Being a Global Citizen (or The “Demos” Problem)

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, 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 🙂

Supranational Vs International

Why “supranational”?

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.