of the proposals require instead a medium or long-term approach as the convening of a global intergovernmental conference to reformulate – among the willing – some key points in global collaboration and governance. Such a process should involve as well civil society, local governments, indigenous communities, and all the other key stakeholders. Some more sectoral goals could be put right now on the agenda of specialized agencies, like UNESCO, WHO, UNEA.

Ideas and Proposals for European Governance

the speakers commented on the European Union response as well as the Member States’ reactions to the pandemic crisis and also the effects that all the measures adopted at all levels would engender to the democratic order and the economic governance.

Due to the emergency, all the democratic institutions at the national level dealt with an unprecedented global and health crisis. This crisis could have been a moment of solidarity and cohesion where a temporary deviation of democratic rules and an equally temporary limitation of human rights could have been justified. Some problems appeared regarding the reactions to these deviations coming from citizens, political parties, and the Member States.

In the European Union, in one hand, most of the economic resources that have been spent came from the Member States. The problem is that within the EU, there are still different spending capacities between the Member States and, in the long term, these differences could create distortions in the internal market. The COVID-19 is going to become an accelerator of the existent divergences, separations, and gaps between States. What the EU needs is a common approach, a common instrument to face this unprecedented crisis, which has hit all countries in a symmetric way.

On the other hand, the European Union contributions consisted, above all, in suspending the application of the stability and growth pact and in suspending the application of the State aid rules.

The S.U.R.E. (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency) is a temporary measure, which includes some conditions concerning the destination of the resources. Furthermore, the Commission’s proposal for a Council Regulation establishing a European Union Recovery Instrument to support the recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic (COM(2020)441final of 28.05.2020) has been based on art. 122 TFEU, which suggests the temporary and exceptional nature of the measure.

Some speakers proposed to transform the European Stability Mechanism (E.S.M.) into a European development fund (inspired by the Italian “Cassa Depositi e Prestiti”) to be used in the next ten years to finance the long-term investments for local systems, in order to bring the EU citizens closer to the European institutions.

Despite some speakers showed concerns relating to radical institutional reforms in the EU legal order, all of them agreed that the European decision-makers should, at this moment, make important steps in order to avoid the EU going down or, worst, becoming dysfunctional. In particular, all the panelists considered as necessary to abolish unanimity because democracy could not be complete as long as veto powers are subsisting in the decision-making process.

Furthermore, other interventions have to be done in the EU legal system, such as the implementation of transparency in the decision-making process, for example by implementing the possibility for all citizens to access to relevant documents. It has been enlightened how, in this context, the efficiency of the decision-making process had been used as a justification for denying access to documents, above all to those related to the legislative procedure, and this practice cannot be accepted.

Different proposals came up in the discussion concerning the improvement of the participatory democracy in the EU. On one hand, it has been stressed out how important could be the contribution of the European Parliament in promoting the follow-up of a successful European citizens’ initiative: doing this the European Commission would face a twofold encouragement to consider the content of the initiative, but also it has been underlined how important could be in shaping inclusive participation to press the European Commission to motivate in an appropriate manner any rejection to follow a successful ECI up.

Furthermore, there have been some speakers who considered the idea of giving citizens the possibility not just to present “appropriate proposals” to the European Commission, but also to submit amendments to pending legislative measures and to guarantee a role for civil society in the informal negotiations of legislative acts. Others underlined the importance of the citizens’ participation in the sense of bringing constant points of view to the attention of the decision-makers, without complicating the decision making structures. Another important point of discussion has been the implementation of the democratic participation of citizens at all levels, also by promoting the use of new technologies in all the sectors that are relevant to democracy where technologies can actually improve information and participation.

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Some interesting considerations have been collected among the youngest participants to the webinars: high school students.

The most relevant and surprising fact came from their participation in the discussion, despite their young age, was their awareness of the connection between all people and between States as well as the importance of a shared response to all the global challenges.

They proposed the promotion and the improvement of the participation of local authorities and municipalities, which can better represent the local community into the global discussion.

They also underlined the strategic role of technologies in shaping the future of democracy and the importance of governmental intervention in order to prevent all the negative effects deriving from cyber attacks and from fake news, because, as they stressed, otherwise technologies will bring much more distances than closeness in the future.

 

Susanna Cafaro and Stefania Attolini

Borders

 

blue and white planet display

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that our beautiful planet appears from space as a mostly blue ball, surrounded by white clouds.

It’s a poetic view: a cosy and hospitable planet. No borders are visible, not one of the about 200 fragments called states that we humans have created in the last few centuries. Yet, one old boundary is visible, the Great Wall of China. Big walls are not something new, as we can see, and yes, they get outdated soon or late.

There are many kinds of borders.

Yet, speaking about borders, the first which come to mind are the borders between states. They have multiple functions, here are the main ones: safety from external threats such as invasions; delimitation of rights for the conferral to the insiders of some special status (as citizens or residents); source of income as goods and services can be taxed when they cross that line; stop of unwanted people or unwanted goods.

States and societies are more or less open. As Popper taught, the more a society is democratic, the more it is expected to be open. An open society accepts the exchange with the outside on the economic as well as on the cultural level. The more it exchanges, the more it flourishes. History has proven this to be true in all ages.

Nonetheless, even for democratic countries, borders are a challenging topic. It took about 50 years to Europe to dismantle them; first came down the customs barriers and the limitation to circulate for workers, then the police controls, finally they became totally invisible. The European Court of Justice, one decision after the other, deleted tons of hidden obstacles to the free movement of people, goods, services and capitals and removed all the discriminations brought to its attention. Free circulation became a fundamental right. EU contributed to reducing borders with the other countries too, as this was the main goal of hundreds (or even thousands) of international agreements concluded in the last half-century.

Many borders went down thanks to technological advancement. Internet was a powerful tool for overcoming cultural borders. Low-cost flights made the movement of people easier. Yet, borders are now rising again.

Borders are constructs of fear. And fear is rising

Even within borders, there are often other borders. Many ancient towns have walls around them, yet they were inside kingdoms or even empires. Nonetheless, they feared near towns, or just near towns’ products in the market, they kept guarded gates to keep outside unwanted travellers and to close inside at night.

Even within towns, there were often other borders. Ghettos are old phenomena, they had real barriers around them.

Now that many physical barriers are collapsed, and others are more permeable than they were 50 years ago, the political debate seems polarized on how to raise them again.

In Europe, after a long season without internal borders that attracted 28 countries from the initial 6, confusion and uncertainty dominate the political scene on how to rebuild the border with Britain (and even more unfortunately across Ireland).

In the US, “the wall” seems to be the reason for an unprecedented shutdown costing billions to the American economy.

The international relations appear dominated by debates about trade wars and trade deals on customs duties.

But the worst borders are the invisible ones, those within the mind of people. In Italy, as well as in several European countries, nationalism and racism are menacingly reappearing. This resurgent division between us and them – be them the strangers, the refugees, the poor, even those living in another region of the same country – are my main concern.

Once again, it is nothing but a construct of fear, and it generates even more fear. Even those resisting this wave and trying to keep mind and heart open could start thinking in terms of us and them – being them, this time, the racist, the fascist, the “bad ones”. This is falling in the same trap of separation.

If we want to resist all this, we cannot but think in terms of humanity. We cannot but express compassion for the reasoning we cannot accept nor legitimize. We can see and acknowledge the fear behind it.  Then we can play our little role in dismantling inner and outer borders in politics as well as in daily life.

 

The “infringement procedure” against Italy for the excessive deficit.

 

silver and gold coins

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

First of all, the infringement procedure, all the Italian newspapers talk about, is not an infringement procedure (sorry, as EU law prof I cannot but suffer for all these wrong terms, words are important).

Second, there is no conspiracy against Italy or its recovered sovereignty, just the (usual?) consequence of an infringement of a rule, which, by the way, is quite common sense:  excessive deficits are prohibited as they threaten the whole Euro area, its very existence under its current institutional structure.

But let me clarify the first point first.

The infringement procedure is a legal procedure started by the European Commission against an EU country that fails to implement EU law. The Commission – after a pre-judicial exchange of communications – may refer the issue to the Court of Justice, which in certain cases, can condemn the state and even impose financial penalties.

Otherwise, in this case, we are witnessing the first step of the procedure for the application of the prohibition of an excessive deficit, set up by article 126 TFEU and further specified by a number of legal acts, which is radically different.

First of all, it is not a judicial procedure, but a political one. The main decisional body is the ECOFIN Council (the Council of Financial Ministers of the Union), not the Court of Justice. Second, it is grounded in economic reasoning, and the only possible line of defence is on the same ground.

But let’s take a step back

The States of the Union have “almost” full sovereignty over budgetary matters, they are absolutely free to decide how to compose the basket of income and expenditure.

The only limit is the prohibition of an excessive deficit.

The rationale is simple: the default of one state would spread among the others like a contagion. Moreover, the EU budget is too small to save anyone. And taking money from one state’s budget to rescue another is difficult and unpopular (we have witnessed all this during the Greek crisis).

So the EU Treaties try to prevent all this through two basic rules: one is article 125 TFEU stating that every state is responsible for its own budget and no government (not even the European one) is obliged to take over the responsibility stemming from a state’s budget. The second is article 126, intended -with its prohibition – to prevent unsustainable deficits.

The ECOFIN Council is in charge of assessing, on a proposal from the Commission, whether the deficit is excessive. In this case, with a predefined step by step procedure, it may adopt a recommendation, then an intimation, and finally a sanction (but it takes almost a year to get to this final stage). The spirit is to promote correction: the procedure can be stopped at any moment presenting a correction plan. It has happened many times for other EU countries, it happened in 2003 for France and Germany.

These rules, in the treaties since 1992, have been signed and ratified by Italy, even willingly.

Among the fathers of the euro, some eminent Italians as Guido Carli, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Tommaso Padoa Schioppa were well aware of the damage that was being inflicted on future generations with a debt out of control. They thought that an external bond could save Italy and acted accordingly.

In general terms, excessive debts are not a good thing for States: they generate interests and reduce oxygen for expansive policies, they compress the discretion of States on current policies and they transfer a burden over the future generations. In a currency union, they are even more unsustainable as we cannot print money to cover them.

But, let’s think for a moment that we could, would it be the solution? Are you aware of the price of inflation over the economy and over the population? Just on everybody? In a short span of time, we would all be poorer as the purchasing power drops and savings lose their value.

Or are you thinking that we have the choice of not honouring the debt?

Unfortunately, it’s not a debt with some foreign power or financial institution. It is a diffused debt, which we find in most of the mutual funds, in the retirement funds, in the portfolios of all Italian banks. Not repaying it would be just a different way to spread poverty.

Now, I personally do not like either the stability pact or the austerity approach. I think there are times when expansive policies have to be made (and the Commission has tried to do so with an investment plan that has greatly benefited our country, but we do not talk about it). Of course, it is too little, and the EU budget is also too little if we think (as I think) that it is useful having some kind of corrective and balancing function of a central budget in a currency union. But this is another point.

We can promote new rules at European level, we can negotiate the new EU budget multiannual framework having in mind our needs and the needs of the disadvantaged areas (not just our ones), we can suggest new funding for unemployed people, wherever they are (you know Italy studied this proposal some years ago?).

This nonetheless would not stop the procedure. We can stop it, anytime, implementing sounder public finances, whatever the political vision we want them to mirror.

By the way, we are already paying the sanction. It is the so-called sanction of the markets: call it spread, call it interest, call it difficult allocation of the new debt emissions. It is, in broader terms, the price of loss of credibility.

I don’t think my country deserve this, but I can only blame its current political choices and not some financial monster in the shadows.

The Beauty of Being Visionary

 

SDD opening

 

The first Supranational Democracy Dialogue has ended one week ago and I am just recovering from the stress and the fatigue of managing and hosting it, and from the overdose of joy and enthusiasm of welcoming so many friends and fellow visionaries, of sharing ideas and plans for the future. We even signed a beautiful final manifesto, you can download it here: Manifesto for supranational democracy final.

SDD reading the manifesto

It was a great experience and the most exciting in my career path.  Nonetheless, I am not sure it was really about my career path. As Myra Jackson pointed out in one of our breakfasts together, it was more about coming out of my “academic closet”.

Several of my young, great team members published posts on the event pointing out how I was the visionary behind all this. And that’s flattering!

Except that, in Italian, if you write visionary (visionario), then you add “in a good way”, as they all did. Because in Italian “visionario” means plain foolish (pazzo visionario!).

It’s a pity. As I learned in other political and cultural climates, being visionaries is a good thing: it’s about having a vision for the future and sharing it. It’s the quality of true leadership. I wonder if this reticence of our language in using the word “visionario” is just a reflection of our collective pessimism and of having given up visions for the future.

It took me years to accept the idea of being visionary and it is just the first time that I am publicly defined so.

Before accepting my being visionary I went through a number of life-changing experiences: starting the Group of Lecce with some fellow visionary colleagues, being invited to join the Bretton Woods Committee, walking a spiritual journey and meeting many extraordinary mentors, attending three A-fests in a row and the first Mindvalley U (and this year, again!), stretching my finances – in a way I would have never imagined – and standing mostly out of my comfort zone. I was already forty – and a single mom – when it all started – several years ago. It happened gradually, it was sort of re-prioritizing my entire life, step by step. And setting myself free.

Do you realize how much of our freedom of expression is limited by self-censorship?

Now, I cannot say I have arrived somewhere. Maybe I have just stopped in some big station, and waiting for the train to move forward, to the next one. It’s all about who you become along the way:  yourself, or Your-True-Self.

In my case, it is about becoming visionary (or plain foolish :-)))

By the way, I love this quote, it is from a conversation between Alice and her father:

 

Risultati immagini per alice foolish quote