Human Dignity: the Value Behind the Values

Yesterday, I was speaking with a famous law professor, defending my theory of democracy in international organizations – grounded on the three core values legitimacy, accountability and inclusion – when he said something that hit me deeply:

“democracy cannot but be grounded on human dignity”.

He was, obviously, right.

Had I forgotten the basic value of human dignity? Of course not. I had assumed it, taken it for granted. And this was a mistake, I have to recognize it.

Not only it was a mistake because it  happens that the intrinsic value of every human being and every life is denied in many societies and especially to the weakest members of them, but also because if we want to understand each other on the meanings behind the words we cannot take anything for granted, we have a duty of clarity. After all, when I started this blog I took on this commitment, trying to define even words that everybody know, like democracy…. and I was forgetting such a meaningful ring in the chain of meanings!

How could we imagine a governance system legitimate by citizens, accountable towards citizens and inclusive of all citizens ….if citizens don’t have full dignity, just as human beings? Moreover, being all equally human beings, they all deserve the same respect and consideration, all enjoy the same fundamental rights.

This is clearly the grundnorm of every democratic system, what gives to legitimacy, accountability and inclusion their very meaning.

grafico dignity

There is another interesting consequence: all the citizens have the right to participate, all of them have the right to access the accountability tools (and this may even be considered a civic duty) but these are rights, never obligations. Individuals may as well chose to be on their own, do not use the democratic tools they are granted. The respect of their will to participate or not is, in the end, another way to respect their human dignity and their free will.

 

A Democracy Index for International Organization?

Democracy indexes are usually for states.

They are designed to assess trends and  level of democracy inside countries.

Democracy is never a yes or no, or maybe it may be a clear no, but never a clear and final yes.  Democracy standards evolve, societal challenges require a continuous update of democratic tools and indicators and citizens should never stop to claim for better and more efficient participatory and accountability tools. Democracy is a work in progress.

Let’s have a look at same of these democracy indexes:

The Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy compiles an annual ranking of countries by democracy level. The index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories measuring electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, government role, political participation and cultural participation.

The Index distinguishes between full democracies and flawed ones, hybrid and authoritarian regimes on the basis of their scores within each category. In 2015, democracies appear to be complete in only 20 of the 167 countries surveyed!

Other interesting indexes and measurements are on other sites, such as the Democracy Barometer, whose theoretical basis is in this chart:

quality_en

Many other indexes and rankings deserve a mention. The Bertelsmann Transformations Index on the political and economic development assesses the status of countries in transition, while the Bertelsmann Sustainable Governance Index refers instead to the OECD countries. The Democracy Ranking is based on political and socioeconomic factors; the Democratic Audit, focuses on UK; the Freedom House: Freedom in the World Reports is developed by the American NGO “Freedom House”; the Global Democracy Ranking measures the quality of democracy freedom & other characteristics of the political system) plus the performance of the non-political dimensions  (gender, economy, knowledge, health, and the environment); Polity classifies political systems on a scale between the two extremes autocracy and democracy; the Polyarchy Dataset is based on Robert Dahl’s concept of polyarchy as the Vanhanen’s Index of Democracy; the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project reports aggregate and individual governance indicators for 215 economies;  the V•Dem ratings on 11 different democracy components  for all countries worldwide from 1900 onwards; the Unified Democracy Scores combines measures from 12 other democracy measures (among others Freedom House, Polity, Polyarchy, Vanhanen).

Other ways to measure democracy level may involve the respect of human rights (see among others Amnesty International – Human Rights Reports, or HDR – Human Development Reports (UNDP), or transparency (as Transparency International: Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) und Bribe Payers’ Index (BPI)) or the freedom of press and media (as Freedom House). Please note that the list is not complete!

Even if the theoretical approach and the data sets may differ, all these indexes and rankings have something in common: they all refer to states. These parameters can only be used to a limited extent when evaluating an international organization.

There are some good reasons for that: first of all they measure the efficiency of representative democracy, i.e. the electoral system (are there free elections? do all individuals enjoy voting rights? is the electoral process transparent? and so on…)

Second, many indicators refer to human rights and quality of legislation (freedom of press, judicial rights, gender equality, access to education, et cetera).

Finally, some of them evaluate the economic environment: economic freedoms, free competition, inequality.

All of them, so, assume the existence of a demos and a territory of reference and a government responsible for them. They are definitely useful to inform us on how things work, how they evolve over time and how they can be improved.

But still, I think that we miss an important tile in the mosaic of our democratic rights. What if the decisions which have an impact on our rights do not originate from states, but instead from the UN, the IMF, the Eurogroup? Are still the states to blame? and if so, what can we do to address the issue? The Greek crisis offered a powerful example, but should we speak of the UN Security Council listing potential terrorists without any respect for their defence rights?

I have spent some time reflecting on possible indicators to measure democracy in international organizations, once again to assess how things work, how they evolve over time and how they can be improved. The main difference with democracy indicators for states is that they concern only the relationship between citizens and a governance system.

Here is my concept tree:

supranational democracy chart

What I came up with, is a chart based on three core indicators: legitimacy, accountability and inclusion. All the three may , in turn, be split into different substantial elements, in order to explore possible improvements. Only through a prismatic factorization of each of them in their multiple meanings is possible a real assessment of the existing democratic toools as well as a verification of what is really missing.

There is a close relationship between democratic legitimacy, accountability and inclusiveness; several tools serve more than one of these values (you’ll see repetitions in the chart) and transparency serves them all.

What seems interesting to me is that this chart imagined for international organizations works very well for any kind of organization expected to be democratic (even if not all the yellow elements – the practical tools –  would apply, or we could imagine other ones).

 I don’t know how to convert these elements in numeric values in order to build an index, but I’d like very much to join a team to imagine one.

I’m open to suggestions!

 

We are all French, we are all Europeans.

candle

After the tragic events in Paris on Friday evening, we Europeans were all under shock. From Italy to Sweden, from Greece to Portugal, we grieved and lightened candles and prayed. We all knew that Paris was a symbolic place (how powerful): the attack was brought against our core values,  the values of a democratic, liberal society, based on the rule of law and the respect of fundamental rights, free, multicultural, sexually-liberated, open.

The freedom of speech, of religion, of circulation are suddenly at risk and we know that we have to fight a new kind of struggle (of war, if you want) – totally different from the previous ones – the war to keep our societies open, because if we react in the old-fashioned style with  closure and protectionism and hate, if we step back from liberty of speech and religion, the enemy has already won.

It’s not an easy task. The immigration emergency, the rise of populism and the risk of extreme right political parties taking advantage of what has happened is definitely high. The point is that our states have partially failed in making us feel safe and, at the same time, open. We can observe decaying national identities as here and there states failed the challenge of integration; moreover the worsening of economic conditions favored urban subcultures and rebellions of the excluded ones. Jihadists grown up and living in Europe are a very bad symptom of our societies’ health status.

We must roll up our sleeves and rebuild trust in our values, which are the very fabric of our identity.

We felt all Europeans after the Paris tragedy, we recalled what makes us stand together against terror, let’s start from there. Let’s work on our European identity, which shouldn’t surface only in the bad moments, but help us overcome the failure of states with its motto “united in diversity”, able to comprise all of our populations, all of the honest migrants who came here for a better living and are ready and willing to respect our values.

Of course, any reaction, military, political and diplomatic should be likewise European. To be as symbolic and significant as the aberrant acts which injured Paris, heart of Europe.

Four Ideas for a Better UN. A Proposal from the Elders

Chaired by Kofi Annan, The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights. They were brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela.

The proposal was originally posted here

The United Nations now:

The dynamics of the United Nations

The Proposal: A UN fit for purpose

I. A new category of members

In principle, the existing permanent members claim to be ready to welcome new members. But their sincerity has not been tested, because the rest of the membership cannot agree on essential points: which countries, and how many, should be new permanent members, and should they, like the existing ones, be given a veto over the Council’s substantive divisions? In the view of many, the use or abuse of the veto is responsible for some of the Council’s most conspicuous failures, when it does not intervene in time, or with sufficient force, to protect the victims of genocide and other comparable crimes. Those states are understandably reluctant to give yet more powers the right of veto.

We therefore propose a compromise. Let the states which aspire to permanent membership accept instead, at least for the time being, election to a new category of membership, which would give them a much longer term than the two years served by the non-permanent members, and to which they could be immediately re-elected when that term expires. This would enable them to become de facto permanent members, but in a more democratic way, since it would depend on them continuing to enjoy the confidence of other member states. By making the Council more democratic, this change would increase its legitimacy in the eyes of the world, thereby enhancing its authority and so also making it more effective.

II. A pledge from permanent members

As already noted, on too many issues the Security Council is deadlocked by the failure of its permanent members to agree on a course of action, with the result that millions of people are left to suffer while great powers score debating points off each other. As the UN’s founders understood, without the united support of the permanent members, both material and moral, the Council cannot act.

None of us has forgotten the Holocaust, Rwanda, Srebrenica, Saddam Hussein’s campaign against Iraq’s Kurds, or the killing fields of Cambodia. No part of the world has been spared these horrors. So the political will must be summoned to prevent, or at least limit, their repetition.

We therefore call on the five existing permanent members to pledge themselves to greater and more persistent efforts to find common ground, especially in crises where populations are being subjected to, or threatened with, genocide or other atrocity crimes.

States making this pledge will undertake not to use, or threaten to use, their veto in such crises without explaining, clearly and in public, what alternative course of action they propose, as a credible and efficient way to protect the populations in question. This explanation must refer to international peace and security, and not to the national interest of the state casting the veto, since any state casting a veto simply to protect its national interests is abusing the privilege of permanent membership.

And when one or more permanent members do feel obliged to cast a veto, and do provide such an explanation, the others must undertake not to abandon the search for common ground but to make even greater efforts to agree on an effective course of action.

III. A voice for civil society

When they can agree, the permanent members too often deliberate behind closed doors, without listening to the voices of those most directly affected by their decisions, and present their elected colleagues with ready-made resolutions leaving little room for debate. To remedy this, we call on all members of the Security Council to make more regular and systematic use of the “Arria formula” (under which, in the last two decades, Security Council members have had meetings with a wide variety of civil society organisations), to give groups representing people in zones of conflict the greatest possible opportunity to inform and influence Council decisions.

At present, meetings under the Arria formula are too often attended only by junior officials, whose reports can easily be ignored. In future, we call on the heads of the delegations of all countries serving on the Security Council, including the permanent members, to attend all meetings held under this formula in person. Members of the Council must use such meetings to ensure that their decisions are informed by full and clear knowledge of the conditions in the country or region concerned, and of the views of those most directly affected.

IV. A more independent Secretary-General

At the United Nations, it is the Secretary-General who has to uphold the interests and aspirations of all the world’s peoples. This role requires leadership of the highest calibre. Yet for 70 years the holder of this post has effectively been chosen by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who negotiate among themselves in almost total secrecy. The rest of the world is told little about the process by which candidates are identified, let alone the criteria by which they are judged. This barely follows the letter, and certainly not the spirit, of the UN Charter, which says the Secretary-General should be appointed by the General Assembly, and only on the recommendation of the Security Council.

To remedy this, we call on the General Assembly to insist that the Security Council recommend more than one candidate for appointment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a timely, equitable and transparent search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or regional origin.

We suggest that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception that he or she is guided by electoral concerns. She or he must not be under pressure, either before or after being appointed, to give posts in the Secretariat to people of any particular nationality in return for political support, since this is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Charter. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that the United Nations can make full use of it to choose the best person to assume the post in January 2017.

Data for Humanity: An Open Letter

I have the pleasure to host an important initiative by professors Roberto V. Zicari and Andrej Zwitter to raise awareness of the principles in the context of the use/access of data, facilitate exchange between people and organizations who share the goal and the principles, and support data initiatives that are dedicated to these principles around the world.

Data for Humanity: An Open Letter

Information is power and data is its raw material. We are experiencing an unprecedented ascent of Big Data, the development of data science and the increasing omnipresence of data analytics. We are also witnessing both the promise and the peril of the ubiquitous acquisition of personal data by organizations of all types.

Given its novelty, and the current shortcomings of codes of conducts and legal regulations, data entrepreneurs, governments, data scientists and educators have yet to find the right balance between the power that data give and the responsibility that comes with it.

This development of datafication of the world comes at a time with great challenges, such as climate change, mass migration, deterioration of personal privacy, and protracted conflicts.

Therefore, we believe that it is important to help encouraging people and institutions to use data on sound principles that serve humanity.

We want to bring people from different disciplines and professions together, who share the motivation of using Data for the Common Good and for Human Wellbeing, in order to ensure that data serves humanity.

Goal:
To bring people and institutions together who share the motivation to use Data for Common Good / human wellbeing

We encourage people and institutions who own and/or do work with data and who share the following principles to sign this letter of support.

Principles:

1. Do not harm

2. Use data to help create peaceful coexistence

3. Use data to help vulnerable people and people in need

4. Use data to preserve and improve natural environment

5. Use data to help creating a fair world without discrimination

Professor Roberto V. Zicari, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany

Professor Andrej Zwitter, University of Groningen, the Netherlands

To sign the open letter, please follow this link:
http://www.bigdata.uni-frankfurt.de/dataforhumanity

Is There a Right To Internet Access?

It’s difficult to be or feel a global citizen if you cannot access the internet.

This is the first  powerful gift we received from internet: the elimination of remoteness. No matter if you are in Europe or Africa, in some little island  or on a mainland, in a crowded metropolis or in a lonely countryside: you can join a global debate, sharing your thoughts.

The second powerful gift is that we said goodbye to that sense of loneliness or estrangement typical when your thoughts are different from those of the ones around you. Whatever your point of view, you can connect with like-minded people. You are not alone.

… and the power of imagination, the force of dreams is multipled by connections.

This silent revolution had an impact (still to be measured) on our culture, on economy and politics. And on our rights. Internet became a main vehicle for freedom of expression, right to information, even political activity.

Revolutions and political campaigns of the last decades would have been inconceivable without it

Does it mean that accessing the internet is a new generation human fundamental right?

I’d like to say so. Nonetheless, as a jurist, I have my doubts.

A true fundamental right should be granted to all, it’s universal, inalienable, non-discriminatory. A fundamental right couldn’t be denied in any circumstance. It is both a right and an obligation: for states, to grant it.

Are international law, states, or other public subjects, able to guarantee this right to all? Unfortunately not, not yet. Nonetheless I think this is the new target, or the new standard that we should imagine -at least- as  a civil and political right. And I’m not alone to think so.

Nobody could deny that it is instrumental and sometimes even necessary to the right of information, freedom of expression and democratic participation. If we think of the global public sphere, we should admit that interacting and participating is necessarily channelled through internet and – when it is not- remoteness without internet translates in high costs and lack of information, in one word: discrimination.

Providing free wifi to all is a target that many countries around the world are still unable to grant. Others could, but are still far from providing it. Economic interests and market structures, as they are, are a powerful obstacle. Ad hoc policies should be put in place. Some states are at the forefront of this revolution -as Estonia or Finland- in France the Constitutional Court took a bold stance for it.

What is self evident, so, is that if we cannot (yet!) impose to state to provide free access to all, we can nonetheless qualify as an infringement of several human rights any censorship or denial of service.

And here is one of these strange legal paradoxes: accessing the internet is not a right, being denied the access is an infringement of a right. It is the best way, nowadays, to shut up a political protest, cut off the communication, isolate. And even if legal documents don’t state in clear words the birth of a new fundamental human right (at least I couldn’t find it), several ones declare that denying access to the internet is a severe infringement of democracy and fundamental rights.

Why Europe is Losing its Credibility over the Greek Crisis

I will write now something quite subversive: the EU is a reasonably democratic entity.

It is the only international organisation to have a legislative power stemming directly from citizens, with its two-chambers system: the Parliament directly representative of its citizens and the Council, directly representative of governments which are too – at national level – directly representative of their citizens. Its powers are conferred by treaties duly ratified by member states’ parliaments or even through referendum. The legitimacy of EU acts is guaranteed by a judiciary system, composed by national courts and by European judges.

But, not surprisingly, the perceived level of democracy of the European system is now lower than ever.

There is a simple reason for that, which unfortunately is not explained and even less understood by media (and so, of course, by citizens): economic policy is NOT an European competence. And economic policy is what dominates the political debate nowadays.

The compromise agreed on in the Maastricht treaty – never changed since- is that monetary policy is an exclusive competence of the Union, while economic policy is a competence of the member states. Of course a single monetary policy cannot survive with 19 different economic policies. That’s why the Treaty on the Functioning of European Union provides for a coordination of national economic policies – now reinforced through the so called “European semester” and why there are a number of prohibitions aimed at avoiding excessive divergences among national economies (the so-called Stability Pact).

The coordination of national economic policies is a mere intergovernmental procedure, agreed among finance ministers and heads of state and government, without any judiciary control and – even less- democratic guarantees.

Why monetary policy was transferred to the European level, while economic policy remained national? Because budgets remained national.

The EU has a tiny budget (less than 1% of the EU GDP) which cannot allow any deep intervention in the management of crises or the fostering of growth. So, the EU can just recommend such measures to member states.

On top of that, states are not equal.

Not only they differ significantly in size and GDP, but they contribute differently to the EU budget (we have already written about that). And they contribute  differently to the interventions which are outside the EU legal framework, as mostly happened in the management of the Greek crisis.

One of the most dramatic consequences of this crisis – whose extent has yet to be measured – is that many European citizens believe that what happened in the management of the Greek crisis is the normal way of functioning of the EU.

It is not.

I can tell you that Europe is better that that and can do (has done) better than that. It has provided over the years a significant increase of the rights of citizens in many core areas such as consumers’ rights, environmental rights, safety of products, right to move, work, study or be healed in other EU countries and so on.

Pity that nobody explains that, nobody writes about it, nobody takes a stance for minimum democratic standards in the management of coordinated economic policies.

The price Europe is going to pay for the intergovernmental (poor) management of the Greek crisis is a loss of credibility in all the other fields of intervention. Trust will take long years to be (hopefully) restored.

I hope that our politicians and journalists are aware of that.

Supranational Democracy in a Nutshell

A few days ago I had the opportunity to give a speech about the need for democracy at global level and about what we, as individuals, can do.

I post it here because it summarizes well what is explained in several previous posts:

 

 

 

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Democratizing the Bretton Woods Institutions

On the 15th of November 2008, in the midst of the global financial crisis, the leaders of the G-20 countries met in Washington DC. In the meeting’s final declaration, they committed to reforming the international economy governance – in order to steer their countries out of the crisis, boost economic growth and restore trust – by (among other things) overhauling the Bretton Woods institutions, i.e. the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The structure of the two institutions, created in 1944, had been discussed before, but never so firmly and by such a high-ranking forum.

In fact, the earliest reforms date back to the Seventies and were followed by regional financial crises that had global effects and sparked a debate among academics and politicians alike. New impetus came from the anti-globalization movements – particularly active during the Nineties – that put the Bretton Woods institutions on trial. The claims for more “voice and representation” by the developing countries,especially the emerging ones, whose economic success was fostered precisely by the contested globalization, came later on. These demands were echoed by major international conferences and groups such as the G24.

All this brought about a series of small actions through which the two organizations have begun to rethink their roles and structures.

Two subjects were on the agenda: how to make the Bretton Woods institutions (i) more effective, so that they can successfully face the challenges of development gaps (World Bank) and crisis prevention and management (IMF) and (ii) more democratic and less opaque, so that all their members and stakeholders can have a voice in and be represented, be they large or small, wealthy or not.

As a consequence of the 2008 global financial crisis, each of the Bretton Woods institutions convened groups of wisemen and committees of experts, and so did governments and other international institutions. The results of their work can be found in the Manuel Report; the Report of the Commission of Experts of the President of the United Nations General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System; the Zedillo Report. It’s also worthwhile to mention technical documents such as the FMI governance evaluation document by its Independent Evaluation Office and a series of reports from the civil society like  the 4th Pillar Report

All these debates had, as a consequence,  IMF  quota and governance reforms adopted on December 2010 and not yet in force because of the resistance by the main shareholder of the two organizations: the United States.

I have published – a couple of years ago- an e-book to examine the governance systems of IMF and World Bank and above all what I reckon is the core issue: their decision-making process. My analysis is based on the firm belief that the decision-making process affects the efficiency and also – indirectly – the outcome of the international organizations’ decisions. In other words, their governance systems are bound to influence and shape the results of the actions of the international organizations themselves.

Unfortunately – as the debates and the reforms stagnate – my book and my proposals are still up-to-date. Here they are, in a nutshell:

EIGHT SUGGESTIONS TO IMPROVE DEMOCRACY AND EFFICIENCY
IN THE BRETTON WOODS ORGANIZATIONS

  1. Separate IMF and World Bank (autonomous memberships and attributions of shares, different quota formulas);
  2. Introduce a double majority (of states and votes) in the decisional bodies (Boards of Governors, Executive Boards and Ministerial Committees);
  3. Entrust Ministerial Committees with a role of political guidance similar to the one currently played by the G20, eventually foresee their possibility to meet (also) at head-of-state level;
  4. Rethink constituencies to reflect – when possible – regional integration and cooperation gatherings, as a first step towards multilevel governance;
  5. Give Executive Directors the only status of international officials and guaranteed independence while national interests will be reflected and balanced in Ministerial Committees;
  6. Give the Board of Governors the power to appoint and collectively dismiss the Executive Boards;
  7. Envisage membership of international organizations;
  8. Give civil society an advisory role, by publishing on the Internet the first drafts of policy and strategy documents and collecting comments and reactions. The final version of all documents should reflect in the motivation how and why decisions were made.

On all of these points I could speak for a long, if you are interested you can read it all in my book.

PS Good news: José Antonio Ocampo just released a paper about a reformed architecture for the international monetary system. The debate is officially re-opened!

Ecology of Social Systems

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.