Democracy Without Borders

A global political party in the making: the Atlas movement

In Greek mythodology, Atlas is condemned to hold the weight of the heavens on his shoulders for eternity. Image credit: NASA

Media and observers have been referring to 2024 as a “Super Election Year”: more than 60 countries and two billion citizens around the world are expected to head to the polls. Elections, although not held freely, fairly, and competitively in all of these countries, constitute the most fundamental democratic exercise to reflect popular will.

With the exception of the elections to the European Parliament, these are all national polls. Given that global challenges loom large and globalisation impacts lives everywhere, can we imagine a future in which worldwide issues are tackled by a democratic system that transcends national borders?

This is a challenge that Atlas has picked up on in a pragmatic way, presenting itself as “the global political movement uniting humanity, for its survival”. Founded in 2020, originally under the name NOW!, Atlas has become a tangible manifestation of global democracy’s theoretical underpinnings, providing a compelling case study for the feasibility and necessity of a global political paradigm shift. Born as a grassroot activism platform, it has promoted protests and lobbying efforts to counter authoritarianism, climate change, and inequities worldwide. The movement says it is powered by a network of over 24,000 individuals from 134 countries that organise global campaigns while keeping a national grip.

A case study for the feasibility of a global political paradigm shift

The movement’s philosophy, grounded in the principles of freedom, equity, and well-being, offers a holistic vision for global society. By proposing systemic reforms that aim to democratise access to power and wealth, ensure equity for all societal groups, and foster global unity, Atlas is envisioning to pave the way for a new kind of global governance structure, a “global country”.

Atlas was co-founded and is led by Colombe Cahen-Salvador and Andrea Venzon. Image source: Screenshot from YouTube

In September 2023 Atlas took a further step by declaring its intention to enter the political arena. The plan is to make its transformation into “a global political party” official at a ‘founding general assembly’ next September. Their goal then will be to set up national branches that run at elections, enter parliaments and influence governments worldwide, through an innovative form of political engagement that operates both within and beyond the conventional frameworks of international relations. The movement is currently pushing two main political campaigns: one to run an Atlas candidate as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the other to enter the national parliament of a G7 country.

Atlas would be adopting a “top-down” approach in which they would enter national politics to pursue internationally-coordinated reforms. This strategy is particularly interesting in that it flips the logic through which other global political alliances – such as the Global Greens network or the Progressive Alliance network – have emerged. In these cases, pre-existing national parties came together to form joint international umbrellas. The political influence of these networks on their national party members is arguably rather limited: in fact, they embrace member parties that are inevitably entrenched in national and local realities. Atlas, on the other hand, primarily holds a broad global vision for transnational political action.

The Atlas movement, as of now, does not seem to bring forward a detailed and hands-on political programme, which is certainly a precondition to effectively enter and influence global and local governance. Nonetheless, through the lens of this movement, we may be witnessing the embryonic stages of a world political party in action, offering a glimpse into the potential for a more interconnected and democratic global order. In fact, according to Heikki Patomäki, a Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki, “a sustainable global future will be impossible without a fundamental shift from the dominant national mythos to a global worldview” and a “world political party would be well-suited to bring about such a shift.”

In terms of a transformation of the international system itself, numerous questions arise. How can a global democracy effectively function in a world marked by vast differences in political, economic, and cultural contexts? How can it ensure equitable representation and participation for billions of people? What mechanisms would be necessary to enforce the rule of law on a global scale, and how would these mechanisms be established and maintained?

Since the 18th century, the ideal of democracy was coupled with the rise of the modern nation-state, progressively institutionalising a representative system with competitive elections and the rule of law, creating a system of checks and balances, and granting popular sovereignty. To what extent can we call into question the link between democracy and the nation-state? Why and how should we go beyond boundaries and borders in representative democracies?

These are questions that civil society organisations such as Democracy Without Borders have been addressing, by proposing, among other things, the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly as a first step towards an elected global parliament. Any global political party, including Atlas, will need to deal with them in detail as well. 

Lidia Bilali
Lidia Bilali is a Program Assistant at Democracy Without Borders. She is a student at Sciences Po Paris and currently interning at the Aspen Institute in Berlin.