Do We Need an International Organization for Risk Management?

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Summary and Concluding Remarks from the Supranational Democracy Dialogue 2020

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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

Shifting the Paradigm II: New Rules in the World Order

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On May 29, at 4 PM CE, the final webinar in the Supranational Democracy Series:
Shifting the Paradigm II: New Rules in the World Order.

Does the Planet need new rules? Does the post-pandemic world need new legal or institutional tools for a more cooperative (and less competitive) system of sovereign states? or even beyond sovereign states?

Can we imagine a more democratic global governance? a more eco-friendly global governance? Can we imagine citizens and civil society have a meaningful say over global issues affecting them all?

This webinar series – which replaced in these pandemic times – a more traditional conference, has been -for me – an incredible journey. I had the amazing opportunity to discuss these huge topics, with many inspiring people: professors and journalists, experts, and activists, researchers in different fields but with equally strong dedication, approaching similar issues from very different angles.

And I could learn how a webinar works, along the way! Gosh, it wasn’t easy…

I had several aha moments. I saw a little preview of something which has still to be built: a frank,  open debate in a global transnational public sphere.

Whatever the world we are envisioning, I suppose that opening such space, encouraging a conversation and a narrative beyond the borders, is a precondition for our evolution as a species.

We are still learning how to communicate as global citizens, how to build a world public opinion of which the young people of the “Fridays for future” have been the vanguard.

There is still a long way to go, but, quoting Lao Tzu, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

And we have taken a few steps.

I want to thank all my wonderful fellow travelers.

Rethinking Global Rules and Institutions

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The current global health crisis shows an unprecedented interconnectedness of the human family. Moreover, it has fostered an unprecedented debate over the borders.

Networks and networks of networks are now debating about the “new normal” and are wondering if we really want to go back to the “old” normal.

It is strange. It seems that we needed such a traumatic event as a pandemic to really stop and think about our development model. We had already plenty of reasons to do so: the unsustainable inequalities, the unacceptable damages to our beautiful planet.

But it seems that we really needed to stop and think. To be forced to do so.

And here we are.

This series of debates was imagined well before the pandemic. A call for papers was put out in October 2020. And it looks like we are going timely to the point, to discuss a change which is necessary, to imagine new scenarios and new models for cooperation, sustainability, and resilience.

The next events in the series are going to focus even more on the needs, and on the awareness required to prioritize them.

Stay with us!

Susanna

The link to the recording is here