The UN at 75: a global parliament supported at events, NGO forum in May

Screenshot from the Youtube recording of the online event on 24 April 2020

The need of a global parliamentary body that represents the world’s citizens was highlighted last week at two virtual events with a combined online audience of several hundred people. 

According to reports, the UN’s General Assembly will decide in the coming month whether the coronavirus situation will require the UN to delay the annual gathering of world leaders in New York in late September. Nevertheless, diplomatic negotiations on a declaration of heads of state and government on the UN’s 75th anniversary are underway, co-facilitated by the UN ambassadors of Sweden and Qatar.

A crisis of global governance

On 23 April the Baha’i International Community in collaboration with the Together First and UN2020 campaigns invited to the first of three off-the-record sessions on the anticipated declaration, bringing together representatives of governments and civil society. 

Speaking after two UN ambassadors based in New York, the Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Andreas Bummel, highlighted that the world is in the middle of multiple serious crises that require immediate attention: a global health crisis, a humanitarian crisis, the climate crisis, a refugee crisis, geopolitical tensions, a trust crisis, a crisis of multilateralism, a liquidity crisis at the UN and attacks on democracy worldwide. 

Sovereignty in the classical sense is a recipe for disaster

He pointed out that in his view, “all of these are symptoms of a crisis of global governance” because there are global issues but the political instruments available to deal with them “are at the scale of nation-states and intergovernmentalism.”

With reference to the UN’s goal that the high-level declaration is supposed to be “forward-looking”, he said that “what is needed is a serious consideration of steps towards the sharing of sovereignty in supranational arrangements with real authority that go beyond traditional multilateralism and intergovernmentalism.” 

According to Bummel, “in a world as interconnected as ours today an insistence on sovereignty in the classical sense is a recipe for disaster.”

In a first step he suggested that “measures are needed to address the trust crisis of global institutions and to connect them closer to citizens and their elected representatives.” In particular, he proposed the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, a civil society focal point in the UN Secretariat and the instrument of a World Citizens’ Initiative.

At the very least the UN75 declaration should “mandate a Post 2020 process that evaluates the system of global governance.” Bummel emphasized that the creation of an Independent Commission on Global Governance may be “the most important actionable point” in the draft NGO shadow declaration on UN75.

Online seminar on the day of multilateralism

On 24 April the Global Challenges Foundation in Stockholm in collaboration with the Swedish foreign ministry organized an online seminar featuring, among others, Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, and the UN Secretary-General’s advisor on the 75th anniversary, Fabrizio Hochschild. The 90-minute live event was recorded and can be watched at Youtube here.

One of the keynote speakers was Augusto Lopez-Claros, co-author of the new open-access book Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century and one of the winners of the New Shape Prize organized by Global Challenges Foundation in 2018.

Over seven decades, global institutions have remained frozen in time

According to Lopez-Claros, “the institutions that we have are struggling to cope with the challenges of an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world” and “to a great extent” they have “remained frozen in time” during the past seven decades. “The consequence of this is that major planetary issues are being neglected and we are risking being overwhelmed by a broad range of problems,” the former World Bank executive said.

One of the proposals from the book that he highlighted was the creation of a World Parliamentary Assembly as “a second chamber” of the UN. He pointed out that “the preamble to the UN Charter starts with ‘We the peoples’ but the men and women who serve on the General Assembly are diplomats representing the executive branches of their respective governments. Often there is no meaningful, direct linkage between them and the people they represent.”

During the discussion, the foreign ministers as well as the UN ambassadors of Sweden and Qatar refrained from commenting on this proposal. 

Civil society declaration in preparation

In the meantime, the UN2020 civil society initiative in collaboration with numerous partners is hosting an online process for the preparation of a shadow declaration to be adopted at a virtual NGO forum now scheduled for 14-15 May 2020. Pre-registration is possible here

According to UN2020, the forum will be organized with Together First in order to “facilitate crucial virtual civil society and stakeholder dialogues to adopt and discuss ways of moving forward the UN75 People’s Declaration & Program of Action.” UN2020 said that “the unifying theme of the forum is advancing people-centered multilateralism, with a focus both on addressing global risks as well as revitalizing the United Nations.”

UN report fails to identify specific proposals

An interim report published by the UN’s Secretariat on the 75th anniversary in the previous week highlights that “an overwhelming majority of 95 percent” of respondents to their online survey agreed that international collaboration is important “to manage global trends.” However, the report fails to identify specific proposals on UN reform put forward in the survey or by civil society, inter alia at UN75 events such as during the recent PyeongChang Peace Forum

Earlier this month, the UN’s own Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Livingstone Sewanyana, stated that “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right of everyone to take part in public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives. This right is not restricted to local matters and extends to global institutions. A UN World Citizens’ Initiative and a UN World Parliamentary Assembly represent innovative mechanisms for citizen involvement in global affairs which I proudly associate with.”