Monday, April 23, 2007

For a global democracy

The Independent reports that a group of international politicians, academics and business leaders have launched a campaign to democratise the UN by adding an elected assembly. This is a fundamentally good idea - one of the biggest problems with the UN is its "democracy deficit". Those who speak at the UN represent governments and the interests of governments (or the people who buy them) - not of their people. As a result, the global governance structure which is gradually emerging through multilateral treaties is systematically biased towards the powerful, and we see inaction on important global issues such as climate change, genocide, and poverty. Only by adding a fully elected and democratically accountable assembly can this deficit be overcome.

It won't be easy. Democratisation faces institutional opposition, including from the very people you'd expect to support it - the Americans. And not all countries are properly democratic and able to fully participate. The Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly is therefore proposing a gradual process, similar to that used in the formation of the European Parliament. The first step would be the establishment of an assembly drawn from national legislatures as a consultative body to the UN. This would move gradually towards direct election, at the same time being given greater participation in and control over the UN system. The ultimate goal would be a fully elected world Parliament, exercising control and oversight over and providing greater legitimacy to the UN system.

This is an interesting project, and one that deserves our support. It recognises both the need for some form of global government, and the fundamental truth that power derives from the consent of the governed, that there is no authority without democracy. At the same time, it also recognises that democracy has to grow from the bottom up, that it evolves rather than being handed down US-style on stone tablets. In the case of the UK (and hence New Zealand), that process took 500 years, two revolutions and a regicide. Hopefully in the case of the UN it will be both quicker and more peaceful.

The campaign's strategy paper can be found here [PDF]. Their FAQ is here [PDF], or you can view the list of signatories here. Maybe we should try and get a few more New Zealand MPs to sign up?


A government to represent the whole world? If you had one MP for every million people, that'd be 6,000 MPs -- and New Zealand would get 4.

Seems to me that, however you set it up, populous countries would get all the attention, and small countries would be forgotton about.

Posted by John : 4/24/2007 10:52:00 AM

Should all countries be equal in teh UN anyway? YOu may moan about it, but surely the US, which contributes a fairly hefty amount of UN cash deserves greater representation in such an assembly than say Tonga? I guess this is just an example of some of the hurdles which must be overcome?

Posted by Anonymous : 4/24/2007 11:33:00 AM

I'd suggest it was elected by PR with a global list. Countries would have to implement free and fair elections (for the UN assembly only) to participate.

That way the problem of representing microstates wouldn't arise.

Posted by Rich : 4/24/2007 04:26:00 PM

What about regions rather than nations. So you could have an Oceania region or a Northern American region. Regions could have different numbers of representatives within them depending on local conditions, but each region could have equal power with another region.

The idea is that local areas have similar issues. So say, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand all care about international waters, but Mongolia isn't going to have a huge concern about the issues of Pacific waters.

Dunno... just an idea.

Posted by muerk : 4/25/2007 01:09:00 PM

John: In The Age of Consent, George Monbiot suggests one MP per 10 million, with electorates crossing international boundaries, to make it truly a people's Parliament. Wheras the CEUNPA seem to be suggesting taking a page from the EU's book, and going for a sliding scale - so larger countries would still get more, but smaller countries wouldn't be left entirely without a voice.

Either way, a Parliament would be dominated by the interests of larger countries, with the most people. That's what democracy is about. Nobody bitches about how Invercargill is "ignored" because it only gets one MP; why should we accept similar arguments on an international scale.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/25/2007 02:09:00 PM

Muerk: regions is an interesting long-term idea, but initially it almost certainly has to be tied to states. And I think what's important is getting some sort of body of this nature set up, and giving it some power. It doesn't have to be much, but history shows us that if you give elected MPs even a smidgen, they leverage and leverage and leverage, and eventually the king has to do what they say, or he doesn't get "his" taxes anymore (exactly this sort of process is underway between the European Parliament and the unelected European Commission).

The sooner we start this process, the sooner we move towards a more democratic global government.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/25/2007 02:14:00 PM

John: I should also point out that we are already getting a de facto world government, accreting slowly through international treaties and multilateral bodies. The question is what sort of government we are going to have. And the answer - if we want our world government to have any legitimacy at all, or to be anything over than a tool of the rich and powerful in Washington and London and Paris and Tokyo - has to be a democratic one.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/25/2007 02:21:00 PM