In a parliamentary assembly elected representatives convene. In most cases a parliamentary assembly is an organ of an international organization which is otherwise comprised of political appointments representing only the executive branch and the ruling parties of each member state. Members of a parliamentary assembly, in contrast, include delegates from each major political group in a state party’s parliament. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is the oldest assembly of this kind.
Frequently Asked Questions
The UN and the numerous organizations included in the UN system such as the children’s fund UNICEF or the refugee agency UNHCR are important instruments of international cooperation. A Parliamentary Assembly is intended to make the activities and decisions of these organizations as well as global governance in general more democratic, more transparent and more responsive to the needs of the world’s citizens.
The purpose of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations is to give the citizens of UN member states a voice in political negotiations and decisions at the global level. The assembly would provide independent oversight of the UN’s bureaucracy and budget. With its members directly elected or appointed by national or regional parliaments, a parliamentary assembly would improve global governance by adding a democratic and independent complement to the existing intergovernmental bodies.
The United Nations is a forum of national governments, with its principle organs comprised of representatives and officers of the executive branch of member states who are normally exclusively selected by the ruling majority party (or coalition). Thus, the diverse political spectrum within member states is not represented. In addition, each member state has one vote, regardless of population size. That way democratic representation of the world’s population is not ensured.
Parliamentary assemblies exist in numerous multilateral intergovernmental organizations, for example at the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, the African Union and in Mercosur, among others. In addition, it is possible to draw important lessons from the development of the European Parliament, created as a consultative assembly in 1952 and evolving over decades to today’s legislature directly representing almost 400 million eligible voters.
The establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly would not change the nature of the UN as an organization of its member states. The fact that existing bodies and organs of the UN are composed of representatives of member states would not be affected by establishing a complementary Parliamentary Assembly.
Added value and political relevance
Added value and political relevance
The members of the Parliamentary Assembly would group themselves by political affiliation rather than by national origin and thus would develop cross-border political identity. A more sophisticated global polity would emerge and mature. UN parliamentarians could be less considerate of diplomatic restraints, would be able to represent their constituents as well as the common interest of humanity and as independent representatives of the people could provide for better oversight of the UN’s activities.
Because of the proportional distribution of seats and the cross-national cooperation of independent delegates, decisions of the assembly would have strong symbolic legitimacy, acceptance and validity. An inclusion of the assembly into international decision-making thus would make international decisions more effective.
A Parliamentary Assembly could exercise independent democratic oversight by being vested with a range of participatory rights, for example of information sharing and summoning UN officials to testify at hearings. An assembly, for instance, could establish inquiry committees to carry out parliamentary investigations in cooperation with the Office of Internal Oversight Services to pursue and resolve charges of fraud, corruption and squander within the UN system.
As the members of a Parliamentary Assembly could easily form groups according to their shared political affiliations instead of their national origins, cross-national dialogue and peaceful international cooperation would be strengthened. Delegates with similar political points of view could collaborate across borders. Compared with political appointees, they would be freer to balance national priorities against common, cross-border interests.
A Parliamentary Assembly would give a voice to representatives of national parliamentary opposition groups at the UN. Through their international office, opposition members would be in a better position to reach out to the international public. Their position in the home country would be strengthened and a restriction of their rights through the government would be made more difficult. For delegates close to autocratic governments, the experience of participating in an assembly and of cooperating with other delegates from democratic countries could set a powerful example and have a democratizing effect. In addition, the Parliamentary Assembly would strengthen the credibility of the UN in promoting national democratization.
Unlike with the current ambassadors in various UN bodies, citizens would be able to contact and directly lobby the assembly delegate who represents their country or constituency on issues that concern them. In those countries that progressively provide for the direct election of assembly delegates, citizens would take part in their initial and periodic election.
A Parliamentary Assembly could establish its own committee on human rights. This committee would not be under the direct influence of the governments. Different from government representatives on the Human Rights Council, the independent members of the assembly would be able to pay less attention to the diplomatic imperatives of their government and therefore could address human rights issues in a more open manner. In addition, the establishment of inquiry committees on specific situations would be possible. The assembly could also be vested with the right to bring situations to the attention of other parts of the system, including the Human Rights Council or the UN Security Council. In the case of genocide or other severe human rights violations the assembly could give a strong voice to the world public.
A different political dynamic would exist in a Parliamentary Assembly compared to current UN intergovernmental bodies and conferences. The members predominantly would be independent, many would belong to national opposition groups and they would organize in cross-national political groups. An assembly and its members thus would be in a better position to develop common global or multilateral solutions and to give less consideration to purely particularist national interests. Delegates would have more legitimate authority in representing the economic concerns of their constituents in regards to climate change remedies. Even as an advisory body, such recommendations and proposals from the assembly could carry significant moral weight and pressure national governments to adopt globally sustainable solutions.
Representatives of indigenous peoples and minorities could be elected as delegates of a Parliamentary Assembly through the regular election procedure. In addition, a certain number of seats that are filled through a special procedure could be reserved for representatives of indigenous peoples and minorities. Additionally, the assembly could establish committees on indigenous and minority affairs that would help to bring more public attention to indigenous concerns.
A Parliamentary Assembly should provide efficient and innovative means of includingcivil society groups in its work. For instance this could be done through public hearings of the assembly’s committees or co-option of temporary non-voting advisory members at the committee level. In addition, civil society groups can engage with assembly delegates individually. These opportunities would be complementary to existing forms of participation in the United Nations system.
Relationship with other institutions
Relationship with other institutions
The United Nations General Assembly is enshrined in the UN Charter as the organization’s main body where the governments of the UN’s member states are represented with one vote each. The proposed Parliamentary Assembly would be a new subsidiary body, one that represents the world’s peoples and where the distribution of seats would be graduated. Members of national opposition groups would be represented in a Parliamentary Assembly, ensuring the body would reflect a broader political spectrum.
The proposed Parliamentary Assembly initially would have largely consultative and supervisory functions vis-à-vis the UN and the organizations of the UN family. In the beginning the assembly would likely be composed of members of national and regional parliaments. A world parliament by contrast is conceived as a body that is able to pass globally binding law and whose members are directly elected. The Parliamentary Assembly may be the first small step in the direction of the long-term goal of a world parliament.
The Parliamentary Assembly would complement the work of the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly as a consultative body. For example, the assembly could submit recommendations to the General Assembly or the Security Council for further consideration. As the assembly developed credibility and the confidence of the international community it could evolve and be included into decision-making at the UN General Assembly, for instance regarding the adoption of the UN’s budget or the election of the UN Secretary-General. In the long run, as part of a comprehensive reform of the UN, the UN General Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly could become two chambers of a world parliament.
Over time, a Parliamentary Assembly would be vested with consultative functions and rights to information also vis-à-vis the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. This would be an important contribution to making global governance more coherent and systematic. Later, the UNPA could be endowed with rights of participation and oversight as well. As the World Bank group, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization are legally independent international organizations, the functions of a Parliamentary Assembly would need to be enshrined through relationship agreements or by a change of those organizations’ statutes, agreed to by the member states.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union is an independent association of national parliaments with a principle goal of strengthening the ability of national parliaments to exercise an oversight function of international activities at the national level. The purpose of the proposed Parliamentary Assembly by contrast is to exercise parliamentary functions directly at the international level, in its own right. One of the goals is to make UN executives and UN institutions accountable to a global parliamentary body. There is currently no interest by the IPU in assuming such a capacity.
A Global Parliamentary Assembly and a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN are largely synonymous terms. Using the term of a Global Parliamentary Assembly stresses that the assembly should be linked to the work of all relevant intergovernmental organizations whereas a UN Parliamentary Assembly often is merely conceived as a first step in this direction by establishing it as a subsidiary body that is exclusively linked to the UN General Assembly. The term of a Global Peoples Assembly or Global Parliamentary Assembly is also used for a specific strategy towards a world parliament that is based on an intergovernmental treaty.
Rights and powers
Rights and powers
The range of political issues that a Parliamentary Assembly should be entitled to address should closely parallel those on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly. According to Article 10 of the United Nations Charter, a Parliamentary Assembly then could “discuss any questions or any matters within the scope of the present Charter or relating to the powers and functions of any organs provided for in the present Charter.”
A Parliamentary Assembly would be a part of the United Nations and bound by those provisions of the UN Charter that state that the United Nations is not authorized “to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” A Parliamentary Assembly thus would not be entitled to deliberate on issues which, according to established UN standards, would be qualified as an interference with the national sovereignty of member states.
A Parliamentary Assembly in principle could be vested with all rights and powers with which the United Nations General Assembly is equipped. In the case of an amendment of the UN Charter rights and powers could be enshrined that go beyond that. Initially an assembly could be equipped with a largely consultative role that would develop over time to include genuine rights of information, participation and oversight with a view of developing into a main organ that complements the UN General Assembly.
The rights of a Parliamentary Assembly could be extended incrementally as state parties decide is appropriate over time. For instance, it has been suggested the right (1) to put questions to the United Nations Secretary General and other senior multilateral officials, (2) to hold readings on draft resolutions including the right to suggest amendments, (3) to co-decide on the adoption of the regular budgets of the UN and its specialized agencies, (4) to participate in the election of the UN Secretary-General and other top officials, (5) to alert theUnited Nations Security Council on situations or (6) to submit legal questions to the International Court of Justice.
National sovereignty understood as the right and capacity to exercise to self-determination is already restricted. In today’s global society many political questions necessarily need to be regulated transnationally. A world parliament would strengthen political autonomy and accountability as it would enable the peoples to directly participate in international decisions in a democratic way. According to the principle of subsidiarity only such questions should be regulated globally that can and must be effectively dealt with globally.
Legal questions related to the establishment
Legal questions related to the establishment
A Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations could be set up as a subsidiary body by a vote of the General Assembly under Article 22 of the UN Charter. Alternatively, it could be created on the basis of a new international treaty between governments followed by an agreement that defines its relationship with other UN organs and agencies. Thirdly, as part of a reform of the UN Charter the assembly could be enshrined directly in an amended and re-structured UN system.
It is possible to establish a Parliamentary Assembly without amending the UN Charter. If a Parliamentary Assembly is set up as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly under Article 22 of the United Nations Charter or on the basis of a new international treaty between governments, an amendment of the Charter would not be required.
Approval of the Security Council or its permanent members would only be required if the procedure to establish a Parliamentary Assembly involved an amendment of the United Nations Charter. If an assembly is set up as a subsidiary body by a vote of the UN General Assembly under Article 22 of the United Nations Charter or on the basis of a new international treaty between governments, this would not be the case.
Location, functioning, and financing
Location, functioning, and financing
Where a Parliamentary Assembly will have its headquarters would be decided during intergovernmental negotiations on its establishment and may depend on whether governments will be ready to provide suitable premises as a host country. It would be practical to choose a location where UN administrative offices are based, such as New York or Geneva. If a government offers an alternate suitable location, this could serve as an important incentive to locate the assembly elsewhere.
As with all parliaments, one needs to keep in mind the distinction between the plenary sessions of all delegates, and sessions of specialized committees and their sub-committes that only committee members would attend. Initially, plenary assemblies could take place once per year or every two years for a few weeks, for example parallel to the general debate of the UN General Assembly. The plenary sessions of the assembly would be prepared in the committees that could hold meetings more frequently and more flexibly. Over time, an assembly itself would determine the most effective timing and duration of its sessions.
Plenary sessions and meetings of an Assembly’s committees could take place at its headquarters or alternately in different regions around the world. Internationally changing meeting venues in any case should be intended for the specialized committees and officials could also make fact-finding visits. This would contribute to bringing the work of the assembly closer to the world’s regions and peoples.
The United Nations and its various programmes and agencies are funded by combinations of assessed and/or voluntary contributions. If established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, a Parliamentary Assembly would likely be funded through the assessed UN regular budget. The budget would have to be expanded accordingly. However, other means of funding, including voluntary contributions by member states, should also be considered. In addition, a voluntary trust fund could be established and authorized to accept contributions from other political supporters under clearly defined terms.
The possible costs of a Parliamentary Assembly depend on many variables that would have to be determined. This includes, for example, the number of delegates, salaries of delegates and their possible staff, the size of the administration, the frequency, length and the meeting venues of the plenary sessions, the committees and the sub-committees and the extent of translation services. The budgets of existing international parliamentary institutions (IPIs) are examples for what may be required depending on a given scenario.
Composition, election, and allocation of seats
Composition, election, and allocation of seats
A Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations would be open to all member states of the UN.
A Parliamentary Assembly’s member states initially should be able to decide whether to have their delegates chosen by direct elections or indirectly from within their national parliament. In the latter case, the selection of delegates should reflect the existing political spectrum as closely as possible. In addition, delegates of regional parliaments and parliamentary assemblies could complement national delegates. Some have suggested the possibility of including cities and local authorities as well. Eventually, all delegates should be directly elected by the world's citizens.
The size of a Parliamentary Assembly should constitute an optimal balance between representativeness and efficiency. The smaller an assembly would be, the more efficient it could work but the less representative and democratic it would also be. The upper limit for efficient work that at the same time would ensure optimal representativeness lies approximately between 700 and 900 members. This is the size that most of the models take as a basis for the distribution of seats. For comparison, the European Parliament is a 736-member body and the Indian national parliament includes 802 members.
The precise allocation of seats in a Parliamentary Assembly will have to be determined by international negotiations. Unlike the composition of the UN General Assembly, a key feature of a Parliamentary Assembly should be that the number of delegates to be elected from the member states is graduated, with population size being an important criterion. However, to achieve a balance between the principles of democratic representation ("one person, one vote") on the one hand and the equality of states on the other ("one state, one vote"), the principle of degressive proportionality could be applied, as in the U.S. Congress and in the European Parliament. This means that the citizens of small countries would be relatively better represented per capita than those from large countries. Here and here you can find two publications that look into possible models.
In countries without adequately free and fair elections democratic representation of the citizens in a Parliamentary Assembly will be very difficult. Nonetheless, such countries should be allowed to be represented as long as the delegates at least are chosen from within the constitutional national parliament, inclusive of opposition factions. An appointment through the government would have to be impermissible, and rules allowing an assembly to judge the independence of its own members should be considered.
According to various models for the allocation of seats, a majority of the assembly’s delegates would come from democratic states. The democratic character of an assembly could be ensured. These calculations build on reports on the state of democracy in the world, provided by analysts at Freedom House and others in recent years.
While delegates from autocratic regimes may, to a degree, act according to the instructions of their governments, the use of secret ballots, seating arrangements by political groups, and other procedural constraints would minimize non-democratic governments’ influence on the independence of delegates. The Statutes of a Parliamentary Assembly, for instance, could prohibit governments tracking the voting behavior of individual delegates or unilaterally recalling delegates during their term of office.
If seats in a Parliamentary Assembly were allocated directly proportional to population size, then approximately 20 percent would be held by delegates of Chinese citizens and 17 percent by those representing citizens of India. The 128 states with the lowest population size would be represented by around 8 percent of the delegates. A directly proportional allocation would thus marginalize an overwhelming majority of countries and for this reason is not considered a valid democratic option at this time. Instead we recommend a graduated allocation of seats according to the principle of degressive proportionality, in which smaller states have slightly higher representation proportional to their population. In proposed models of this nature, Chinese delegates would have a share of seats between 3 and 10 percent and Indian members between 2.8 and 9 percent. Finally, it needs to be noted that delegates would cast their vote individually and not en bloc.
The precise allocation of seats will have to be determined by international negotiations. It is therefore speculative to say how many seats would go to a particular country. It has to be noted that the seats would not be controlled by governments but by individual independent delegates. Here and here you can find two publications that look into possible models.