The European Parliament calls for a UN Parliamentary Assembly: It is time governments listened

, by Charles Marsh

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The European Parliament calls for a UN Parliamentary Assembly: It is time governments listened
The UN Parliamentary Assembly logo. Created by Tony Fleming (CC BY-SA 3.0).

At a plenary session on 5 July, the European Parliament called upon the European Union member states to support the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly that started this September and will run for one year.

In particular, the adopted resolution calls on the EU’s governments to

“advocate the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) within the UN system in order to increase the democratic character, the democratic accountability and the transparency of global governance and to allow for better citizen participation in the activities of the UN and, in particular, to contribute to the successful implementation of the UN Agenda 2030 and the [Sustainable Development Goals].”

The UNPA proposal

The proposed UNPA would be a democratically elected body of the United Nations, whose electorate would where possible, be representative of the entire population of the world. In this way, the individual could be represented on the global political landscape through citizen-elected representatives and not only indirectly through government-appointed career diplomats.

This would ensure that the UN could be more defined by democratic dynamics, rather than power politics. It would also serve to combat the alleged democratic deficit that currently exists at the highest levels of global governmental interaction and bridge the chasm that exists between the global organisation and world citizens.

The new body would initially serve an advisory role to the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council, without any direct legislative power. It would not be intended to impinge upon the sovereignty of the nation-states, but merely to increase the agency of their citizenry and the legitimacy of the UN’s many institutions through a process of democratisation. Moreover, by establishing a forum where the global diversity of voices can be heard, the UNPA would serve as an incomparable catalyst for the global community to work together and enjoy the mutual benefits which such cooperation brings.

While the body could technically be formed at any time using Article 22 of the UN Charter, which allows for the formation of subsidiary bodies of the UN, it will first need to capture the collective imaginations of the global community. Thus, all citizens of the world should work together to make their voices heard, to ensure that their opinions and their viewpoints have a permanent place within the structure of the United Nations.

Who else supports a UNPA?

Similar calls for the establishment of a UNPA have been made by the Pan-African Parliament and the Latin-American Parliament. These statements of support come as a result of tireless work by the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, which for years now has advocated for the formation of such a body. The campaign, which has the support of over 1500 elected politicians, has recently launched its first Parliamentary Group for a UNPA. This group, made up of elected Parliamentarians from across the world, has already issued a call to action, warning that “the United Nations, the multilateral order and democracy are under attack.”

The concept of a UNPA has had support from the Union of European Federalists, who have noted that “the reducing of the state-centric nature of the UN through the creation of UNPA would be a great step forward in the democratisation and federalisation of the only global political institution”. This aspect of continuation and progress is significant because it highlights the fact that the UNPA is not trying to create a revolutionary concept, but an evolutionary concept based on the example of European integration.

The theory behind the proposal

The Campaign seeks to build upon the progress made in the development of the UN over the last 70 years, and indeed to continue the process of internationalism and global reform that has been continuing at one level or another for centuries. The evolution of state sovereignty has never been stagnant, but rather a process of evolution from disparate feudal states of loosely aligned territories owned by nobles and kings, through to the Westphalian concept of rigidly defined borders, and now towards the post-modern conception of intersectional global communities which are nearly impossible to geographically delineate.

This process of evolution and adaptation should be facilitated, not resisted, so that our international community might better meet the geo-political and geo-economic imperatives that imperil our emergent global community. Soaring global inequality, climate change and nuclear proliferation are all international tragedies of the commons, issues that affect the entire world community, but far outstretch the capacities of any subset of actors therein. Thus, if our nation-state system is to properly tackle these issues as a collective, it must adapt now as it has in the past.

It is a logical inconsistency that most nation-states possess an organising principle, be it democracy, socialism, or patriotism, that clearly links their community together from the local to the national level, with a common identity and common objectives. However, at the international level, the organising principle is still, at its heart, anarchy, a principle which divides rather than unites.

There are few extra-territorial political identities, and there are little to no effective means to hold nation states accountable for their actions; merely empty attempts at moral compulsion or poorly maintained economic measures. This is all despite an immeasurable quantity of shared experiences, challenges and threats. In allowing this discord between the national and international level of political organisation, we also ensure there is an unbridged disconnect in the ephemeral order that should link the individual to the global level.

Until we find a way to rein in the international anarchy; we will be perpetually at risk from the state of nature in which every person, be they impoverished or in power, is condemned to reside. An international order is the surest route by which we may all find security, and it is never too early to start working towards that end. As such, we would call on all like-minded individuals to offer their support for the UNPA, that we might together work towards a resolution of the international anarchy, and a democratic global future.

Recently, a book has been published by two of the leading members of the UNPA Campaign, Jo Leinen, an MEP and former President of UEF, and Andreas Bummel, founder of Democracy Without Borders, which offers a holistic overview of the proposals for a UNPA. It lays out in great detail the history, and potential future, of the concept of a global parliament. For anyone who wishes to know more about this topic, this book provides an invaluable resource.

The author is involved in the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly.

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