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A pragmatic way to democratisation in international politics
The central role of nation-states in a consolidated strategy
towards a UN parliament
Swiss Parliamentarians' Open Letter to Kofi Annan;
Secretary General, Society for Threatened Peoples - Switzerland
The United Nations is a unique, world-wide institution with 191 member-states and an extensive mandate to secure world peace, safeguard human rights and promote international solidarity. In these areas, it takes on a leading role. Without the UN, for example, the legal codification of human rights and the establishment of a global system of collective security would be less advanced. Especially in times of increasing economic globalization and the growing importance of transnational corporations, the United Nations, bearing as it does a considerable degree of democratic legitimation, is clearly an important institution in the implementation of international rules.
This democratic legitimation of the UN is, however, limited. In the 21st century, the world is affected by global problems that require global strategies and solutions. Hence an increasing number of political issues that influence citizens all over the world are being decided on an international level. The consequences of this are that political decision-making processes are shifted onto an international level, initiating the establishment of global political structures. Nation-states are the instutional fundament of the UN, and they, in turn, are represented by their governments. Consequently, national governments have become the decision-makers in international decision-making processes. Whereas on the national level these governments are subject to parliamentary control, there is a deficit in this regard at the international level. In this light, citizens have no democratic means to influence the decision-making process.
This democracy deficit is reinforced by
a lack of transparency in the decision-making process. As long
as global issues affecting the world population are treated as
secret diplomacy by national governments and decided behind closed
doors, decisions will inevitably lack acceptance. The United
Nations does, nonetheless, require this acceptance by citizens
as a basic and important condition for its legitimacy.
These issues &SHY; democracy deficit, lack
of transparency, low acceptance, decision-deadlock &SHY; can
be counteracted by the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly
at the UN. First of all, the election of such a parliament would
promote direct participation and representation of civil society.
Secondly, it would establish transparent processes and structures
of negotiation and decision-making. Thirdly, it would enhance
the overall acceptance and legitimacy of the United Nations.
The delegates of a future Parliamentary Assembly would, moreover,
be grouped into international parties following a common political
ideology rather than being subject to national concerns. This
would greatly enhance the problem-solving capacity of the UN
as strategies and resolutions would be based on common, global
interests, thus reducing the paralyzing effect of state interests.
How can such reforms succeed? Looking at the challenges facing the United Nations today, the answer to this question is clear. A strategy for the implementation of future reform must answer the needs of the system today. Due to the dominant position of national governments in today's UN system, any calls for reform should primarily be addressed to them, including the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly. It is only with the consent of national governments that any reform can be realized and, therefore, herein lies the way.
But how can the support of these national governments be attained? Direct lobbying would, of course, be most efficient. However, an increasing democratisation of international politics would lead to a decreasing importance of today's decision-making processes, thus changing the current nature of national governments' sphere of influence. In this light, goverments may not be entirely willing to support such a development. We must, therefore, cooperate with those bodies being able to effectively lobby national governments, namely parliaments of the UN nation states.
These national parliaments are the directly
elected representatives of the people. Thus, they hold the legitimation
to form the core of a democratisation process of international
politics. Furthermore, members of parliaments have an interest
to participate in both international politics and in the international
networking of parliamentary work. Therefore, in order to establish
a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN, the Committee for a Democratic
UN has made national parliaments the central element of their
At the moment, our efforts are still in the first phase. The Committee for a Democratic UN has embarked on a strategy to urge the national parliaments of several European states to support the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN. This strategy builds on a first resolution adopted by the European parliament in 1994, Article 17 the EP stating that it "wishes consideration to be given to the possibility of setting up within the UN a parliamentary consultative assembly to enable the elected representatives of peoples to participate more fully in the work of UN bodies". At that time, there was no follow-up to the decision, due in part to the absence of an international network to coordinate the lobbying. Today, the Committee for a Democratic UN seeks to fulfill this role.
We have already initiated political processes in different national and international parliaments. The first lobbying success was seen in the German Bundestag in September 2004, where a resolution calling for stronger parliamentary participation in the development of the United Nations was adopted. Furthermore, draft resolutions for the establishment of a UN parliamentary assembly, submitted by their commissions on foreign policy, are still pending in the German Bundestag as well as in the European parliament. In France, Belgium and Spain similar activities have already begun. Parliamentary initiatives are also being prepared in Denmark, India and Mexico.
But to date, the most symbolic acknowledgement
of the call for a UN parliamentary assembly has been achieved
in Switzerland. On the initiative of the Society for Threatened
Peoples, the organization representing the Committee for a Democratic
UN in Switzerland, an open letter was addressed to Secretary-General
Kofi Annan recommending the establishment of a UN parliamentary
assembly. We chose this method in particular in order to gain
the support of as many members of the Swiss parliament as possible
and to assure public appeal. Finally, the letter was signed by
101 of the 200 members of the Swiss National Council. With the
engagement of key figures from every political faction within
parliament, the request gained support in every one of the parties.
This was the basis of its success.
The chances of garnering further support
for this reform is promising. During the past months, the Swiss
government has been preparing recommendations for UN reform in
the field of human rights. The climate is therefore conducive
for a fruitful discussion on other UN reform issues. Furthermore,
the Swiss ambassador to the UN, Peter Maurer, has stated that
he appreciates our call for UN reform as it falls within Secretary-General
Kofi Annans framework for UN reform and adheres to the general
lines of Swiss foreign policy.
We are also encouraged by the developments taking place elsewhere. There are indications that the European parliament will adopt a resolution from its Commission on foreign policy supporting the call for the establishment of a UN parliamentary assembly in its session in June this year. As the first affirmative official decision taken by a parliament on this issue, this would be a ground-breaking success. Despite the fact that the European parliament is not a national institution, the influence of such a decision on parliaments and governments within the European Union would be remarkable.
Another significant development is the support of world-wide networks of political parties. The Socialist International supported the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN in October 2003, the Liberal International followed recently in May 2005. We are now planning to approach governments in which liberal parties are involved.
Thus, you see, Ladies and Gentlemen, that we still find ourselves in the first phase of implementing the call to establish a UN Parliamentary Assembly. Nonetheless, by adhering to our strategy of lobbying various parliaments, we are hopeful of a breakthrough in the near future in attaining the support of a first national government.
Admittedly, for the ultimate success of
our project, two conditions are indispensable. Firstly, civil
society as a whole should agree on a collective strategy and
continue the political process together. European, American,
African, Asian and Oceanic efforts must be coordinated and consolidated.
It is only together that we can achieve our goal. As you can
see, the work of the Committee for a Democratic UN has been focusing
mainly on Europe. But we want to widen this focus. I hope very
much that this conference will be an important step towards such
a global strategy.
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