Some days ago I was speaking with my friend Sargon from the Bretton Woods Project and he came out with this idea of the ecology of the social systems. We liked it and tried to elaborate a bit.
Just like a natural environment a democratic social system has different subjects playing different roles. There are authorities, in charge for the realisation of one or more common goals (safety, education, health, acceptable living standards, sanitation, financial stability, and so on…). There are individuals, chosing or legitimizing in different ways such authorities. There are social bodies mediating among the two sides: political parties, NGOs, trade unions, each of them with its specific role, duties, expectations. There are entrepreneurs and companies, producing goods, offering services, creating jobs.
All these form a kind of ecosystem, which should be in balance.
Similarly to what happens in a natural ecosystem, there are natural enemies (or better natural antagonists). To same extent the conflict is physiological and even healthy: without it, imbalances would produce authoritarian systems, anarchy, or implosion, all kinds of decay.
The same happens in the global arena: international organizations interact with transnational civil society and -at times- suffer for violent critics and even demonstrations which may be healthy if aimed at improving human rights or correcting an authoritarian approach.
We could have the impression, at times, that it is nothing but a huge role-play, or we could claim that some cathegories of subjects are good and other bad. It would be a mistaken perspective. The real villains are those willing to kill the system -i.e. the balance- not those playing their part in it.
Today, I host an important call. You can find it here
“The UN Secretary-General plays a crucial role in tackling global challenges and improving the lives of seven billion people. It is vital that the best person is chosen for the job. But the selection process is secretive and outdated. Just five countries hold sway over a decision that affects us all. The next Secretary-General will be appointed in 2016.
Individuals from across the world as well as organisations including Amnesty International, Avaaz, Forum Asia and more than 100 others are already on board. Eminent personalities like Kofi Annan and increasing numbers of governments support our aims. Candidates are putting themselves forward. Horse-trading is already underway. We need to act now.”
“Monday’s UN General Assembly debate saw a near universal demand for transforming the way in which the UN appoints its next Secretary-General.
32 member states and the EU spoke at the debate, voicing broad support for many of the concrete proposals made by the 1 for 7 Billion campaign.
“Not only did an unprecedented number of states speak, but their statements were stronger and – crucially – more detailed, setting out concrete, practical proposals to make the process more transparent and inclusive. We believe this spells the end of the outdated and opaque process that hasn’t been updated since 1946”.
The impact of the campaign was visible during the debate, with Liechtenstein, Mexico and Brazil making specific reference to it.
Nearly all states backed the need for a clear timeline and open exchanges with candidates. The majority (21 in total) called for female candidates to be seriously considered this time. No woman has ever held the UN’s top job.
Significantly, 10 states, including Brazil and Malaysia, called for an end to the “rubberstamping” function of the General Assembly, urging the Security Council to give the UN’s wider membership a real choice by putting forward more than one candidate.
Eight states, including Algeria, on behalf of the 120 member states of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) supported consideration of a single, non-renewable term for the next SG.
The Council’s “backroom deals” with candidates also came under fire, with Algeria, on behalf of the NAM, India, Nicaragua, Brazil and Indonesia, calling for a merit-based appointment without pressure on candidates to make promises on other senior appointments.
Highlights of the debate included particularly strong statements made by the NAM, Costa Rica and India on the need for the Security Council to present more than one candidate. The Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group, representing 27 states, laid down a practical guide for action, proposing a joint letter by the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council to open the selection process with a call for nominations and an end date.
In another welcome development, Canada reintroduced its important ‘non-paper’ on the selection of the Secretary-General, calling for substantive reform in the UN’s 70th anniversary year.
Vague statements made by the EU and Germany were particularly disappointing.
Predictably, only China, Russia, and the United States, three of the five Security Council members with the power to veto candidates, made statements in favor of the status quo. France remained vague. The UK displayed some leadership, proposing a clear ‘structure’ in the recruitment process, including a deadline for candidate declarations and a timetable for appointment. Matthew Rycroft, the UK’s new Permanent Representative to the UN, said:
“Yesterday’s debate is an excellent basis for negotiating a strong resolution, cementing an open and inclusive appointment process. The job of the SG is one of the most challenging and influential in the world, affecting the lives of seven billion people. We must now push hard to translate words into action in the tough negotiations that lie ahead.”
A comprehensive reform of the selection process for future UN Secretaries-General should include all of the following:
- The position and qualifications should be advertised in all countries, with a call for nominations by Member States, parliaments and civil society organisations, and include a closing date for nominations.
- A formal list of selection criteria should be published by the UN; these criteria should stress that the best person should be chosen irrespective of his or her country of origin.
- A clear timetable for the selection process should be made public by the President of the General Assembly and President of the Security Council, no later than the start of the GA’s 70th session.
- A list of all the official candidates and their CVs should be published by the President of the GA at the end of the nomination phase and by the Security Council President when considering its list of preferred candidates.
- The President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council will be jointly responsible for regularly updating the UN membership and general public on the selection process once the full list of candidates has been announced.
- Each candidate should release a manifesto, which should include their policy priorities and a commitment to selecting senior UN officials on the basis of merit, irrespective of their country of origin.
- Once the names of all candidates have been announced, the General Assembly should organise a series of open sessions that will enable member states as well as the public and media to scrutinise candidates and their manifestos.
- The GA should insist that candidates do not make promises to individual countries on senior appointments, and member states should undertake not to seek such promises.
- The Security Council should be encouraged to present two or more candidates for the General Assembly to appoint as Secretary-General.
- The term of the Secretary-General should be limited to a single, non-renewable period of seven years.
It is a little-acknowledged truth that civil society plays today a significant role in several important international organizations.
While the legitimacy of international organizations (IOs) is still based on the conferral of competences and participation by member states, their accountability is somehow enhanced by an increasing dialogue with civil society and every year new inclusive processes are launched to involve in consultations NGOs and other non-statual actors.
Of course, not all the IOs are evolving in this direction and among the evolving ones the pace may differ, but when this happens in big organizations as the UN, the UNDP, the World Bank – and on big issues such as climate change or post 2015 development agenda – the phenomenon deserves a serious analysis.
What exactly is happening in these important organizations? What role does civil society play? Is it up to the task?
Let’s take a closer look.
The roles that civil society can play are various. The first and typical one is a role of watchdog: they observe, evaluate and – if necessary – raise public concern about any misconduct or abuse of power. In this role, many NGOs have significantly contributed to transparency, giving voice to a need of information which is the first step in order to watch and evaluate. Several IOs have accepted the challenge of opening up, a progress which has to be credited to the efforts of civil society. In this role NGOs enhance accountability.
A more sophisticate – formal or informal- role is the one of advisors. The choices of international organizations may be legitimate ones, may even be inspired by the best intentions. Still, often, other solutions are possible, with better outcomes or a more desirable social impact. The mere fact that a solution doesn’t come from a top- down approach but stems from a dialectical process makes it more politically acceptable. Of course, proposals and suggestions from NGOs don’t find an easy way through the complex machinery of the IOs decisional process. Often, they are nothing more than messages in a bottle, but still…
A third role of civil society is giving voice to “those who are not in the room”: minorities, people living in extreme poverty or impaired by a lack of literacy. In this role, civil society may tell unconfortable truths and raise awareness, it is maybe the most precious role of all, serving social inclusion.
Now, the second question naturally arises: are non-governamental organizations up to the task?
Are, themselves, legitimate, accountable, inclusive?
It is impossible to give universal or definitive answers: every NGO is an organization of its own kind. Possible answers come from the transparency of their inner decisional process, their budget (especially their financing), their tools and ways of acting. Decisional and budget autonomy is the dividing line between real and fake NGOs (the so-called GONGOs, serving the interests of some undemocratic government).
Moreover, civil society cannot, in any way, be considered as a spokesman or as an interpreter of a global population or, more precisely a global “demos”, whose very existence is extremely controversial in doctrine. NGOs represent just their members, citizens engaged and active on the global stage. We can only wish that their number will increase over time.
Let’s give some examples of this increasing role of civil society:
The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) interacting with the UN Economic and Social Committee grew exponentially in the last decade both in number and participation: in 1946 member NGOs were 41; in 1992 more than 700, in 2011 more than 3400. Specific websites have been set to interact with civil society and collect their opinions on several topics.
Specific polls and meetings are dedicate to interact on important issues, such as the post-2015 sustainable development goals.
During the IMF/World bank annual and spring meetings, a civil society policy forum gives to NGOs the opportunity to interact among them and a specific meeting – the Town hall meeting – allows them to engage directly with the president of the Bank and the managing director of the IMF. Other, more restricted, consultations and meetings happen during the year and they have contributed significantly to increase transparency in the two organizations (especially in the Bank). Moreover, development projects on the grounds may involve local civil society.
The UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee was created in 2000 as a formal mechanism for dialogue between civil society representatives and UNDP’s senior management on key issues of policy and strategy. UNDP regularly invites civil society representatives to engage on current development issues as they are key actors in development and participatory governance.
Although these processes should not be overestimated, they cannot be dismissed as “democratic embellishments”, because they are in fact enabling the emergence of supranational polities.
Looking at the same phenomenon from the NGOs’ side, we can only welcome the increasing awareness of citizens engaged in global processes.
A good example is provided by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that trains and supports local teams of citizen volunteers to become policy advisors to their own elected legislators. The organizations is active in many countries and in all the 5 continents, it is actually building an open network aimed at monitoring and enhancing the work of governments to achieve decarbonization, so to have a say in the next United Nations Frame Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December 2015.
The campaign name is “Pathway to Paris“. It is an interesting lab of participatory democracy and I suggest you keep an eye on it.
We all know which global challenges and concerns the world faces today.
Unfortunately, the international community lacks of adequate tools to manage all this.
All those who think that global citizens – as we all are- should do something will find a place for discussion in a Linkedin Group named Supranational Democracy.
it is a space to reflect and discuss – frankly and openly- about what to do and where to start from.
I think that possible solutions for a democratic globalization have to be intercultural and interdisciplinary.
Among the topics that we could discuss there there are: global governance; protection of human rights and development of civil and political rights at supranational level; digital democracy; innovative and creative governance; role of civil society and ways to raise awareness about the global dimension … and this is maybe just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s an open group: feel free to join, to invite new members, to contribute to discussions and suggest new topics for discussion… or even to watch what’s going on without joining.
You are very welcome!
Unfortunately, it is so in a utopian world, where citizens are really equal. Equality is a precondition to making each vote count and each trial be fair, to give everybody the same opportunities to access democratic rights and to see guaranteed their civil rights. Alas, formal equality isn’t enough and substantial equality is far from being the reality, so we need inclusiveness.
Inclusiveness is the specific target to include citizens into the channels of participatory democracy or to help them access the accountability channels. Without a specific commitment to inclusiveness, the processes to make international organizations legitimate and accountable will remain the privilege of a white, English-speaking elite, with high academic qualifications, connected to the internet. Just have a look at most of the civil society active at the global level and you will see it.
It is OK. I don’t want to delegitimize the civil society active on the global stage or underestimate its precious (invaluable!) avant-garde role. But, after the avant-garde -better soon than late- I hope to see a more diverse, multicultural civil society, really representative of the world pluralism.
A substantial -and not merely formal- democracy requires specific tools for inclusiveness aimed at stimulating the widest possible participation.
Where to start from? Let’s start from formal equality where it is still needed: gender equality (and the right to education for boys and girls), equality before the law, equality no matter the sexual orientation, the ethnicity, the origins and the life conditions.
But then, let’s move to substantial equality: fundamental rights, civil rights, political rights, rights to access and participation. We’ll discover easily that on the side of substantial equality there is still much to do almost everywhere. Nothing seems more difficult than guaranteeing equality before international organizations where we see further obstacles. This implies: overcoming the gap known as the digital divide, both in cultural as well as in infrastructural terms; going beyond the obvious barriers that stem from cultural and linguistic diversity, reaching minorities and disadvantaged groups; overcoming national barriers which may be the result of some governments’ obstructionism. A cultural engagement, here, should go hand in hand with a conspicuous economic investment and with specific strategies.
This point would deserve to be listed among the sustainable development goals…
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, democracy is
“A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives”
while the Collins Dictionary gives as first definition
“government by the people or their elected representatives”.
According to dictionaries, legitimacy is the one and only ingredient for a democracy recipe
countless elected governments over the history changed their nature and became autocracies.
Hitler and Mussolini won regular elections and so many actual dictators even nowadays. Who watched the events in Egypt a few years ago, or more recently in Turkey, understands the problem.
That’s why a modern democracy cannot just be legitimate because even a fully legitimate government could take arbitrary decisions, betraying the popular mandate.
The necessary completion of legitimacy is accountability.
Political bodies are held accountable for their choices when they assume full responsibility. Of course, this means also accepting the consequences for the wrong choices, furthermore for the illegal ones.
There is a wide range of accountability tools:
a parliament able to dismiss the government that it doesn’t trust anymore; an impeachment procedure for serious misconduct of ministers or heads of state; a court able to stop or repeal laws contrary to the fundamental social contract (the Constitution, the bills of rights); some constitutional body able to dissolve the parliament; the right of the electorate to chose new parliament members when disappointed by the previous ones… and the list could go on and on…
Citizens have the right to know how the public money is used, to which extent the objectives have been achieved and what expectations have been met; they have the right to appeal to a judiciary authority if their rights are violated and if those responsible for public interests are taking illicit advantages from their positions.
We are sometimes so accostumed to this other side of democracy that sometimes we end up forgetting how it is essential…. arriving to commit the mistake of thinking that “exporting democracy” (if ever democracy is exportable) just means organizing free elections. A nice democratic exercise but – without accountability – almost useless.
Now, you’ll ask, does accountability exist at supranational level?
Well, there is something, here and there. Often accountability is just hanging on the thin thread of responsibility of national representatives in front of their governments or their parliaments (if democratic!). But here is the good news: it’s slowly growing.
The XX century didn’t see much of that, but now a number of international organisations are establishing mechanisms for individual or collective claims (like the World Bank Inspection Panel); ombudsmen (as UN Ombudsman’ Office created in 2002), independent audit offices.
And we have to give merit to civil society which has struggled for that.
Of course, there is still much to improve. In a real supranational democracy, both political and legal accountability have to be equally developed.
Once more, the European Union arrived first -with its Court of Justice and its institutional system of checks and balances-, even if there is still more than something to improve in the field of economic governance.
In South America, several supranational courts followed the same path. Regional organizations have an advantage over the global ones: a common background of shared values helps.
But what’s more interesting about accountability is that is not so relevant if member states are democratic or not as accountability channels – when established – are open to all the citizens and NGOs, no matter where they are, while legitimacy channels often cut off a good number of them.
This seems to me a good reason to work on the other side of democracy.
If you want to learn more about accountability of international organizations, you can download here the Berlin Report by the International Law Association
The two components of the word democracy are “demos” and “kratia”, in ancient greek: people and power/authority.
The authority existing -in greater or lesser degree- in international organisations is nowadays indisputable, but to have it exercised in the interest of the people, or legitimized by the people we need…. the people!
And therein lies the problem.
Many excellent scholars tried to build theories to frame global democracy: transnational democracy, cosmopolitan democracy, post-modern democracy. An important contribution was offered by legal theories such as global constitutionalism and global administrative law but….still nobody recognizes as certain the existence of a global population, a “demos” giving to these theories a necessary factual substrate.
There are several good reasons to explain why the very existence of a global demos is still controversial: the dubious legal capacity of individuals in international law; the distances; the deep cultural and linguistic gaps. A people is made so by a number of common features: cultural, linguistic, religious; it is the product of a common history and of shared values and traditions; it shares a sense of belonging. This is what we study at school and, later on, at university.
But is it still so?
I think I am a global citizen. If you are reading this post, chances are that you are too.
The social fabric is rapidly evolving, what has held true ten years ago -or even one year ago- no longer corresponds to reality.
Two indicators are essential to tell you if you are part of the emerging global demos:
1) you feel a citizen of the world, a human being inside humanity. Internet and social networks allow you to connect to people living in different countries, cultures, mindsets. The low cost travelling companies, the decrease in communication costs and the sharing economy had an impact on your life, encouraging your mobility and your opennes to new experiences and people.
2) you know that what happens in other areas of the world affects your reality, be it for good or for bad. You care about global problems and global public goods, you sign global petitions and get involved in global discussions, you visit websites as Avaaz or change.org, maybe you even join some NGO operating globally.
We are still a minority right now. Too many obstacles prevent most of the citizens to be global citizens: poverty, digital and cultural divide, ideology. But the number is growing. Daily.
For this reason, those who mantain that a global demos is still missing are right, but stating the contrary is not entirely wrong. There is a global demos in the making. And we are part of it.
Somebody saw this coming, some time ago 🙂
When I started this blog I was in doubt. Such a strange word in the title? Will it be understood? Why not global democracy? or international democracy?
But no, no doubt. I know what I want to express here and it is not promoting some unspecified kind of global democracy. And, for sure it is not promoting international democracy.
Inter-national means between or among nations: an international organization is a system where states cooperate to common goals. The will of the organization is the result of internal procedures aimed at putting together the will of the largest number of states, as expressed by representatives of states.
Supra-national, instead, means over the nations: a supranational organization is over and beyond the authority of states. It expresses its own will.
We recognize a supranational organization by a number of distinguishing features: the decisions are adopted through majority vote; they are binding; bodies made up by individuals interact with bodies representing states, the rule of law and the respect of the decisions are guaranteed by courts.
But first and foremost, a supranational organization is able to impose its decisions even over states who disagree. And, in order to do so, it enjoys its own legitimacy, derived directly from citizens.
The best example of such autonomous legitimacy is in the first two paragraphs of art.10 of the Treaty establishing the European Union:
“1. The functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy.
2. Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament.
Member States are represented in the European Council by their Heads of State or Government and in the Council by their governments, themselves democratically accountable either to their national Parliaments, or to their citizens.”
Now, you’ll think that I’m describing a peculiar system, which is just European, but it isn’t so.
It’s true that this word, supranational, was the expression of what the Founding Fathers wanted for Europe (it appeared already in the Europe Declaration, 1951), but the system evolved over time and for sure it is much more supranational now than 60 years ago.
Other events occurred over the last decades; regional integration organizations evolved in south America, in Africa, in the Gulf: the seeds of supranationality were spread around and they started to sprout in different soils.
What was even more unexpected, even global organizations knew smaller but significant improvements: dialogues with civil society flourished here and there, ombudsmen, mechanisms for claims and audit bodies were established. Individuals appeared on the stage.
To make a long story short, supranationality is not anymore an exclusive of the old continent, even if there it started first.
And here is where I want to arrive: individuals are an essential ingredient of democracy. They provide an organization with a legitimacy of its own. Purely international or intergovernmental systems may be (maybe?) efficient, but can hardly be defined democratic. And democracy simply is not a parameter of legitimacy in international law.
An easy reply could be: aren’t states representative enough of their own citizens to legitimate also the organization they join? Formally, it is so.
Substantially (i) most of them are not exactly democratic (and in global organizations this is a major flaw) and, (ii) even in the democratic ones, governments are often entrusted with foreign policy outside an effective parliamentary control and manage it in a logic of realpolitik, paying a special attention to national interests.
For all these reasons, I believe that international democracy is an utopia at best, most likely an oxymoron.
Global democracy is supranational or it is not democracy.
The global challenges and concerns we face today are well known: the peaceful coexistence of states and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the deterioration of the environment and the need for sustainable development, the threats to financial stability, the tragic inequalities across the planet in wealth and democracy.
We need to do something. And, first of all, we need to reflect on what to do.
To face such challenges and to guarantee global public goods, the international community has created after world war II a number of international organizations responsible for the pursuit of specific goals, which have been given more or less adequate competences and tools.
Are these organizations democratic? Are they efficient? If the answer is no (or not enough) how could they be improved?
Could we – 75 years later – imagine something new? Is there a better way to organize coexistence inside the human family, not just aimed at avoiding conflicts but at thriving as species, in harmony with the Earth and with all the other living beings?
The awareness on these topics is growing. It is time to become creative, to network and exchange ideas, to recreate and co-create a new way of living together on this planet (maybe to dis-create something as well…).
Democracy is the result of a social pact: we are all involved.
Democracy nowadays cannot just be national as problems and challenges are getting more and more global.
To try to respond to the challenge, I decided to focus on what are (at least for me!) the three key ingredients of a modern democracy: legitimacy, accountability, inclusiveness. I built on them a paradigm for democracy in international organisations which I called democratic experimentation.
As individuals are an essential ingredient of democracy, I think that democratic international organization should be supranational, or move towards more advanced forms of supranationality. But how individuals can interact on a global stage, legitimize global fora, hold them accountable?
So many topics to discuss about, so important to deepen the analysis and offer solutions. The debate is open and you’re all welcome!