GLOBAL GOVERNANCE: ‘Every person on the planet should have an equal opportunity to participate in decision-making’

andreas-bummel.pngCIVICUS speaks with Andreas Bummel, co-founder and Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders (DWB) and the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, about the deficits of the current global governance system and civil society’s proposals for reform.

Founded in 2017, DWB is an international civil society organisation with national chapters and associates across the world, aimed at promoting global governance, global democracy and global citizenship.

What’s wrong with existing global governance institutions?

Global governance has rightly been described as a spaghetti bowl, and that’s because there is too much fragmentation, overlap, incoherence and opacity, with many parallel and siloed processes going on at the same time, involving who knows how many institutions, initiatives and projects.

There is an idea of networked multilateralism with horizontal cooperation where everything is supposed to be somehow connected and there are supposedly no more hierarchies. But my perception is that this is not true. The system is very ineffective and ultimately very undemocratic.

Complexity has become a big problem. New treaties and agreements are negotiated and spat out almost daily, and it is difficult for anyone except very specialised groups and experts to follow these processes. Even the missions of smaller countries to the United Nations (UN) in New York often complain, at least unofficially, that they don’t have the capacity to follow all the processes going on at the UN.

The UN alone has dozens of programmes and institutions on top of the main organisation and its bodies. It’s a perfect world for well-funded lobbyists, but not so much for civil society and citizens. All this needs to be streamlined.

Research also shows how ineffective international treaties are, except those dealing with trade and economic issues. Throwing a treaty at a problem does not make it go away. We need treaty obligations that are binding and enforceable, but this clashes with the persistent idea of national sovereignty, at least the way it is often perceived.

More generally, it’s a key issue that the system and its institutions ultimately are intergovernmental. This means that decision-making is exclusively in the hands of delegates and representatives acting on behalf of national governments. Quite a lot of these governments are autocratic and have little, if any, domestic accountability to their people. They couldn’t care less about the wellbeing of humanity.

There is a lot of talk about inclusiveness and so-called people-centred multilateralism, and tens of thousands of people now attend UN climate conferences, but the results are just not good enough.

Is the UN fit for purpose?

The UN has never been fit for purpose – or maybe it depends on what we believe its purpose is. Following the Holocaust and the aggressions and mass atrocities of the Second World War, the UN was founded on the determination of ‘never again’. This resulted in the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, among others.

But then what? What did the UN do when communist China took over Tibet and started a genocide? What was done about the mass killings in the Soviet Union under Stalin? And what about the genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge? And more recently, what was done about the situation of the Uyghurs in China? Or when Russia invaded Ukraine in a blatant and ongoing war of aggression? What has the UN contributed to solving the Israel-Palestine conflict? The UN Security Council didn’t condemn the abhorrent massacres by Hamas on 7 October; a resolution to this regard was vetoed by China and Russia. The USA in turn vetoed another resolution condemning the reaction of Israel.

The UN Security Council is and has always been a failure. Its permanent members are the world’s major weapons suppliers and have consistently violated international law. Former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld once said that the UN was not created to bring us to heaven but to save us from hell. Millions of people have had to go through hell, and they still do, including in Gaza as we speak, so the UN cannot be considered a success even by this very low standard.

There is an even lower standard usually referred to: that there was no third world war and no nuclear Armageddon. This is a good thing, and as a supporter of the UN I like to believe that it contributed to this. Truth be told, none of what is happening is the UN’s fault. The UN is not an independent organisation – it is an instrument of its member states and belongs to them. It was established in the name of ‘We The Peoples’ but it doesn’t flinch if a state kills its own people like in Syria and so many other places. Some of the worst human rights offenders sit on its Human Rights Council.

In these dire circumstances having the UN is still better than not having it. It is doing what it can, for instance by providing humanitarian relief, even if here too its dependence on member states is huge. For sure democratic governments should work more closely together inside and outside the UN to push back against the ongoing authoritarian capture of the organisation.

How should global governance institutions be reformed? Are there any civil society ideas in this regard?

Civil society has put forward a wide range of good proposals. The most recent effort in this regard is coordinated by the Coalition for the UN We Need, which in March 2023 hosted a conference that produced an interim People’s Pact. The document covers a lot of thematic areas including sustainable development, human rights and participation, peace and security and also UN and global governance innovations.

The chapter on global governance innovations offers proposals to improve citizen participation and representation at the UN, such as establishing a World Citizens’ Initiative, a UN Civil Society Envoy and a UN Parliamentary Assembly. There is also a recommendation that the UN should convene an intergovernmental conference that reviews the UN Charter. The idea is that by giving the UN a new Charter it could be given more power while being made more democratic.

This ties in with other proposals in the document that propose raising global levies on activities such as speculative international currency transactions. Global taxation of this kind would require parliamentary representation and oversight.

Whether or not this is the right time to push for the review of the UN Charter, I don’t know. The international situation is obviously the worst in a long time. Autocratic governments would never agree to a stronger and democratic UN and many democratic governments use them as a pretext to not pursue this either. I have to admit, I too just cannot imagine how it would be possible or desirable to build a new UN with despotic regimes in it. This has been the problem all along.

This doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. There are steps that can be taken now, such as the three recommendations I mentioned before. Setting up a Parliamentary Assembly, for instance, is possible without amending the UN Charter, which is a difficult process. Then again, should a window of opportunity open unexpectedly, the world should be ready to seize it and reorganise the UN and the world order. Thinking about this is a useful exercise so we are prepared for when that time comes.

How is civil society campaigning for these proposals?

The Coalition for the UN We Need has been building a civil society platform for deliberation on UN reform proposals since 2020, when the UN celebrated its 75th anniversary. That was the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet another example of the failure of global governance and of despotic regimes, in this case China.

That year, the UN Secretary-General was mandated to produce a report and the UN agreed to his suggestion that a Summit of the Future should be held to discuss how to strengthen multilateralism, among other things. This summit is now scheduled to take place in September 2024.

Civil society groups and the coalition have tried to link to that process and put forward proposals such as those included in the People’s Pact. CIVICUS, Democracy International and DWB are also co-convenors of the ‘We The Peoples’ campaign for inclusive global governance, which promotes the ideas of a UN World Citizens’ Initiative, a UN Civil Society Envoy and a UN Parliamentary Assembly.

The campaign is supported by over 200 groups and networks worldwide. We submit and bring up these proposals at every opportunity. We know they are no silver bullets to solve the misery all around us and the UN’s fundamental flaws, but we believe they would help mobilise people and civil society and catalyse political will for further change.

Would you tell us more about your idea of a world parliament?

I am working on a second edition of my book, ‘A world parliament’, which I co-authored with Jo Leinen in 2018, to further develop the idea of a democratic world parliament, which I view as the centrepiece of a renewed global order.

First of all, I believe in the principle of equal global citizenship, which means that every person on the planet should have an equal opportunity to participate in decision-making on matters that affect everybody. And I don’t see how anything other than a parliament and universal global elections could achieve this.

It is a matter of principle, but it is also a necessity. Global challenges are becoming overwhelming, particularly the climate crisis, and it is clear that the current modus operandi is not working. That’s because there is a vacuum at the global level: there is no decision-making authority. A global polity with such authority is needed but it must be designed in a democratic way.

The idea of a democratically elected world parliament is by no means new: it was first put forward in the French Revolution and has been around ever since. My book tells the story of this idea and explains why it is still relevant today and how it can be implemented. Its second edition maintains the main argument and narrative but includes new material throughout the book. For instance, it discusses the Chinese reformist Kang Youwei, who elaborated on the vision of a world parliament around 1900, and gives more consideration to the worsening climate crisis, the rise of authoritarianism and other matters like artificial intelligence. It will include a chapter on COVID-19 and new versions of the chapters on taxation, financial regulation and terrorism. We will also elaborate in more detail on how a world parliament can be designed. The plan is to publish it in April 2024.

Learn more about DWB through their website or LinkedIn page, and follow @democracywb and @AndreasBummel on X (formerly Twitter).


This interview was conducted as part of the ENSURED Horizon research project funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.



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