SUPRANATIONAL DEMOCRACY DIALOGUE A dialogue among scholars, civil society, and creative thinkers about global democratic solutions to global challenges. V Edition “FOCUS ON TOOLS” Brindisi May 18-19, 2023
The University of Salento will host the new edition of the two days event – the only one of its kind aimed at bringing together scholars from any background, NGO leaders and political activists, businessmen and innovative thinkers to discuss together the big challenges facing humanity.
Those willing to contribute are invited to send an abstract by February 28, 2023, addressing one of the following topics:
I. The Building of a Political Public Sphere beyond Borders. II. Civic Participation and Citizens’ Activism. III. Digital Democracy & AI IV. Litigation for the Advancement of Collective Rights. V. Regional Integrations and Multilateralism. VI. Balancing Conflicting Interests: a Task for Politics and Jurisdictions
Contributions are also welcome if they lay at the intersection of two or more topics (cross-cutting themes such as governance, inequality, transparency…) or if they have a wider focus and include a case study falling within one of the four topics listed above. The ideal contribution is not just an analysis of the problem, but a proposal for addressing it democratically in some original or unconventional way, yet feasible. The abstract (max 500 words), together with a short bio (max 300 words), may be sent to the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. The authors of the selected abstracts will receive two-night accommodation.
With the support of
UNGSC, Maison Jean Monnet, Democracy and Culture Foundation, Atlas, Democracy Without Borders, The Streit Council for a Union of Democracies, CesUE, Euractiv.it, The Democracy School, Italian Association of International Law Professors (SIDI)- Interest Groups on International Economic Law (SIDI DIEcon) and on Humar Rights (DIEDU); Association of Italian Experts of European Law (AISDUE)- Forum on International Projection of European Union (PIUE); Jean Monnait Chair and modules at Università del Salento.
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!
The Conference on the Future of Europe is at the moment, the most advanced and innovative experiment in both participatory and deliberative democracy and an EU flagship initiative
There is a web platform which offers to all European citizens a unique opportunity to contribute to the conversation on Europe’s challenges and priorities and to sketch the future they want for the European Union. If you are European or you live in Europe, you may be interested in registering at https://futureu.europa.eu/, getting involved, sharing your ideas or even organizing an event and making it known to everybody on the net. If you are not European you could do just the same, if you are curious and open to experimenting with democracy.
The experiment becomes even more interesting if you are one of the 800 citizens randomly selected. Four European Citizens’ Panels are organized to allow citizens to jointly think about the future they want for the European Union. Each of them is composed of 200 European citizens selected by an algorithm, from the 27 Member States (one third under 25), reflecting the EU’s diversity: geographic origin, gender, age, socioeconomic background and level of education. Each panel meet three times in total and appoints 20 representatives who shall take part in the Plenary, present the outcome of their discussions and debate them with other participants. Never such a trans-national multi-lingual exercise in deliberative democracy has been experimented until now.
The two streams of discussion are going to meet as panels shall take on board contributions gathered in the framework of the Conference through the digital platform. The European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission have committed to listen to Europeans and to follow up, within their sphere of action.
By spring 2022, the Conference is expected to reach conclusions and provide guidance on the future of Europe.
Does this make the Union the most advanced democracy ever? An out-and-outer, a non-plus-ultra of democracy? Nobody would believe it, neither we do.
Yet it proves, once again that Europe is a work in progress open to very interesting experimentations on democracy beyond the borders, the most advanced lab we have on such a big scale (on the small scale of communities the experiments are many and very interesting).
Will it be a success? Will it produce interesting outcomes? Will EP members, national governments and commissioners draw on this reservoir of ideas for a real Treaty revision or at least some innovative policies? Will some NGOs succeed in making these deliberative and participatory democracy tools permanent as they wish?
We can just wait and see.
What I will never be tired to suggest is that the European brave experiments are not just for Europe. Whatever proves successful in sharing decisions and policies, in a continent that has been for centuries a cradle for wars deserves attention.
The lessons learned can be transferred – with all the necessary adjustments – in other regions of the world or even on the global scale, to manage some issues which are just too big for the national and even for the continental dimension.
On May 9, 1950, 70 years ago, a brave man, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a radically new solution to an old problem.
Schuman had the courage to think outside the box and above all to listen to a man with a good idea, Jean Monnet, who – without no institutional or political role – reached out to present his solution.
The problem was the control over disputed territories on the border between France and Germany, rich in mineral resources, coal and iron, strategic for the economy in times of peace and even more in times of war
The idea was to “de-nationalize” them: entrusting them to an independent authority under political shared control (ministerial and parliamentary) and under Judicial control. Ownership and national territories would have remained just the same, yet regulation and access would have been uniform and non-discriminatory. A simple, but a disruptive idea in comparison with the logic of borders and alliances than dominating international relations.
Schuman’s speech on 9 May was intended as addressed first of all to Germany, but it was open to other interested governments.
Schuman’s speech was about concrete achievements, step by step, intended to rise solidarity among the people, but it of done, but it drew, as well, a long-term vision of a united continent after centuries of war.
Pragmatism and idealism, hand in hand.
On Europe’s day, we discuss a short and long term vision for it
After the declaration of the state of emergency throughout Italy, the roads appeared deserted even in the southern regions where the risk was very low, just a handful of people infected by province.
Few people with masks and scared looks entered and left the shops on that beautiful March day.
Government instructions were clear: you could only leave the house for reasons of strict necessity: for medical treatments, for work, for “survival”, that is shopping for food.
The population was forbidden to touch, hug and kiss, to leave their own town of residence. All the activities that could be carried out from home – as distance learning or smart working – continued. Also some essential public services. But who knows how many activities were interrupted and for how long.
The planes no longer left. The silence was striking. In that green suburb close to the airport it sounded unnatural.
What struck me most was the loss of the little things I had always taken for granted: hugging my father, for example; exchange kisses on the occasion of my birthday; take a walk without a real destination just to look at the sea.
What about meeting my partner? He lived in another town and seeing each other was now impossible. Until when?
I felt a pang in the stomach. What if either of us got sick? No visiting, no help? And if it became serious? 100 km never felt like a difficult distance, now they were.
It was the first time I really thought of sickness as a real possibility.
Back home, I was welcomed by the usual smiles of my sons.
Ours was a little bubble of positivity.
We left daily news enter only for short updates in the morning and in the evening. The TV was turned off most of the time. Except when PlayStation was turned on, which was, for my standards, way too much.
My sons had reacted in two different yet quite healthy ways: one, the younger – just turned fourteen – had celebrated the closure of the school as a historic event per se, but deplored the fact that homework continued to arrive just the same.
The older one, close to his sixteen birthday, had armed himself with patience and although he suffered from the loss of his social life, seemed serene. Both had hobbies and games to play, they enjoyed all this extra time for themselves.
Turning off TV wasn’t a real novelty for us, but now it was self-defense. The virus was on-air h24. This health crisis had obscured all the other crises, not less dramatic: the bombing of civilians in Syria, the desperate situation of migrants on the Greek border, the exceptional Arctic temperatures.
We had all seen pictures of penguins trotting in the mud instead of slipping elegantly on the pack: the photos had circulated on Facebook but had never found their way to TV news, yet 20 ° in Antarctica was big news. And the violations of fundamental rights perpetrated massively on refugees? What was happening?
Moreover, the United States was shipping 20,000 troops in Europe, the largest deployment of forces in 25 years. Apparently, practicing to lead a convoy across the Atlantic. Could we need a new landing in Normandy or Sicily? Who would invade us: the Russians? the Chinese? For the moment the Americans, although they had promised that they would leave Europe after cleaning training areas.
How could all this make sense in the middle of a pandemic?
Internet was the only source for everything that was not the virus and its consequences, a massive and chaotic source, overflowing with fake. Fake news continued to arrive on every mobile via the WhatsApp groups. I had received maybe ten times the same message telling us to fight infection with hot drinks, as ridiculous as it sounded, most of my contacts had believed and passed it on.
I had spent the last two months organizing big conferences, one was already canceled, the other looked uncertain but we were clinging to the idea that everything would be fine and that the emergency would end soon.
Ironically, our conferences were on democratic global governance, on commons and common values. I smiled at the idea that speaking of democracy with the right of meeting suspended was quite a thing.
By the way, our team knew how much this was contradicting the direction that politics seemed to have taken at the national and the global level. Yet, it was a way to face and counter the narrative, hopefully, to start writing a different one.
And now this virus, quietly, was overwriting on its own, putting on hold globalization, reviving borders and building new ones, even from town to town.
I was feeling like a little lab rat. Italy was a little lab. Our first-class citizenship which allowed us to go everywhere, often visa-free, was now rejected. Closed, each of us in our little towns.
And yet, with the coronavirus declared a global health emergency by WHO, we had further (unnecessary!) evidence that borders were pointless in front of great emergencies, that viruses traveled without documents and that you could find yourself on the wrong side in no time.
Solutions, whatever, needed cooperation, not competition. We were all connected, even more with hugs forbidden.
I had so much to work on, articles and chapters on democracy and citizenship and global governance, but all this thinking was bringing me to the core: oneness. I had to work on oneness, skipping all the intermediate steps.
Most of the experiences I had in my life (in researching, teaching, advocacy) point to this specific direction: governance beyond the State.
Advocacy came first. Since I was a teenager, I played a leading role in the Young European Federalists (JEF).
It was only after I was awarded a Ph.D. grant from the University of Bologna that I had to put aside that experience (apparently to prove to be a “serious” researcher) according to the suggestion of my mentor prof. Paolo Mengozzi. My Ph.D. thesis, which became my first book was dedicated to the economic and monetary union, a brand new topic after the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty. The focus of my whole work (in the Nineties) was the lack of economic governance in Europe or, to be precise, the need for a common fiscal policy, a topic still relevant nowadays (and the topic for another book later on).
From there I moved to research on the ways and tools for Europe and the Eurozone to speak with one voice in the international fora, so I came to study the IMF and the World Bank (and to the governance of the two was dedicated my second book). The external relations of the EU are a recurrent topic in my record of publications, with two specific focuses: representation in international organizations and euro-Mediterranean relations, between bilateral and multilateral options.
Only later on I realized how my federalist starting point was influencing my research path: wherever I see a governance problem I start to investigate representation, legitimacy, accountability, budget. And I’m drawn to governance issues like a moth to a flame!
Once realized that, I went straight to the
point, publishing on democracy in international organizations, on
accountability, on citizenship in the European democratic formula.
I think that not less interesting and diverse has been my experience in advocacy.
In 2009, with a group of colleagues, I founded the think tank The Group of Lecce which, on the long wave of the global financial crisis, started releasing communiques on how to improve the governance of financial institutions.
In the same period, I started attending the Civil society policy forum convened twice a year by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on the occasion of their annual and spring meetings and I was invited to join the Bretton Woods Committee.
Starting a blog on “Supranational Democracy” in
2015 was the next step.
It seemed quite natural, two years later, to make the research line converge with the advocacy path and I convened a big international conference to invite scholars and people from academia and institutions to discuss with civil society leaders. All the networks I had previously attended mixed up in this new adventure.
So, in 2018 I have been the organizer – with a great supporting team- of the Supranational Democracy Dialogue (SDD), a dialogue among scholars, civil society and creative thinkers on democratic solutions to global challenges. the story of that experience is in a little documentary film.
As the first edition of the dialogue was a big success and created a platform of like-minded scholars and activists, I am now working on the second edition. I can count on an interesting and diverse network collected around this idea that the world needs some kind of democratic global governance.
Eventually, this year, I was awarded a Jean Monnet Chair whose title is “Legal Theory of European Integration: a Supranational Democracy Model”. A sort of blessing, for me, after so many years of dedication to an idea which was, for many, plain crazy.
I think that building governance beyond the state and reinventing democracy for the human family is the big challenge of the XXI century, or maybe of the second millennium.
Spiritual people call it oneness: realizing that we are all one, connected and interdependent.
Pragmatical scholars move from different premises: issues are nowadays global (global warming, sea pollution, water scarcity, migration waves, trade wars, threats to peace and security); global institutions are imperfect, as they were created many decades ago for a world of sovereign nations which look nowadays inadequate (both the nations and the global institutions). Globalization of finance, markets, social media calls forth globalization of rights.
No matter which position you move from, you can get to this awareness moved by the mind or the heart. You can come from international law, economics or maybe philosophy, anthropology, a religious belief, or a psychological search… the supranational democracy dialogue could be the place for you.
The panelists come from so many different experiences that nobody expects to teach or to hold the truth, and everybody has for sure something to learn. What is expected is a phenomenon of cross-pollination among ideas, cultures, and paths.
The next edition of the SDD will be in Brindisi, on April 16-17. The program is still a work in progress, it will be posted shortly. If you want to attend or to receive the network newsletter please send an email to email@example.com.
We live in a complex, globalized and interconnected world.
All the good and the bad concerns everyone, wherever it happens.
Yes, we have still roots in a country and in a culture (not necessarily the same culture of the country..), nonetheless, we know that our potential as human beings is affected by things happening on the other side of the world. We can take it for granted.
AI, as it is being developed in some Silicon Valley start-up, could affect the way my sons are going to study and work. Scientific discoveries, wherever they occur, impact the way I’m ageing. The way we eat, the way we breathe, the weather, all is the result of global forces at play.
And most of the issues our political leaders are trying to deal with are just out of reach for any single state, they are continental, if not global.
Climate change, mass migrations, terrorism. Global issues, requiring global solutions.
And we assist powerlessly in many states to the fragmentation and the crisis of democracy.
It is no surprise to me. It’s just the end of an era – the age of the nation-state – and the difficulty of accepting a new reality. The challenge of creating new democratic formulas and new ways of interacting in the political space for this new world.
It may appear just a theoretical problem: abstract, fuzzy and far from our personal experience.
But what if facing this new reality becomes necessary to your business plan as a company? Understanding how global issues and disruptive technology are going to impact your industry may be crucial.
What if you are trying to design new curricula for your education system?
What if you are struggling to preserve a welfare system in the destructive competitive world?
What if you are just a parent and want to prepare your kids for the world they are going to live in?
What if you are politically active – in a traditional party or in some NGO – and just want to know how to make an impact and which level of government is really relevant to you?
These are really the questions I want to answer to, in some way.
I have spent some years now on this topic, which I call supranational democracy: reinventing democracy for the globalized world. But I perfectly know that a single person or even 10 or 100 will not really go very far.
Moreover, I see this challenge as multi-disciplinary and intercultural. And I’d love to be a catalyst for a much wider research and discussion.
Finally, I don’t see this as an academic challenge, period. It’s a challenge for humanity: academicians and businessmen, artists and activists, just everybody, should join forces.
A first attempt is the Supranational Democracy Dialog we are organizing in Lecce in April.
But, believe me, this is just the beginning. Are you with me?
The role of rigor (and austerity) as a way to correct fiscal imbalances in the midst of the economic crisis, has been extensively debated over the last few years, and it is still a contentious issue to this date. The recipes imposed by the Eurozone authorities and by the IMF in the European sovereign debt crises have been widely criticized and contested. In one specific case, they have even been recognized as wrong. Well-known economists Carmen Reinhardt and Kenneth Rogoff have been questioned in their main research finding of an existing inverse relationship between public debt levels and growth rates, beyond a certain critical threshold. On the other hand, there is a consensus that high levels of public debt are not desirable as they may pose a serious issue of sustainability and financial vulnerability. As a result, the need to keep the public budget under check is a broadly shared policy objective. A hotly debated issue, though, is whether the fiscal adjustment should be done during the crisis, at the risk of depressing growth, or whether it should be backloaded thus allowing the fiscal budget to support output and employment.
But, one fact is a logical antecedent to the debate itself: which institutions are supposed to be the best judges for choosing the optimal balance between rigor and growth?
A tentative way to start addressing this question is to assume a division of tasks between global agencies (like the IMF and G20), regional institutions (like the EU), and nation states. Each with its own set of competencies and responsibilities.
We then need to have some understanding of growth and rigor.
It’s hard to define growth. It is the result of a mixture of heterogeneous ingredients. Most of them are economic ones: the state may stimulate growth through public policies aimed at supporting investment and entrepreneurial initiatives. Similarly important are the institutional ingredients, such as the set of norms and rules aimed at encouraging certain economic behaviors or discouraging others, or the measures to make public administration more efficient or to reduce its costs. Other ingredients are social ones, such as public investment in health, education, and inclusiveness, which produce results in the long run. The whole mix of ingredients, moreover, has to communicate a sense of social justice and of shared efforts in order for it to be acceptable for the population.
Even though good practices may be of inspiration to countries engaging in pro-growth strategies, there is no such a thing as “the” right recipe for growth. Successful growth strategies differ from country to country, and across periods, and vary according to the strengths and weaknesses of each country, its culture, institutions, and level of technological development. The international context may influence domestic growth significantly.
It may be argued that growth has some kind of conceptual primacy inscribed in the mission of international institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, as well as of many regional organizations aimed at economic and financial cooperation. Of course, the way growth and other objectives are articulated in the charters of such institutions reflects, besides the different purpose and peculiarities of each, also the different times when their charters were written. Therefore, for instance, while the IMF Articles of Agreement (1944) show a conception of growth that is deliberately based on purely economic terms, the EU Treaty (1957 and revised many times) aims at a different, holistic, idea of growth, complemented by social elements, reflecting the cultures and politics of the region, as it has evolved over time.
Let’s explore now the meaning of rigor: it is understood to be a conduct (or even a set of rules) aimed at limiting excessive public debt and state deficit, and at restoring good governance and sound public finances. In practice, in the case of excessive deficits and/or debts due to cyclical or structural difficulties, rigor often translates into austerity policies, with cuts to public expenditures and high social costs.
Moving to the responsibilities and tools of international organizations, we do find many examples of interventions aimed at strengthening rigor rather than supporting growth. On the occasion of the recent European sovereign debt crisis, both IMF and EU engaged in supporting and restoring public finances in several countries. The Eurozone itself, in the process of strengthening its governance, added new instruments and regulations for disciplining public finances more effectively.
In the Treaty on the Functioning of European Union (TFEU) we find several rules of hard law that are intended for achieving more rigor, like, for instance, the articles 123-126 on fiscal discipline.
The best-known one is art. 126:
“1. Member States shall avoid excessive government deficits. (…)”
There are, moreover, various legal acts specifying rules for rigor and the sanctions for violating them.
Frameworks for growth have also been contemplated at the global and European level, of which many G20 communiques and the Europe 2020 strategy are good examples. Yet they are all nothing more than good intentions, or soft laws at best. All the relevant policy instruments – and especially the budgets – are in the hands of national governments and parliaments.
We can draw the first conclusion: while international multilateral organizations have economic growth in their statutory mission, they are in fact best equipped for delivering rigor.
Why is this so? A simple but nonetheless convincing line of reasoning is that rigor is unpopular. And since the ultimate goal of politicians is generally to be elected
(or re-elected), policies for rigor tend to be avoided as much as possible by democratic governments (and, even more, by populist governments), unless they can be blamed on somebody else. On the other hand, nation states are best positioned and equipped to deal with growth policies, since it is at this level of government that one finds (i) democratic representation of citizens in order to have legitimate choices; and (ii) resources necessary for growth initiatives.
Thus, it is really not surprising that states have transferred the political price of unpopular (but necessary) measures for rigor to different levels of government, levels where there are no political elections. One of the consequences is that states are risking to kill international levels of government with unpopularity.
This dichotomy suggests a number of questions: (i) is nationally driven growth the best solution? Is it the best solution, if international organizations are responsible for imposing rigor?
The choice to place the tools for growth at the national level may appear in contradiction with the goals attributed to the IMF and the EU (as already mentioned), but also with the plans and guidelines for growth formulated periodically by the European Council and the Groups of States (G8, G20), which point to the need for making growth a commonly shared objective by the global community, one which requires international cooperative governance frameworks. At the same time, nation-states run against formidable obstacles to growth, as the international orientation to rigor inhibits their efforts to that end.
Back to growth: which are the main obstacles met by international organizations when they want to deal with growth? A first take involves responsibilities
If we believe that growth involves creative thinking and requires discretion, then we necessarily end up in the field of Politics (with capital P!), and leave the realm of technocracy.
This is substantially different than simply applying rules, which is what happens when international organizations intervene to enforce discipline.
Another obstacle is related to the budget. It’s not just a matter of having limited resources (even though, of course, larger budgets expand the set of feasible choices), but there is also an issue of “who” controls the budget. Only resources that are truly “owned” can guarantee independent (and creative) thinking.
Finally, there is an institutional issue. Growth requires a participative approach and a democratic institutional setup. A hard problem to be addressed is the coordination between the global and the national (as well as regional and local) levels of government. This is an area for multilevel governance and subsidiarity. Regional and global economic institutions may not impose growth recipes over populations but can offer useful fora for governments to discuss policy options and choices, which in the end only they can enforce.
In conclusion: if we consider rigor and growth from a purely “governance perspective”, we easily see that:
rigor is basically the application of rules;
it may be handled technocratically;
it has to be impartial (rules based);
it requires negligible budgetary resources;
it is easily and more conveniently delegated to supranational levels of government.
Growth, on the other hand, lays within the realm of political decisions. It implies a vision and requires making choices out of an infinite number of possible alternatives and combinations. The number of feasible choices grows with the increase of budgetary resources. Deciding on a growth strategy that is sustainable and inclusive demands democratic institutions.
Rigor may, in fact, overrule growth preferences. The consequences are not merely economic, as they can have a significant impact on the democratic governance as well.
Public opinion’s demand for democracy at a global level has significantly increased in the last decade, due to the number of global challenges affecting humanity as a whole and the growing feeling of transnational interconnectedness generated by the internet. Unfortunately, international organizations are not (yet) equipped for democratic participation of individuals as they are basically intergovernmental.
An institutional formula for global democracy doesn’t exist yet and it’s time to invent it, reframing the very notion of democracy for this space which is not the familiar nation state we know since the Westphalian order.
Of course, we cannot imagine simply transferring what works at the national level – institutions and procedures – given the variety and complexity of organizations at international level. Moreover, we should consider the intrinsically difference of legal orders grounded on the membership of States instead of individuals, where even the basic principle of equality doesn’t fit.
The approach I suggest is grounded in a constructivist method: after deconstructing democracy in three basic components— legitimacy, accountability and inclusiveness—it is possible to reassemble them originally with the aim of their progressive strengthening.
This method will allow a realistic assessment of the level of democracy in international organizations and it will help promoting institutional reforms in line with the expectations of democracy in the global civil society.
A fundamental shift will occur from the typical intergovernmental model towards a more supranational one—as improving legitimacy, accountability, and inclusiveness naturally implies an increasing relationship between individuals and international organizations. The existence of a direct correlation between the role of individuals (or if you prefer of a demos) and the level of democracy appears to me a crucial topic.
It’s no surprise that democracy is in a deep crisis, a glance at the democracy index by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit shows it clearly. According to it, only 4.5% of the world’s population lives nowadays in a “full democracy”. It was 9% only few years ago.
This is even more evident in the very countries we always regarded as examples and bulwarks of democracy – Britain, France, US – the cradles of parliamentarism and of the rule of law.
I don’t say that these countries are not democratic anymore, I just worry about the amazing rise of populism and nationalism there, which are testing the democratic institutions as never before.
We can give so many different explanations for that: sociological, psicological, cultural… the liquid society and the solipsism and egotism of the modern human, the globalisation and rise of technology, the circulation of capitals and the social dumping, but I think that all this is just the background picture.
The real problem is in the dimension of the issues we face nowadays: migration waves, financial crises, global warming, terrorism…
Not one of these problems can be faced by a country alone, hardly by a group of countries acting together, even the European Union is struggling.
Citizens feel insecure, unsupported, and they expect answers from their political leaders, and from their governments. After all, this was the reason why the modern state was created in the first place: to offer security. Unfortunately, no state can offer this, not anymore.
Only populist politicians still offer promises and guarantees, do they know how illusory these are? Do their electors know?
And the easiest promise of all is the nationalist one: shutting the world out of the door, raising walls, guarding borders, stopping people. Our country first… and only.
I understand the fear which originates these reactions and I am not here to add judgment and blame on the already excessive amount of judgment and blame we see around. I just don’t think this will work… if not to buy some time before the same problems knock to our doors again and again.
The solutions to these problems are difficult to imagine and hard to communicate. Nonetheless they do exist.
The decline of democracy can be stopped in two ways: one is in the hands of governments and it is the cooperation for the common good, the other is in our hands as citizens and it is in owning the awareness that we are global citizens and claiming for solutions at national and at global level.
Only stepping into our power, supporting and joining the initiatives and the causes aimed at solving our common problems we can still feel proud citizens of our state and and of this world.