Manifesto: “A genuine European Union to ensure welfare, security, and democracy”

We European citizens are worried and scared. The economic and financial crisis has impoverished many of us. Youth unemployment risks creating a lost generation. Inequality grows and social cohesion is in peril. The EU is surrounded by war and instability from Ukraine to Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa. The flux of refugees and migrants has become a structural feature we must address together, in a human and forward-looking manner. In many Member states we witness authoritarian tendencies and the rise of nationalist and xenophobic forces. Democracy and the core values of the European modern civilization are under attack. The EU itself is questioned, although it ensured peace, democracy and welfare for decades.

We European citizens don’t want our national politicians to care only about their next local or national election. They ask for European solutions to European problems but then they act to render those solutions impossible or ineffective. They disregard sensible Commission proposals or fail to implement decisions already taken , including when agreed by all. They claim, one day, for Europe to do something and protest, the following day, Europe’s proposed actions. We ask national politicians and the media to stop depicting integration as a zero-sum game, thus pitting nations against one another. In an interdependent world no nation can satisfy all of its citizens’ basic needs and appeals for social justice. In this context, integration and supranational government is a positive-sum game. Our European social model based on liberal democracy and a social market economy can only survive in a multi-level framework of government, on the basis of the subsidiarity principle.

We European citizens are aware that globalization is transforming the world. We need a European government to foster our common values and contribute to the solution of the global problems threatening humanity. The world needs an outward-looking cosmopolitan Europe to help build a more effective and democratic global governance to cope with climate change, peace, global poverty, and the transition to an environmentally and socially sustainable economy.

We European citizens recognise the EU as an incomplete Res Publica. It has a ridiculous budget (0,9% of GDP) and no financial autonomy from Member states, while its current competences are out of date for what is necessary to successfully answer the challenges of the current crises. It has a federal like legislative, judiciary and central bank. But democracy is the possibility for citizens to choose the government and make it accountable. For the Union to work and be democratic its decisions, including budget, foreign and defence policy, and the reform of the Treaties, should primarily be taken by a qualified majority representing the majority will of European citizens and states. The Commission should evolve into a fully-fledged government, setting and promoting a political agenda legitimated through elections. European parties should present their candidates to the Presidency at the European election. The alternative is a directly elected President of the EU merging the Presidencies of the Commission and the European Council.

On 14 February 1984 the European Parliament adopted the Draft Treaty establishing the European Union, the so-called Spinelli Project, pointing towards a political union, which Member states disregarded. On 14 February 2017 we call upon the European Parliament, the only directly elected body of the EU, to take a new initiative to kick-start the EU on strengthened democratic basis. Talking about banking, fiscal, economic, energy, security, defence and political unions makes sense only within a genuine democratic European Union, with all those policies under a European government.

On 25 March 2017 the Heads of state and government will celebrate the Treaties of Rome establishing the European Economic Community and Euratom in 1957. We call upon them to match the vision of the Founders. They should open the way to the re-foundation of the EU on the basis of the European Parliament proposal, and immediately exploit all the Lisbon Treaties’ instruments to strengthen EU institutions and policies, especially on foreign and security, economic and social policies. We call upon the Europe’s youth, its civil society, workers, entrepreneurs, academia, local governments and European citizens to participate in the March for Europe in Rome on March 25. Together we shall give the political leaders the strength and courage to push forward the EU to a new beginning. European unity is key to solve our common problems, safeguard our values and ensure our welfare, security and democracy.

If you agree, please consider adding your signature to the ones by over 300 European intellectuals and academics. You can easily do it here.

You can also join us in Rome on March 25, the programme is here.

“EUROPEANS FOR EUROPE”. RECOVERY IN THE AGE OF INTERDEPENDENCE

Europe is going through multiple crises: an economic crisis, a political and institutional crisis, a confidence and trust crisis. They are mutually reinforcing themselves.

The difficulty to face both the migrant crisis and the inner economic crisis fostered narratives grounded on nationalism: the apology of good old times or the ” we can do better by ourselves ” encouraged debates à la Brexit in several countries, moreover some political parties didn’t resist the temptation to blame foreigners or Europe for events which are really outside national and European control or which involve in various degrees the responsibility of local, national and European politics. The raise of anti-European parties, the walls under construction between countries and the step back on the Schengen commitments are all symptoms of a deeper problem.

The main road to restore confidence in the European institutions is a bold reform of the European treaties, improving the democratic side of the economic and monetary union through an increased involvement of the European Parliament and the establishment of a fiscal union.

The Eurozone still needs many elements which would make it a real optimal currency area, such as a bigger budget, real own resources (as some common taxes) and few elements of common welfare as would be an unemployment benefit. These would introduce automatic adjustments in case of crisis. Moreover, the discretion lost by national governments in the field of economic policy would finally be gained by the European level of government, which is now blocked by intergovernmental procedures and inadequate tools.

Unfortunately (i) all this requires time, as a new treaty needs a minimum of two years to be negotiated and ratified, even more to be implemented; (ii) all this postulates a strong and shared political will across Europe as treaty reforms require unanimous consent by member states. There is, vice-versa a need to act now, to restore the confidence in the Union and the credibility of the European integration project in order to prepare the ground for the so needed reforms. The best interventions are those able to answer to the immediate needs of the population and counter the narrative that Europe is damaging its own citizens. Only so, the raise of anti-European parties would be stopped.

What is needed is something similar to the Marshall plan for Europe, or to the New Deal for the United States: a big and bold recovery program.
What if money could be found almost for free, out of generosity, for a good cause?
For this reason I imagined a dedicated European Agency: the “Europeans for Europe Investment Fund”, for crowdfunding and investing on the basis of two basic assumptions:

  1. Citizens are willing to contribute to Europe’s Recovery ;
  2. European States are heavily indebted and the European budget is just too small for an ambitious investment plan, BUT private assets and savings are definitely relevant in Europe, making it (still!) one of the richest regions in the world

The “Europeans for Europe” recovery plan is not just intended to foster economic growth, but to address the multiple crises affecting Europe. Together with a financial crisis we are living a confidence crisis in Europe together with an identity crisis and a leadership crisis. There is a urge to bring back citizens to the public sphere, to make them feel fully involved in the choices, to counter the lowering level of participation to the electoral consultations, to give them pride in being Europeans, pride for what they have accomplished in the past, for their heritage of values and most of all for what they still can do for themselves and for the world.

The proposed plan is not intended to replace the necessary institutional reforms in Europe. Conversely, the necessary debates and negotiations have to start right now. It has nonetheless the aim to act in parallel and to prepare the ground for the political and popular approval of them, restoring a climate of confidence together with economic growth.

My project was submitted to the MGI Essay Prize: “Crowdsourcing ideas for revitalizing growth in Europe” as well as other 400 others. Unfortunately it was not among the three winners. Nonetheless, it was shortlisted among the 20 most innovative ideas submitted, as you can read in a booklet free to download on the prize page.

The full text of my paper is available on Academia. Feel free to comment, share and have a say!

 

 

Sustainable Development = Intergenerational Equity

From the Development Education Program of the World Bank Group:

What is Sustainable Development?

There are many definitions of sustainable development, including this landmark one which first appeared in 1987:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

— from the World Commission on Environment and Development’s
(the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

But what does this mean? What are the needs of the present? Take a minute and jot down five to ten needs that you have in your own life.

Have you listed any needs that conflict with one another? For example, if you listed clean air to breathe, but also listed a car for transportation, your needs might conflict. Which would you choose, and how would you make your decision? If within ourselves, we have conflicting needs, how much is that multiplied when we look at a whole community, city, country, world? For example, what happens when a company’s need for cheap labor conflicts with workers’ needs for livable wages? Or when individual families’ needs for firewood conflict with the need to prevent erosion and conserve topsoil? Or when one country’s need for electricity results in acid rain that damages another country’s lakes and rivers?

How do we decide whose needs are met? Poor or rich people? Citizens or immigrants? People living in cities or in the countryside? People in one country or another? You or your neighbor? The environment or the corporation? This generation or the next generation? When there has to be a trade off, whose needs should go first?

The Long and the Short of It

People concerned about sustainable development suggest that meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social, economic, and environmental objectives–or needs–when making decisions today. Some of these needs are itemized around the puzzle diagram.

What social, economic, or environmental needs would you add to the puzzle?

Many of these objectives may seem to conflict with each other in the short term. For example, industrial growth might conflict with preserving natural resources. Yet, in the long term, responsible use of natural resources now will help ensure that there are resources available for sustained industrial growth far into the future.

Studying the puzzle raises a number of difficult questions. For example, can the long term economic objective of sustained agricultural growth be met if the ecological objective of preserving biodiversity is not? What happens to the environment in the long term if a large number of people cannot afford to meet their basic household needs today? If you did not have access to safe water, and therefore needed wood to boil drinking water so that you and your children would not get sick, would you worry about causing deforestation? Or, if you had to drive a long distance to get to work each day, would you be willing to move or get a new job to avoid polluting the air with your car exhaust? If we don’t balance our social, economic, and environmental objectives in the short term, how can we expect to sustain our development in the long term?”

The notion of sustainable development highlights two different dilemmas:

I. How do we  balance  conflicting interests which can be equally important, ethically legitimate, both compelling? Admitting that evolution in technology, governance, infrastractures, investment flows may change the scenario in every moment: how can we adjust decisions over time? How will we avoid new imbalances?

II. How can we integrate in our evaluations the interests of future generations? How do we guarantee the rights of our children and grandchildren?

The answer are not simple ones, I even wonder if you or me or anybody else has such answers…

But, before working on the answers, we need to work on “how” we could arrive to such answers!

Mine may be the typical legal mind approach, but – follow me-  it has some merit:

I. We need to integrate in this evaluation all the possible perspectives. No matter how good a political decisor may be, the authority in charge cannot know everything. The largest the number of people having a say, the better. And we need to know who these stakeholders are: NGOs, civil society at large, lobbies, experts…. Whoever bears an interest should be invited to intervene, admitting that they declare who they are and what they stand for.

II We need the best data available at the moment of the decisions, and in case of conflicting or uncertain data a precautionary principle should stop doubtful decisions.

III Then, once the perspectives and the data are collected, the authority in charge – governments, parliaments, international organizations, agencies, technical authorities – should decide and take full responsability for their decisions. Systems of checks and balances should ensure proper accountability mechanisms. Procedures for claims are necessary. Affected individuals, at least through collective organizations, should be granted a right to dispute the decisions, and impartial courts and bodies should be in charge of these evaluations.

IV Finally, decisions affecting sustainable development should be revised if new data, new technologies or other relevant elements affecting the previous evaluations change.

How can we be sure that interests of future generations will be granted ? We just cannot.

It would be great to have an advocate for future generation in the main international fora, just imagine the representative of future generations as a member of the G20 (+1)!

As we are maybe not ready for that,  we can only hope that our grandsons and grandaughters, looking back at the way we managed their planet, will concede us that we did our best with what we had and using our current knowledge. Setting a good procedure.

 

The Global Vote

If you go to The Global Vote, you can pick an election, wherever in the world, and express your vote.

For sure, I will vote on Brexit and on American presidential elections and next year for the French ones…  Why? Because they affect me deeply, even if I live in Italy!

Why should we care about who runs the other countries?

Because to make the world work, we need a world of good leaders. Leaders who consider the needs of every man, woman, child and animal on the planet, not just their own voters.

We, the rest of the world, will achieve this aim by reminding each candidate that we’re here, we care, and we’re watching. We need them to do the right thing for their own country and for the whole of humanity, if they are elected.

By asking each candidate about their international intentions, election after election, that question will eventually become accepted as part of the normal election process for any Head of State or Head of Government. No leader will be able to stand for election unless they have a clear policy for their country’s role in the world and a vision of how they will co-operate and collaborate with other leaders and other populations.

Letting leaders know that we are watching them and evaluating them, we’ll make them pay more attention to the impact they have not just on their country, but on the world.

 The more people vote, the more impact this project will have. Can I ask you to spread the www.globalvote.org link around your own friends, family and networks?

With your help, one country at a time, we can build a world of good leaders. 

This is another great initiative by Simon Anholt, creator of the Good Country Project.

No Man is an Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

From the Chaos, the Tiles of a New World Order

In many mythologies, order is born out of chaos. Well…  there is hope, at least !

What we see around us is quite a chaotic world: magmatic and unstable, full of emergencies, slipping out of the control of inadequate social and political structures.

Some of us have the impression that time is ripe for a big leap, a cultural revolution as the only  possible alternative to sinking into the anarchic collapse of our societies or, even worse, a new fall into the hell of nationalism and war.

Some philosophers or mathematicians could object that we are used to live on the edge of chaos, being the world a complex system whose balance is intrinsecally unstable. Hence, the  chaos theory seems to ignore  – at least in the social science – the important variable that I would call human evolution.

The choice is not simply between chaos and complexity, on one side, and stability and order, on the other (an illusion sold by many populist politicians). The third way is the most realistic one, even if difficult to walk: ethically navigating the complexity to promote the emergence of new models and solutions.

How could that be possible?

I think many of us have have had insights about it, different but all convergent. I’ll offer a number of inspiring examples.

First of all, I see a rise in awareness. Many people started to feel global citizens and experience this awareness. For instance, the huge community of global citizens has an impact on addressing extreme poverty; everybody, supporting Movements, can help an activist for human rights in need; people signing petitions on Avaaz  take a stance on causes which are perceived as global. Interestingly enough, active global citizenship is being born bottom-up.

There is also a way to express this awareness as economic players. Many years have passed since Klaus Schwab had the brilliant intuition that modern enterprises must serve all stakeholders to achieve long-term growth and prosperity. Since then, his creature, the World Economic Forum, grew exponentially, still committed to improving the state of the world.

Even if the concept of social responsibility of enterprises is not new,  it is getting more and more popular: together with the narrative of disruptive change, the narrative of positively impacting the world has gained traction in the entrepreneurial environment. Beautiful initiatives as XPrize or Hive are thriving. A powerful example of this new way of being economic players is offered by Business Fights Poverty, a network of over 15,000 professionals harnessing business for social impact.

Private foundations are now big players in financing development, education, health care, social justice: One, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Open Society Foundations and many more… Philantropists appear animated by the desire of giving back to humanity, by the deep consciousness of their impact on millions of lives and by the side effect of living more fulfilling lives.

The civil society  -after a long season of demonstrations in the Nineties (against  G7, WTO, globalization) – started building bridges to make their voice heard by international actors. NGOs are more and more global actors, starting original initiatives to make international organizations more legitimate, accountable and inclusive.

The newborn Citizens Climate Engagement Network deserves a special mention as a powerful example of what individuals can do even in the apparently out of reach challenge of stopping climate change.

In this changing climate, States are somehow hanging back, as bulwarks of the status quo, a problem that Simon Anholt is addressing with the Good Country project. He deserves all our support.

Finally which institutional shape would better fit this changing world? Which model would sort us out of this “competitive mode” and organise humanity as a single species sharing  a single planet? This is my issue and this blog is my thinking aloud about it. You can read here and there insights and bits of a solution. Something to work on for decades!

I apologize if I forgot to mention many worthy individuals and beautiful initiatives, I know many of you are on this path of progress and evolution and, if you want to add some information posting a comment, I really appreciate.

It seems to me important – in a world focused on bad news – turn on a light beam on the emerging tiles of a different reality.

How long it will take for the puzzle pieces to get together?

Transnational Politics: The Idea Whose Time Has Come.

As Victor Hugo said :

rien n’est plus puissant qu’une idée dont le temps est venu

Abolishing slavery or giving voting rights to women were once crazy ideas.

But, one day, somebody started to think that such ideas were – after all – quite reasonable, or even that they felt righ. It took time to build a critical mass of people thinking that way, but it happened: the time was ripe… and such ideas became powerful.

There are ideas or opinions whose time has just come: that individuals are equal no matter their sexual orientation, that little girls have the right to get an education, that women deserve the same salary of men for the same job: in some places this is already obvious (and not from yesterday), but you can see now a global push for that. Time is ripe.

You may also notice that once every nation had its own time for these evolutionary leaps, even if the neighbouring countries and cultures had an influence on it. Europe has always been that way: a sort of civilization soup where ideas moved back and forth across boundaries.

Now, in the global village, ideas are more and more percolating across boundaries. Leaps will happen more and more on a global scale and critical masses will be, more often than not, transnational ones.

Becoming aware of that is a revelation which pushes us to look for our community across boundaries. I’ve found mine in all the individuals living as global citizens and pushing for a transnational dimension of politics, where individuals may play a role.

I want to mention here some friends:  Joseph Robertson from Citizens Climate Lobby -who is at work building an operative Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network, to improve bottom up accountability to the Paris engagements on climate; Philippe Mazuel, founder of the Party of the Citizens of Europe – PACE, who is candidate for the next French presidential elections in order to promote a real European dimension of politics (and if you are French you can support him on LaPrimaire.org);  and Sargon Nissan from the Brettom Woods Project  -who animates the  Bank and IMF’s civil society policy forum pushing for a stronger participation of civil society in order to improve the legitimacy of these global financial institutions.

I could have added more names and more examples, this avant-garde pushing for supranational democracy is not just composed of few isolated individuals, even if they’re not, yet, a critical mass. Ideas need to go their way and infect more and more individuals until, one day, time is ripe.

Then, they become powerful, as Hugo said.

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.

A Very Personal Journey

I sailed to Utopia early in my life.

Since I was a teenager I had a quite cosmopolitan attitude and a confuse wish to fix the world. “Imagine” by John Lennon was my personal anthem.

Maybe it’s just normal, maybe most of the boys and girls have this same approach to life or just those of us who are labeled as “dreamers”.

Life, adults explain, is about other, more “realistic”, stuff: things like studying, getting a job, getting married, having babies.

Only now, thanks to the frequent conversations with my students, I realize how many precious energies and enthusiasms of this early stage of life are dissipated under a flood of social conventions.

But I was partly spared this awful destiny as I met, early in life, people like me who were taking dreams seriously. I joined the European Federalist Movement when I was seventeen and in a few years – after a shy childhood – I became a young woman able to speak in public and demonstrate for a united Europe. The movement counted several thousands of people in Italy and tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands across Europe.

One of the main lessons I learned was the definition of an activist (“militante”): “the man/woman who makes a personal issue of the distance between facts and values”.

I understood then that being a dreamer was not just inhabiting a beautiful world of ideas, but getting out there, seeing the problems, speaking out loud, claiming for a solution.  Possibly, offering one.

And I started sharing views and organizing campaigns with like-minded people from other countries and interacting in several ways (not always friendly) with political institutions.

I’ll never forget when, twenty-six, I had my speech in the European Parliament in a special session about the requests from civil society for the Amsterdam Treaty (one of the many reforms of the European treaties).

But life was also other stuff, as meeting expectations by parents and teachers: I studied much, started earning a living, got married, had children. My job became teaching and researching on the European and International law.

Utopia was still there, on the line of the horizon. Apparently, my journey to get there was on standby. From time to time, I even felt guilty as if I was betraying my purpose, but I was wrong. In fact- without even realizing –  I was just sharpening my saw.

And if I have a look back on my about twenty years of academic experience, I can tell you that utopia was the fil rouge connecting all I was writing or saying to my students. Even though – watching from outside – my life appeared more as a struggle to keep all together: job, family, children.

In 2009 I had a new turning point: with a group of colleagues I founded the think tank The Group of Lecce and, on the long wave of the global financial crisis, I started drafting communiques with them on how to improve the governance of financial institutions, in other words, how to fix the world, once again. The fact that since 2005 I had researched on the governance of the international financial institutions appeared to me as a sort of sign.

And 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. I felt an activist again, in a different way.

What’s more important, I met many full-time activists from different backgrounds and paths of life: people who make a personal issue of the distance between facts and values; who act as watchdogs of international institutions; who speak on behalf of the poor; who bring suggestions and solutions to global problems; who choose to live a life of commitment instead of having better paid jobs (jobs for which they often would be more than qualified).

Once again, I measured the distance between committed people and institutions and I realized it wasn’t so big as many think.

And I saw how “normal” people may have a role in making the world a better place.

These were the two reasons for starting this blog (and for the book I am writing).

You know what? Immediately after I started posting about supranational democracy, like-minded people appeared to connect on Linkedin and Twitter… just as if the Universe were responding to some secret prayer.

We are not that few, you know???

The Basics of Democracy: 3. Inclusiveness

It could be easy to think that a legitimate governance plus a number of accountability channels give, as a result, a real democratic system. And it is so, impossible to deny.

Unfortunately, it is so in a utopian world, where citizens are really equal. Equality is a precondition to making each vote count and each trial be fair, to give everybody the same opportunities to access democratic rights and to see guaranteed their civil rights. Alas, formal equality isn’t enough and substantial equality is far from being the reality, so we need inclusiveness.

Inclusiveness is the specific target to include citizens into the channels of participatory democracy or to help them access the accountability channels. Without a specific commitment to inclusiveness, the processes to make international organizations legitimate and accountable will remain the privilege of a white, English-speaking elite, with high academic qualifications, connected to the internet. Just have a look at most of the civil society active at the global level and you will see it.

It is OK. I don’t want to delegitimize the civil society active on the global stage or underestimate its precious (invaluable!) avant-garde role. But, after the avant-garde -better soon than late- I hope to see a more diverse, multicultural civil society, really representative of the world pluralism.

A substantial -and not merely formal- democracy requires specific tools for inclusiveness aimed at stimulating the widest possible participation.

Where to start from? Let’s start from formal equality where it is still needed: gender equality (and the right to education for boys and girls), equality before the law, equality no matter the sexual orientation, the ethnicity, the origins and the life conditions.

But then, let’s move to substantial equality: fundamental rights, civil rights, political rights, rights to access and participation. We’ll discover easily that on the side of substantial equality there is still much to do almost everywhere. Nothing seems more difficult than guaranteeing equality before international organizations where we see further obstacles. This implies: overcoming the gap known as the digital divide, both in cultural as well as in infrastructural terms; going beyond the obvious barriers that stem from cultural and linguistic diversity, reaching minorities and disadvantaged groups; overcoming national barriers which may be the result of some governments’ obstructionism. A cultural engagement, here, should go hand in hand with a conspicuous economic investment and with specific strategies.

This point would deserve to be listed among the sustainable development goals…

The Basics of Democracy: 2. Accountability (or The Other Side of the Coin)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, democracy is

“A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives”

while the Collins Dictionary gives as first definition

“government by the people or their elected representatives”.

According to dictionaries, legitimacy is the one and only ingredient for a democracy recipe

but…

countless elected governments over the history changed their nature and became autocracies.

Hitler and Mussolini won regular elections and so many actual dictators even nowadays. Who watched the events in Egypt a few years ago, or more recently in Turkey, understands the problem.

That’s why a modern democracy cannot just be legitimate because even a fully legitimate government could take arbitrary decisions, betraying the popular mandate.

The necessary completion of legitimacy is accountability.

Political bodies are held accountable for their choices when they assume full responsibility. Of course, this means also accepting the consequences for the wrong choices, furthermore for the illegal ones.

There is a wide range of accountability tools:

a parliament able to dismiss the government that it doesn’t trust anymore; an impeachment procedure for serious misconduct of ministers or heads of state; a court able to stop or repeal laws contrary to the fundamental social contract (the Constitution, the bills of rights); some constitutional body  able to dissolve the parliament; the right of the electorate to chose new parliament members when disappointed by the previous ones… and the list could go on and on…

Citizens have the right to know how the public money is used, to which extent the objectives have been achieved and what expectations have been met; they have the right to appeal to a judiciary authority if their rights are violated and if those responsible for public interests are taking illicit advantages from their positions.

We are sometimes so accostumed to this other side of democracy that sometimes we end up forgetting how it is essential…. arriving to commit the mistake of thinking that “exporting democracy” (if ever democracy is exportable) just means organizing free elections. A nice democratic exercise but – without accountability – almost useless.

Now, you’ll ask, does accountability exist at supranational level?

Well, there is something, here and there. Often accountability is just hanging on the thin thread of responsibility of national representatives in front of their governments or their parliaments (if democratic!). But here is the good news: it’s slowly growing.

The XX century didn’t see much of that, but now a number of international organisations are establishing mechanisms for individual or collective claims (like the World Bank Inspection Panel); ombudsmen (as UN Ombudsman’ Office created in 2002), independent audit offices.

And we have to give merit to civil society which has struggled for that.

Of course, there is still much to improve. In a real supranational democracy, both political and legal accountability have to be equally developed.

Once more, the European Union arrived first -with its Court of Justice and its institutional system of checks and balances-, even if there is still more than something to improve in the field of economic governance.

In South America, several supranational courts followed the same path. Regional organizations have an advantage over the global ones: a common background of shared values helps.

But what’s more interesting about accountability is that is not so relevant if member states are democratic or not as accountability channels – when established – are open to all the citizens and NGOs, no matter where they are, while legitimacy channels often cut off a good number of them.

This seems to me a good reason to work on the other side of democracy.

PS

If you want to learn more about accountability of international organizations, you can download here the Berlin Report by the International Law Association