Countries debate the formation of a global parliament

EU Parliament

EU Parliament

UNPA Campaign

The creation of a global parliament was a hotly debated issue at an expert panel that occurred on Thursday as a side event of the Lund Earth System Governance conference in Sweden. While there was agreement that strengthening global democracy was desirable, the participants in the discussion had divided opinions as to whether the creation of a global parliament was the right approach.

In his introductory comments, the coordinator of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, Andreas Bummel, pointed out that since the 1990s political support for the establishment of a parliamentary UN body has grown but that the subject has been largely neglected by academic research. Bummel observed that over 150 international parliamentary institutions are now in existence, the most advanced being the European Parliament. He added, however, that there is no formal parliamentary body at the United Nations nor at any other major international intergovernmental organization.

In his opening remarks, Frank Biermann, the chair of the Earth System Governance Project and professor of political science at University of Amsterdam, said that questions involving whether and how elected representatives could meaningfully participate in global governance could be usefully subject to further academic exploration. He noted that the extent to which representative structures might enhance the global system’s accountability and legitimacy (two core subjects of the Earth System’s Project) are particularly ripe for study. Referring to an article recently published in Science magazine by over 30 scholars, Biermann said that adopting more qualified majority voting and weighted voting mechanisms in international norm-setting organizations is increasingly being recognized as beneficial and that likely voting schemes in a parliamentary body could contribute to trends in this regard.

According to John Dryzek, a professor of political science at Australian National University, the establishment of a global parliament would only make sense in the context of global state building and should not be pursued. Democracy, he said, should be understood in a broader way than having elections. The institution of parliament should not be extrapolated to the global level because this would limit other options. In addition, he argued that China and the United States, two of the world’s most important powers, for different reasons would not be willing to participate in such a project. Utilizing the concept of path dependency, Jonathan Kuyper, a PhD student under Dryzek’s supervision, similiarly argued that a decision to create a global parliament could not be reversed and that such an institution would “crowd out alternatives.”

A strong statement in favor of a global parliament was made by Andrew Strauss, a professor of international law at Widener University in the United States. Strauss argued that democracy requires some sort of institutionalized representation. He explained that it is hardly an accident that the governmental systems of every democracy in the world are centered around an elected assembly or parliament. He observed that through the elected representatives of a global parliament, a direct link would be established between the world’s citizens and the institutions of global governance. Further, he said, the present system of global law-making is dysfunctional because states have the ability to opt out of any agreement. According to Strauss, a global parliamentary assembly could potentially mobilize political and moral pressure that would make it more difficult for countries to disregard international law.

The international conference in Lund brought together over two hundred researchers from 30 countries and various, mainly social science disciplines for three days to explore ways in which a more legitimate, democratic and accountable earth system governance might be achieved. The conference featured 16 keynote speakers and 40 panels. It was the third conference of this kind organized by the Earth System Governance project. The next will take place in January 2013 in Tokyo.

The side event was jointly organized by the Earth System Governance Project and the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. It was moderated by the project’s director, Ruben Zondervan.