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

SUPRANATIONALITY IN PRACTICE: THE EUROPEAN CITIZENSHIP

The European Union’s founding Treaty (TEU) recalls and reaffirms the role of citizens in articles 9, 10 and 11 – provisions dedicated to its “democratic principles” – with the intent to establish a direct link between EU citizenship and democracy in the Union.

european-peopleThis need to look for (and find) legitimacy in citizenship – the dual legitimacy of the Union and of its member states – deserves to be analyzed as it is a peculiar expression of this supranational system. Although we find its most effective expression in the last edition of the EU Treaty, this quest for legitimacy is not new in the European integration process.

This is even more interesting as we consider that the lack of citizens’ ownership is often considered a cardinal sin in the process of European integration, whose elitist nature is often blamed.

We may find, instead, that citizens – as beneficiaries of rights as well as actors in democratic processes have always been important.

We can read in the article 2 of the Treaty establishing the European Union that:

“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”

Even if the significance of the word “democracy” remains unspecified, we could give a first and provisional definition referring to the values listed in art.2 itself, to the constitutional principles common to the member states and to the content of the European Charter of fundamental rights.

In terms of political participation, the European notion of democracy gained significance through the direct election of the European Parliament since 1979. Then, with the creation of a European citizenship by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and, eventually, thanks to the inclusion in the latest version of the Treaty of a title entitled to the Union’s democratic principles: the art. 9-11.

“Article 9

In all its activities, the Union shall observe the principle of the equality of its citizens, who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies. Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.

Article 10

  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.
  3. Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen.
  4. Political parties at European level contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the will of citizens of the Union.

Article 11

  1. The institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action.

  2. The institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society.

  3. The European Commission shall carry out broad consultations with parties concerned in order to ensure that the Union’s actions are coherent and transparent.

  4. Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties. (…)”

This trail was actually prepared by the ECJ case law.  The  starting point was the Van Gend en Loos case (1963). In it the European Courts defines – for the first time – the Community as “a new legal order of international law for the benefit of which the states have limited their sovereign rights, albeit within limited fields and the subjects of which comprise not only member states but also their nationals”. The Court quoted itself, using the same statement in other famous decisions such as Costa vs. ENEL (case 6/64), Simmenthal (case 106/77), Francovich (cases C-6/90 and C-9/90), opinions 1/91 (December 14th 1991) and 1/2009 (March 8th 2011).

After this first step came, one year later, the Costa vs ENEL case, where we read that “the member states have limited their sovereign rights, albeit within limited fields, and have thus created a body of law which binds both their nationals and themselves”. In this case the Court clarifies two cardinal principles – the direct application and the prevalence of European law over national law – both are grounded on this direct relation between the European legal order and the citizens which are direct beneficiaries of its norms

This direct relationship between the citizens and the supranational organization is not immediately qualified as a supranational citizenship – which will appear only in 1992 – and it never became a “supranational nationality”.

Since 1992, in fact, the European citizenship is nothing but a set of additional rights, a status added to national citizenships, barely visible if not in the passport format. Keystone of this status is the principle of non-discrimination, walkway between many European peoples and a common citizenship.

Splitting the two concepts of citizenship and nationality – the first existing at two different levels (national and European) the second limited to the national level –  is therefore a basic element of a clear political project.

The strictly legal content of the European citizenship is indisputable, comparable to that which characterized the notion of the Roman civitas.

The abstractness of a citizenship that is pure legal concept becomes a strong choice where it appears to be an alternative to the notion of nationality or people, terms which instead bring with them a rich substratum of history, culture, religion, language, identity and belonging.

And, in fact, the Union’s objective is not to eliminate the nationality or  the peoples of the member states. Article 1 TEU refers to an “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”, article 3 specifies that the Union’s aim is promoting “peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples“, the same provision recalls the richness of its cultural and linguistic diversity.

So, we have a clear separation between the two notions: a European politeia/citizenship and national demos/people, the first including a number of different national demoi living together in peace, under a roof of common values, principles and rules.

The same distinction is very clear in the preamble of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, where we read:

“Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.”

And

“The Union contributes to the preservation and to the development of these common values while respecting the diversity of the cultures and traditions of the peoples of Europe as well as the national identities of the Member States”. (Emphasis added)

Therefore, this European integration as a legal process – which coexists with strong national identities – is not necessarily a weakness of the system or the mark of an unfinished process, but it seems rather a choice.

Among the European countries there are strong elements of cultural commonality, especially when viewed in perspective, in the context of a globalized world. Europe’s common “spiritual and moral heritage” is not a rhetoric invention, but it was a clear choice to ground its legal order on a “citizenship without a people.”

This choice has some advantages: first, it does not conflict with the national identity recalled and guaranteed by the Treaty and it promotes an integration model based on the coexistence of diversities; second, it should respond better to the need to reassure the defenders of national sovereignty, reducing the risks of nationalist reactions or to the fear -even irrational- of losing national identities (even if, as Brexit is there to prove, it wasn’t enough). Finally, it prevents a possible European nationalism, a typical degenerative disease of nationality.

As we can see, it is a quite different model from the American melting pot.

This belonging to a polity, expressed in purely legal terms, is the real novelty of the European model, replicable in other geographical areas or global organizations – which could generate – one day – their one partial citizenships – and it opens the door to multiple and cumulative citizenships, not conflicting among each other, to communities partially overlapping.

Alongside this European polity – that performs the dual function of building an area of justice and rights and to legitimize the EU supranational institutions, there is another peculiarity of the European democracy: the absence of an explicit reference to collective self-government.

“Sovereignty belongs to the people” is a recurring formula in the states’ constitution and funding acts, so…how can possibly exist a democracy without a people? This requisite appears to be an essential and indispensable element of democracy – as also pointed out by the General Assembly of the United Nations (resolution no. 55/96 of 4 December 2000).

And here we see why this reference to the peoples of the Member States – alongside with national democracy – is also important: it becomes an implicit reference to national constitutions that recognize and codify these collective sovereignties.

The European polity thus integrates a second democratic level on top of the national one, the two being mutually invigorating. It’s no accident that democracy is an essential requirement for the accession to the Union (art.49TUE).

And yet, some people and some political figures still blame the Union for the persistence of a democratic deficit. We believe that this deficit is not in the EU institutional system but in some essential transmission belts required for a genuine democracy: European parties, a European political debate and – even more – a press reporting to citizens what happens in the European Parliament and the other bodies at work over the national level.

Another real gap is in the absence of awareness of many European citizens about their rights and their status in Europe, even if, once the mentioned tools in place, that would be maybe filled up.

So far, in vain  the European Commission launched communication campaigns designed to fill these gaps. The system is formally democratic, but essentially perceived as distant from its citizens.

Its democratic formula – being so disconnected from a sense of identity and belonging – is especially difficult to communicate. Even more difficult if press and political elites don’t give it a try.

Europe Day, When Supranational Politics Was Born

The declaration of 9th May 1950 by the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman is the foundation of the European integration.

It was a proposal to Germany and other interested countries to create a common independent authority responsible for managing the French and German production of coal and steel.

Iron and coal mines are on the borders between France and Germany and they have been the reason for many wars between the two countries. Moreover, the two natural resources were -at the time- the very grounding of a prosperous economy. For this reason, what may appear as a mere economic agreement was in fact intended to preserve peace and foster prosperity.

The proposal, inspired by Jean Monnet, suggested that the classic diplomatic way to manage intergovernmental relation could be overcome by a new method: a conferral of powers to an independent authority able to bind with its decision the member states. The European Coal and Steel Community had from the very beginning a Court of Justice, whose decisions were binding, and a Parliamentary Assembly. The proposal was accepted by Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and Luxembourg.

The vision was already clear in the Schuman’s declaration:

“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.

The contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. In taking upon herself for more than 20 years the role of champion of a united Europe, France has always had as her essential aim the service of peace. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries.

With this aim in view, the French Government proposes that action be taken immediately on one limited but decisive point :

It proposes that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organisation open to the participation of the other countries of Europe.

The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims.

The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.

This production will be offered to the world as a whole without distinction or exception, with the aim of contributing to raising living standards and to promoting peaceful achievements. With increased resources Europe will be able to pursue the achievement of one of its essential tasks, namely, the development of the African continent.

In this way, there will be realised simply and speedily that fusion of interest which is indispensable to the establishment of a common economic system; it may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions.

By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realisation of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace. (…)”

What we define as supranational, is the original approach to problems whose dimension is just out of reach for single states, it radically differs from the international approach as it creates an authority and a will over the states, subject to the rule of law.

We have to thank Jean Monnet for the elaboration and first experimentations of this conceptual model, but the political courage of Robert Schuman was the necessary ingredient to make it a reality. The prompt acceptance by Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi allowed this proposal to become a shared political project.

The brave campaigns by the European Federalists, after the impetus by Altiero Spinelli, founder of this political movement and author of the Ventotene Manifesto made the project evolve over time, to meet expectations of integration and democracy.

A tribute to all our founding fathers. For many of us, your message is still alive.

 

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.