WHICH INSTITUTIONS FOR RIGOR, WHICH INSTITUTIONS FOR GROWTH?

 

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Demonstrators march to protest against the British government’s spending cuts and austerity measures in London on June 20, 2015. (Agence France-Presse)

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.

Democracy in International Organizations: a Supranational Approach.

2013TitleMap-IOPublic 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.

I explain more about my reflections on this topic in this article, just released by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Global Studies

Why Is Supranational Democracy so Difficult to Imagine?

The inadequate attention that international organizations’ statutes  give to legitimacy, accountability and inclusiveness hails from the limited role that IOs played at the beginning of their history and from the subsequent scarce attention to democracy in a setting different from the national state.

In today’s different international context, it is worthwhile to challenge the unsurmountable hurdles stemming from the use of the word “democratic” in connection with an international organization.

Even though there isn’t a generally accepted theory of democracy – or more broadly of supranational democracy – in international organizations, we can examine the possible portability of the individual elements that make up this notion from the state level – for which they were originally created – to the international level. This is the experiment I’m almost obsessed about.

However, two kinds of difficulties arise from the fact that we are not considering a community of individuals, but of nations.

The first obstacle is the difficult applicability of the principle of equality, inherent in the notion of democracy. It is based on the concept of equal dignity for all human beings which leads to ignore and even amend the differences that give some people a “birth right” to succeed. All states are sovereign and therefore equal inside the international community, but this principle is nothing but a fictio. Far from wanting to ignore or minimize the differences, the international community focuses upon the preservation of the status quo, which is attenuated only by the shared goal of the sustainable development and protection of fundamental rights. Even when all the countries will get, as we hope, to share similar levels of prosperity, they would be far from equal. Too many facets help mark the differences: the size of territories, populations and economies, as well as the control over natural resources and the weapon supply.

As a consequence, several organizations agree on the principle that states are differently represented to reflect their different situations. Other ones simply ignore their substantial difference, but special provisions or practices make some States more equals than others.

Important scholar studies try to offer solutions to this dilemma, but there isn’t any adequate diffusion and sedimentation of shared assessments. The reflection on the subject has followed two clearly distinct lines: the statism theory, which sees international democracy as the result of the joint action of the states, as essential building blocks; and the doctrine inspired by cosmopolitanism and transnationality, which is based on the assumption of a global demos.

Even if an international organization achieved the perfect representation of all its members and was thus fully legitimate to act, we couldn’t conclude that it was also, indirectly, fully representative of their citizens. In fact, if some of its member states weren’t democratic, or only partly democratic, they wouldn’t be representative of all their citizens. According to the Democracy Index 2015 of the Economist Intelligence Unit, only 20 countries out of 167 are full democracies.

Such a lack of legitimacy is inevitably reflected on the state’s opinions and stands in the institutions of the IO it is part of and on the overall credibility of the institutions themselves. This is a difficult legal dilemma, that can only be solved if the organizations require their members to be democratic – as the European Union does (even if it should keep a closer eye on their evolutions). It is obvious that in organizations with a universal membership the issue must be labeled as “non permanently solvable”and shelved.

There is so a good point for the cosmopolitan approach: only building on some kind of legitimacy driven directly from the global demos we can overcome the “states obstacles” which are their inequality and their imperfect democratic representation.

Even so, the imperfect representativeness that we assume as inevitable, could be compensated by accountability, which can be fully obtained at the supranational level also by designing and experimenting new legal and institutional forms.

International organizations are not really equipped for substancial legitimacy as they are not for full accountability. New channels and tools need to be imagined to provide that their decisions and lines of actions reflect the values and the will of the people.We need new and fresh ideas, in line with the reality (and the technology) of an interconnected society. 

Unfortunately, we are now accessing the realm of imagination, and here there are two more powerful obstacles.

The first one is the power of the status quo: the resistance of political and economic elites, the power of traditions and cultural heritages and the trite old say “it has always been so”.

The second obstacle lies in the fact that economic and legal minds are not really educated to work with imagination, at least not on a big scale. It’s easy to imagine a new interpretation of a rule or a new financial product, but what about a whole new system? Do we feel really empowered to do that?

We hear almost every day that challenging the status quo, working with imagination, “disrupting” are the new frontiers for entrepreneurs and marketers, but this is also true for those who want to prove themselves on institutional engineering… and maybe change the world, for the better.

One Humanity: Shared Responsibility

The Istanbul Summit is approaching, the first of its kind: a world humanitarian summit.

When the UN Secretary General called it in 2012, he could not imagine, that in May 2016 it would have been the no.1 issue on the agenda, because of all sort of humanitarian crises.

Every day, more funding and more organization is needed to save life and to offer first aid, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance exploded in the last 12 months. Frustration is growing on both sides: the one of those who need help and that of those who do not know how to help.

Released a few days ago, the Report of the Secretary-General for the World Humanitarian Summit is a first provisional answer, aiming at paving the road. It offers a vision, inclusive and universal.

Here is the annex Agenda, summarizing the core proposals and the envisaged actions and tools.

Among others, a clear effort is needed to enhance law and governance tools, as pointed out in the Core Responsibility II. Uphold the norms that safeguard humanity, where we find under letter D:

Reinforce our global justice system

Adopt national legislation encompassing the full range of international crimes and universal jurisdiction over them, and strengthen and invest politically in national law enforcement and invest financially in strong and impartial judicial systems.
Carry out systematically effective investigations into and prosecutions for allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Provide adequate political, technical and financial cooperation and support to the International Criminal Court and for the systematic investigation and prosecution of international crimes”
and under letter E:
“Uphold the rules: a global campaign to affirm the norms that safeguard humanity
Launch a global campaign
Launch a global effort to mobilize States Parties, civil society, and other global leaders to prevent the erosion of international humanitarian and human rights law, demand greater compliance with them, and ardently pursue the protection of civilians.
Adhere to core instruments
Urge all states to accede to core international instruments aimed at protecting civilians and their rights and implement them.
Promote compliance by engaging in dialogue on the law
Hold regular meetings of States Parties and experts on implementation of international humanitarian and human rights law and new challenges to reinforce its relevance, identify areas requiring clarification, and offer opportunities for legal assistance to ultimately compel compliance.
Use high-level United Nations Member States forums, such as the General Assembly, Security Council or the Human Rights Council for dialogue on compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.”
But what we find really innovative and important is the last para. in Core Responsibility IV. Change people’s lives – From delivering aid to ending need

 “C. Deliver collective outcomes: transcend humanitarian-development divides

Commit to the following eight elements in order to move beyond traditional silos, work across mandates, sectors and institutional boundaries and with a greater diversity of partners toward ending need and reducing risk and vulnerability in support of national and local capacities and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda
Create a joint problem statement driven by data and analysis
Collect, analyse, aggregate and share reliable and sex –and -age disaggregated data with adequate security and privacy protection as a collective obligation to inform priorities.
Make data and analysis the basis and driver for determining a common understanding of context, needs and capacities between national and local authorities, humanitarian, development, human rights, peace and security sectors.
Develop a joint problem statement to identify priorities, the capacities of all available actors to address priorities, and where international actors can support or complement existing capacities.
Identify and implement collective outcomes
Formulate collective outcomes that are strategic, clear, quantifiable and measurable, and prioritized on the areas of greatest risk and vulnerability of people identified in the joint problem statement.
Aim for collective outcomes to have a positive impact on overall national indicators of advancement toward the 2030 Agenda and for multi-year plans to be installments toward achieving national development strategies in line with the 2030 Agenda.
Develop multi-year plans in three to five year duration that set out roles for various actors, adopt targets and drive resource mobilization to achieve collective outcomes.
Draw on comparative advantage
Deliver agreed outcomes based on complementarity and identified comparative advantage among actors, whether local, national or international, public or private.
Promote a strong focus on innovation, specialization and consolidation in the humanitarian sector.
Coordinate collective outcomes
Coordinate around each collective outcome with the diverse range of actors responsible to achieve it.
Empower leadership for collective outcomes
Empower national and international leadership to coordinate and consolidate stakeholders toward achieving the collective outcomes
Empower the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator to ensure coherent, collective and predictable programme delivery of the United Nations and its partners toward the full programme cycle of the multi-year plan and the achievement of collective outcomes.
Empower the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator to request and consolidate data and analysis to develop the common problem statement; moderate and conclude the setting of collective out comes; ensure implementation and monitoring of progress; and to steer adequate resources to ward the agreed multi-year plan.
Adapt structures, processes and financial systems at headquarters of agencies and donors as appropriate to reinforce this approach towards collective outcomes.
Monitor progress
Ensure clear performance benchmarks and arrangements are in place to monitor and measure progress toward achieving collective outcomes, to ensure timely adjustments, and the right re sources and political support are in place.
Retain emergency capacity
Enable and facilitate emergency response and people’s access to life-saving assistance and protection in contexts where meeting longer-term collective outcomes will be difficult to achieve.
Recognize the provision of emergency response as a short-term exception and all efforts should be made to reduce need, risk and vulnerability from the outset.”

Infact, one of the (many) problems to overcome is the fragmentation of each emergency response among an impressive number of actors, acting at different level and often without a shared vision. Not only state actors and international actors may address different priorities or have in mind different goals, but also at the same state level (even  at the same international level) different actors could contradict each other, not to speak of the not always clear sharing of competences among international institutional actors (as the UN and the many specialized agencies).

What the Agenda do not get to say is that we need a control room, possibly in the UN, and we need an holistic approach to include development policy, equality, humanitarian emergencies and peace-keeping.
Of course, these are different problems that need tailored responses and dedicated specialists, but we could not deny that they impact each other significantly. A common vision on preventing conflicts would avoid displacements – having an impact on development, equality, health emergencies. Working on development and equality, on the other hand, reduces the risk of conflicts, and so on….
My best wishes to the World Humanitarian Summit, my hope is that  – approaching the date – it becomes even more ambitious and far-reaching (as it just happened in Paris).

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:

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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!

 

2015: a Wonderful and Horrible Year

For the good and the bad, no doubts that we will have many reasons to remember this year.

From the summer on, it has been a crescendo of multilateralism: the third Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July, the adoption of the sustainable development goals in September. Finally, the adoption of the new Paris Agreement on climate change in December. Even the new committment by OECD and G20 to improve international tax co-operation  to counter international tax avoidance and evasion looks promising.

There is a new, evident and increasing awareness that many problems of this globalised world cannot be managed by single countries. The international commitments look ambitious, even if their enforcement is still problematic.

Together with the official initiatives, many private ones show the same awareness, if not a bigger one. So many organisations from the civil society joined their efforts to support the SDG, a big number of them worked to make the Paris agreement feasible, pushing their governments to commitments to heal the planet. Many important initiatives were launched which are a real force for good (to quote the beautiful one promoted by the Dalai Lama).

But we have also other reasons to remember this year: one million of migrants reached the European shores, several thousands died in the Mediterranean sea, innocent victims fleeing wars or poverty. Bloody regimes still oppress their people – whose ISIS is only the scariest example. The death toll of terrorism counts in thousands in middle east and in many near countries, the Paris events being only the tip of the iceberg. The price paid by children is impressive: Boko Haram has kept more than one million children out of school across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger , according to UNICEF.

You can be wildly optimist if you focus on one part of the story or desperately pessimist if you chose to pay attention to the other part. The truth is: this years fed both the narratives and it’s up to us to select the one which empowers us to do more and better or the one which scares us to death.

I don’t remember another year like this one.

I have never been a Manichean, so I wonder if it is only my impression or really the world is stretched between these two opposite forces, the force of connection and that of discord.

Do you feel, like me, that we should contribute somehow to the bright side?

 

COP21: A Global Community at Work

In the supranational democracy I imagine, every citizen is a global citizen. But not every citizen is an engaged global citizen and not every engaged one is committed to the same cause.

There are so many issues and so many front lines to engage on and we do not have all the same priorities, so it’s quite natural to me that everybody will (and already does) choose what is really dear to his/her heart, what really matters for her.

We are going to join our community, to commit to our cause with like-minded individuals. That’s the best way to make a difference.

I imagine supranational democracy as a galaxy of global institutions and fora, each having its own community of committed citizens to dialogue with, to draw legitimacy from, to hold them accountable. Overlapping global communities will push for the global public goods we all need.

We have in front of us a powerful example.

In COP21 we see a global community committed to stop climate change: national delegations, international organizations and a wide gathering of committed people – businessmen and investors, NGOs’ activists, scientists and experts, representatives of local communities and of indigenous peoples – all involved in one huge debate, at different levels.

The global demos in the making is something different from the nation we have experienced in the past 3 -4 centuries. What makes us stand together as humanity is an idea of common good which will involve us on a voluntary basis in different processes and priorities.

For this reason I think that it is unilkely that we are going to see a global parliament in the future and  -even if I would be the first to support such an evolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations- it wouldn’t respond fully to our need of democracy because of the distance from the electoral body and the (inevitably) small number of representatives.

What would really make shorter the distance between real people and global institutions would be assemblies or gatherings committed to specific topics: humain rights, sustainable debelopment, equality, fair finance, health and so on. Each of them is already prefigured in a global debate among committed people and each debate is already going on somewhere, somehow.

Encouraging these debates and offering them an institutional space  would make them visible and transparent, would enhance  their effectiveness and fuel productive outcomes.

We hope to  remember one day the COP21 as a turning point in stopping climate change. We could also remember it as a big experiment of global debate, at so many different levels, among members of a global community.

The Global Goals and All the Ways to Communicate Them

Sustainable development goals are ambitious. They are milestones intended to change the world in the next 15 years.

As you can read, the 5 Ps in the preamble reveal a broaden view…

The Goals and targets will stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet:

People

We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

Planet

We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainableconsumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgentaction on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and futuregenerations.

Prosperity

We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfillinglives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

Peace

We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fearand violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

Partnership

We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through arevitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

Many will notice that this list is much longer than the previous one, the list of Millennium development goals, written fifteen years ago. The focus is not just on the people, but on the planet too and on all the living creatures on it. As somebody said, “What does not benefit the hive, is no benefit to the bee.”

Are they achievable? Yes, they are. But if we look at the previous 15 years we can tell than setting a direction doesn’t guarantee that we are going to reach the target. Nonetheless, it is far better than not setting it at all. If we fall short, we’ll be somewhere on the way. Somewhere closer.

Of course, the goals and their formulations are the results of negotiations and compromises – not necessarily the best possible – and the follow-up won’t be easy (you can read something more here)

Nonetheless, this new 15-years-race has been better prepared than the previous one.

First of all, the SDGs are the final results of many different levels of contribution, which have involved an impressive number of people. Even if the diplomatic and political level played the decisive role, it has been preceded by on-line polls (involving more than 8 million people), thematic and national consultations, large debates, meetings with civil society.

The idea is that creating a sense of ownership – through a bottom-up dialogue, inclusive planning structures such as the World We Want Platform  and multi-stakeholder partnerships – will benefit its delivery.

Another powerful idea is that communications is in itself a key to making the targets attainable.

If a majority of people around the world will believe in the goals they will become achievable. Not only because private action will join the efforts of government and international organizations, but also because – on a deeper level – a sort of global awareness will make them appear realistic so that many small actions will add up to the big ones.

The effort to communicate the new goals appears, in this early stage, already impressive.

For instance, for the number of testimonials…

…or for the different targets, including children

…and for the spontaneous involvement of private companies.

Virgin, for instance, has created an app in support of the global goals, wich could transform all of us in superheroes to join ‘the global goals alliance’.

I’ve chosen for myself the superpower “partnership for the goals” ( no.17)

Embarrassing, isn’t it?

But what I think is really great, it’s the idea that we can contribute in many different ways and so several different platforms are just being created to offer us occasions to engage, such as the PEOPLE + PLANET PROJECT or the Global Citizen Community.

Quite interesting as a start, isn’t it?

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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From Limited Sovereignty to Shared Sovereignty

“Sovereignty, though its meanings have varied across history, has a core meaning: supreme authority within a territory. It is a modern notion of political authority” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

It was only after the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, that -in Europe-  sovereign states appeared as we know them.

As we know them?

I am not really persuaded that I really know (or have known) “sovereign states”.

When I was a child, in the bipolar world, maybe just the United States and the Soviet Union were sovereign states. Maybe China too, in a different way.

The theory of limited sovereignty was spelled in clear words in the Eastern bloc, a bit less clearly (but it wasn’t less true), in the western one.

Since WWII, another kind of limitation of sovereignty came from international law, especially by International humanitarian law and human rights law. States were not completely sovereign anymore since they had obligations towards their enemies and towards their own citizens. The notion of domestic jurisdiction was gradually eroded.

In this sense, compressing national sovereignty was not necessarily bad, even if it came with lights and shadows: how many states signed human rights declarations only as a tool of propaganda? How many of them were willing to guarantee human rights and repress gross violations in other countries -using military force- even if standards at home were not so high?

The United Nations cannot really enforce what is officially declared or check the good faith of the states showing good will.

Eventually, the world became more and more interconnected and economically integrated: the so-called globalization. And new constraints on sovereignty were accepted – as WTO regulations – as a price to pay for the access to new markets.

Now, it is clear to me that sovereignty is nothing more than a fictional concept. The state is not anymore a supreme authority, a superiorem non recognoscens (if there ever was one).

It is a loss of sovereignty if we look at it from the state perspective. But we could try to see it from a different perspective.

From the global perspective – or the global public goods perspective – the loss of many fragmented sovereignties could be positive as far as they are replaced by some authority in charge for tackling the issues at stake and equipped to do it.

It is a shift from many not-really-sovereign entities to common authorities where sovereignty is fairly shared among the members.

Climate change offers a great example, but it isn’t the only one. The issue of nuclear nonproliferation is another one. What about financial instability?

From the global citizens’ perspective, the answer is not an allocation of power in whatever authority, but in the kind of authority they can interact with, and control. An authority provided with legitimacy and accountability, whose policies are inclusive.

The United Nations are not yet this kind of authority, nor the Bretton Woods institutions, but single projects and processes are leading the way. See, for instance, the World We Want platform.

Some regional organizations, as the European Union, paved the way (to some extent), but they can still improve.

Some atypical new international organizations opened innovative paths of supranational interaction among stakeholders: the Kimberley Process, the Internet Governance Forum, the Global Environmental Facility. They are an example of what I call democratic experimentalism.

The way from limited sovereignty to shared sovereignty is not a short or easy one, but what really matters is that it is not a loss, but a gain in sovereignty.