Warren Allmand: Global problems call for better global governance, starting with the United Nations
By Warren Allmand
According to U.S. president Barack Obama, “We are living through a time of global economic challenges that cannot be met by half measures or the isolated efforts of any nation.” Both he and British PM Gordon Brown agree that global problems require coordinated, global solutions. Financial institutions must be accountable, transparent, and subject to strong oversight. The most vulnerable people and countries must not be forgotten.
But at the forum of the G20, and at the institutions where many important decisions are made—the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization—who provides this oversight and who speaks for the disadvantaged?
With globalization, it has been apparent for many years that we need the means to provide a higher level of global cooperation and decision-making.
How can this be achieved? How does humanity evolve beyond a world order built around the sovereign state system as reflected in the United Nations Charter, and other 1940s-vintage treaties and organizational arrangements?
In democratic countries, consent of the governed is achieved by periodic elections, and legislative proposals become law only after open debate in an institution responsible for overseeing the general welfare. That institution is called a parliament.
Although many international bodies, such as NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Commonwealth have advisory parliamentary assemblies, the most important of them all—the United Nations—does not. Ambassadors to the UN answer only to their own governments. Seldom does anyone speak for the common interest of humanity, especially the needs of the most vulnerable.
As a remedy that also promotes transparency, accountability, and much-needed reform, a parliamentary assembly could be created as a subsidiary body by the General Assembly under Article 22 of the charter. Initially composed of members seconded from national parliaments, a UN Parliamentary Assembly would give voice to a spectrum of ideas emanating from citizen representatives, not just the institutional interests of the foreign-policy machinery of governments. And as it proves its worth, a UNPA could gradually transition to direct elections, with powers of co-decision on important UN matters.
Such a transformation would mirror the evolution of the parliament that forms part of the political machinery of the European Union.
Starting with the goal of an “ever closer union”, Europe has transformed itself into a community with open borders, a common currency, a large trading bloc, and a shared identity among today’s citizens who nonetheless retain unique national characteristics and cultural traditions. The European Parliament played a leading role in this process. Originally advisory in nature, this body was given legislative powers and converted to direct elections in 1979.
With this precedent in mind, an international appeal for a parliamentary assembly at the United Nations (detailed at www.unpacampaign.org/) began in 2007 and has now been endorsed by more than 700 sitting parliamentarians from over 90 countries. The European Parliament, the Pan-African Parliament, the Latin American Parliament, the Senate of Argentina, and the Canadian House of Commons foreign affairs committee have issued resolutions or reports expressing support for a UNPA. The Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly’s text has also been signed by many prominent Canadians, including John Turner, Lloyd Axworthy, Flora MacDonald, Ed Broadbent, and Elizabeth May.
A UN Parliamentary Assembly could perform three critical functions.
First, it would be a symbol of a growing global political consciousness. Its existence would remind people everywhere that humankind resides on one planet and that human affairs require better social, economic, and environmental coordination and management.
Second, a UNPA could act as the world’s conscience. Although it would not initially have legislative powers, it should certainly have authority to advise UN bodies, pose questions that officials must answer, and form committees to examine expert testimony and scrutinize budgets. As with our own Parliament, debates and question periods would attract media scrutiny, public attention, and more political pressure on the UN to do the right thing. A UNPA would help shape the global public agenda.
Third, a UNPA could act as a lever for institutional change. We can expect that a UN Parliamentary Assembly would from the outset lobby for more effective management of the current system and structural improvements to the UN system, including increased powers for the voices of world citizenry in a reinvigorated United Nations.
Creating a UN Parliamentary Assembly would channel our energies away from wasteful conflict, and toward the collaborative global community required to manage the security, economic, and environmental challenges of our global times. It would not transform global governance overnight. But it would be a large step in the right direction.
Warren Allmand is the president of the World Federalist Movement-Canada.