Global parliamentary representation debated at Yale University

7. November 2016

Two panels at an event on “New Topics in Global Justice” focus on the question of global parliamentary representation

Gathered in one of the oldest buildings of Yale University in New Haven, a 2.5-day workshop on “New Topics in Global Justice” kicked off on October 28th with a session on the creation of a world parliament. Practitioners and academics came together to discuss practical and theoretical issues surrounding the topic.

Participants of the first panel

Participants of the first panel

The debate began with opening remarks from the director and co-founder of the international Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, Andreas Bummel. With reference to a world parliament he said that the idea “is based on the conviction that all people are members of a single family of human beings encompassing the whole world.” The purpose would be to ensure equal representation of the world’s citizens in global governance. He stated that eventually a “global legislative system” would probably have to rest on two chambers: “a citizen-elected parliament” and “a body representing the states, similar to today’s UN General Assembly”. He pointed out that a consultative UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA), initially made up of deputies from the national parliaments of UN member states, would be a pragmatic first step into the direction of this long-term goal. It could be established without Charter reform with a decision of the UN General Assembly.

Following the opening speech, the first panel was started with short presentations of Vito Tanzi of University of Munich, Lynette Sieger of Rutgers University, Alexandre Sayegh of Yale University, and Deen Chatterjee of University of Utah. The panel discussed a wide range of topics, including immigration as a human rights issue, the potential for a World Tax Organization, enfranchisement and the social conditions for democracy, and the global governance of climate change mitigation. Alexandre Sayegh stressed the potential role of a UNPA in achieving climate justice.

Lynette Sieger, a doctoral candidate at the Division of Global Affairs of Rutgers University in Newark, argued against a UNPA and voiced concern regarding how a global parliament could operate within or alongside an intentionally fragmented global system. If a parliamentary assembly is housed within the UN, she asked, what authority would it then have over institutions that do not belong to the UN? She also said that implementing the principle of “one person, one vote” in a global parliament would overly benefit large countries and marginalize small ones. On the other hand, she argued that a population-based allocation of seats could incentivize economically powerful states to leave the UN. Another point she put forward was the question of how to deal with undemocratic countries.

Participants of the second panel

Participants of the second panel

During the question and answer period, the audience was particularly interested in seat apportionment schemes for a UNPA, and debate within the panel on the merits of such an assembly was lively. Bummel agreed with Sieger that the social and political conditions for a full-fledged global parliament do not yet exist. He stressed that a UNPA at the beginning would not be based on the principle of “one person, one vote” but on a system of “degressive proportionality” according to which small countries would be allocated relatively more seats per capita than large ones. In his opinion, this would balance the interests of small and large states. He also asked who would be determining whether a country is democratic or not and emphasized that often even in autocratic regimes there was a legitimate democratic opposition that would benefit from having a voice in a UNPA.

The second panel featured experts Richard Ponzio of The Stimson Center, David Mwambari of the US International University in Nairobi, and Andrew Strauss of the University of Dayton. Richard Ponzio started the panel with a discussion of the recent report of the Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance which recommended the creation of a UN Parliamentary Network (UNPN). He described such a network as a “stepping stone” towards a UNPA “as a second chamber”. It would be elected from within national parliaments and complement the activities of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Initially, the network could meet once per year every September. Public hearings would be a major vehicle for its work. In Ponzio’s assessment, the creation of a UNPN “can happen in the next five years in the runup to the 2020 anniversary of the United Nations.”

In his presentation, Andrew Strauss endorsed the proposal of a global parliament and called for direct elections “rather sooner than later.” He argued that even if it initially had only advisory capabilities, the members of the assembly would very likely work towards the goal of strengthening it step by step. According to Strauss, such a parliamentary body would be able to expand in power quickly owing to its “unique moral authority.”

During the debate

Both panels were followed by a lively debate

In the subsequent discussion a key topic was the question of how states and the concept of statehood fit into the idea of a UNPA or global parliament. It was pointed out that while the UN General Assembly is made up of representatives of states, the UNPA would be made up of representatives of citizens. Responding to fears that individual large countries could dominate a global parliament, Strauss emphasized that “there are no states” in a parliamentary body of this kind. It was unlikely, he said, that the delegates of one country would vote as blocks. Parliamentarians would align themselves not by country or region but ideologically. In his view, a global parliament could be started by 20 to 30 geographically representative and democratic states.

Other topics discussed on the second and third day of the workshop included illicit financial flows, the rights of migrants, and the problem of statelessness. The panels on the first day were moderated by Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox of Quinnipiac University.

The event was co-hosted by the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, Quinnipiac University, the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights, Academics Stand Against Poverty, and the Yale Global Justice Program.