Step By Step: Andreas Bummel on the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly

Posted: 15 September 2015

Bummel head shotThe Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (CUNPA) has gained remarkable support since its launch in 2007. It has been formally endorsed by more than 750 sitting parliamentarians, along with hundreds of former ones and nearly 400 nongovernmental organizations. The campaign, which seeks to create a consultative UN second chamber which could gradually evolve into a strongly empowered parliamentary body alongside the General Assembly, has staged five international conferences, most recently in 2013 at the European Parliament in Brussels. In this interview, WGRN’s Luis Cabrera speaks with Andreas Bummel, head of the Campaign’s Berlin-based secretariat.


What would you say are the strongest reasons to advocate the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly?

I would say that the strongest reason to support the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly is the expectation that the assembly would be a door opener for a comprehensive reform of the UN and the international system. The goal would not only be to make the system more democratic but also to make it more effective. These are two sides of the same coin. The system can only be strengthened in a significant way if its democratic legitimacy is increased at the same time. It is by now commonly accepted that global governance isn’t delivering the required results quickly enough. This concerns a plethora of issues, for example climate change mitigation, nuclear disarmament, or global inequality. In a nutshell one could say that the management of global public goods and the implementation of global policy isn’t working under the present circumstances. One of the root causes is the fact that it is national interests that govern the international system. The UN and most institutions of global governance are by definition intergovernmental. But global policy and decision-making can no longer be in the purview of national governments alone. Their perspective is too narrow. The common denominator of national interests as it is negotiated in intergovernmental fora is not equivalent to the common interest of humanity as a whole. For the first time in human history, a UN Parliamentary Assembly would be a body called upon to represent the world’s citizens as such and to determine their common interest from a planetary perspective. The assembly would also be a first pragmatic step into the direction of a democratic global legislative system.


GRAPHIC: Campaign Supporters by Country


The Campaign for a UNPA follows some earlier efforts, notably the International Network for a UN Second Assembly (INFUSA, 1988-95), which joined with other organizations in 1989 under the umbrella Campaign for a Democratic United Nations (CAMDUN). That group staged major conferences in New York, Vienna and San Francisco, and at its height comprised a coalition of more than 100 national and international non-governmental organizations, though it gradually became inactive. What do you see as the key differences between your Campaign and the earlier efforts, or should CUNPA be viewed as something of a revival of the effort?

Yes, sure. The Campaign for a UNPA stands in the tradition of these and other earlier initiatives. The proposal for a UN Parliamentary Assembly isn’t new and the underlying vision of a democratically elected world parliament was first expressed during the French Revolution in the 18th century. When the campaign was launched in 2007, the idea was to bring together the scattered efforts for a UNPA around the world behind a common policy and strategy. This was largely successful. INFUSA and CAMDUN were carried out before my time. As far as I can tell, the key difference may be that today’s campaign is clearly focused on the establishment of a parliamentary assembly. By contrast, INFUSA’s second chamber proposal was more open and also included the option that NGOs would elect delegates. In practical terms, another difference may be that INFUSA was an NGO initiative while the UNPA campaign in addition also strongly builds on the political support by members of parliament. The CAMDUN conferences in turn dealt with a wide range of proposals for democratizing the UN, not only better representation of the peoples.


How are Campaign decisions made about strategic aims, and what have been your primary strategies to try to generate support for the campaign? Of those, which have been the most successful (and what do you see as your biggest milestones to date)?

The campaign’s strategy and policy are discussed at the international meetings on a UNPA. To date, we’ve organized five such meetings. The most recent one was held two years ago, in 2013, in the European Parliament in Brussels. It was hosted by members of the four largest groups in the parliament and adopted a final declaration. Our primary strategy to generate political support for the campaign is to promote individual and institutional possibleunpalogoendorsements of the international appeal for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. We work with the signatories to translate this into political leverage at different levels. As I said, our main target groups so far are members of parliament, especially such who are members of one or more of the numerous international parliamentary institutions that already exist. In the course of the campaign so far we managed to get the support from more than 1,400 members of parliament, 750 of which are still in office today.

The key goal of the campaign is to mobilize government support for the creation of a UNPA. The idea is that parliamentarians can help to achieve support by parliaments which in turn will help to convince governments to embrace the project. In addition to this, we advocate the proposal within civil society in order to gain support from NGOs as well. To reach the public, the campaign employs a variety of strategies, including the use of support by well-known and distinguished personalities and supportive grass-roots initiatives. One such effort is the Global Week of Action for a World Parliament that was celebrated for the first time in 2013.

I would say that the biggest milestones to date consist in the support achieved by the European Parliament, the Pan-African Parliament, and the Latin-American Parliament. More recently, important achievements are the support expressed by the UN’s own independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order and the recommendation included in the report of the Commission on Global Justice, Security, and Governance that a UN Parliamentary Network should be established.


Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss have offered several versions of an argument for a world parliament which would begin with a treaty among perhaps 20-30 current liberal democracies. Would the CUNPA support such an effort? Why or why not?

The campaign’s focus is the establishment of a UNPA. By definition, this is a UN body. Whether it is established with a treaty or by a decision of the UN General Assembly can be considered secondary as long as it is assured that this body is an integral part of the UN system and in consequence open to the participation of all UN member states. The campaign does not support the creation of an international parliamentary body that has no formal tie to the UN. The assembly is supposed to be vested with rights of information, participation, and oversight vis-à-vis the UN and the organizations of the UN system and it is hard to imagine how this could happen otherwise. In addition, only a universal body can legitimately claim to represent the voice of humanity. One of the issues that the proposal of Falk and Strauss tried to solve was that not all UN member states can be considered democratic. What they suggested, in effect, is a parliament of democracies that over time would gain universal membership as countries democratize and join. This in itself raises a lot of issues and reminds of the proposal for a league of democracies. I doubt that such a body would be able to exercise much influence, especially during its initial phase. Eventually it would have to be connected to the system of international institutions as well. The UNPA proposal is more pragmatic and aims at an immediate impact on the existing system of global governance. It should always be noted that despite their own particular proposals both, Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss, are also on record as supporters of the campaign for a UNPA. Andy Strauss is a senior advisor to the campaign and has contributed a lot.


The Inter-Parliamentary Union, which dates to the 1880s and has more than 150 state members (though no longer the United States), has worked more closely with the United Nations in recent years and has begun claiming that it adds a ‘parliamentary dimension’ to global politics. Is that the IPU’s title to claim? What would you see as an ideal working relationship between the IPU and a CUNPA? What are the current challenges to cooperation between the two organizations?

For more than 100 years there’s been a debate within the IPU whether they should support the establishment of a world parliament. It would seem like the IPU would be a natural protagonist of this idea. In principle, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the IPU IPU Logocould be transformed into a relevant body that is integrated into UN decision-making and the system of global governance at large. Eventually, this could become a world parliament. Then there are good reasons that the IPU as an umbrella organization of national parliaments should remain in place as is. The IPU has always insisted on the central role of national parliaments in what they call the parliamentary dimension of the UN. The IPU’s primary goal in this regard is to strengthen national parliaments in their oversight function at the national level if it comes to matters of an international nature. Now the IPU has maneuvered itself into a difficult position. It’s the prevailing view that the IPU itself should not be developed into a world parliament. But the IPU also opposes alternative routes like the establishment of a UNPA. This is difficult because the way forward can only be one of these two options and the IPU currently rejects both. The fact is that the IPU does not have any capacity to exercise oversight vis-à-vis the UN, let alone to influence its agenda in any meaningful way, and it also does not seem to strive for this. The IPU-UN cooperation is a good thing in many respects but in this regard it does not yield much, if anything. For governments that want to avoid the issue of parliamentary representation at the UN this is a very convenient situation because they can always hide behind the IPU-UN arrangement. With regard to global democratization and the creation of a UNPA, the IPU currently is a reactionary force. Many parliamentarians, including those with extensive IPU experience, are not satisfied with this situation and support the campaign for a UNPA. We have always stressed that a UNPA and the IPU would be complementary bodies with different functions. At the IPU, this has not yet been understood. Ideally, the IPU would overcome its resistance to a UNPA and assume a leading role in promoting its creation as a new UN body.


If it will be possible to create a UN Parliamentary Assembly, how would you see that happening, in terms of most likely path and possible timeline? What needs to happen, in other words, to make a UNPA happen?

The establishment of a UNPA will most likely be the result of a complex interplay of different factors at the right moment. The rise of a planetary worldview in the world population caused by the ever increasing interconnectedness of humanity and the increasing importance of post-materialistic values such as emancipation in the course of global modernization and the development of a global middle class are important underlying trends. Another important long-term trend that helps to lay the ground is the ongoing third wave of democratization. Today, two thirds of humanity live in democratic countries. For 2014, Freedom House has counted 122 electoral democracies, the highest number ever. Sooner or later it will be realized that as more and more matters are being decided at the international level, it is necessary to pursue global democratization as well.

I think that four aspects will have to collude to achieve a breakthrough: First, there needs W Parlt Nowto be sustained political advocacy as it is carried out by the UNPA campaign. The support among politicians, experts, NGOs, activists, celebrities, and others grows step by step. Finally, a group of governments will endorse the proposal. It will be mentioned in a UN resolution. Maybe a study will be commissioned, for example a study by the International Law Commission or by the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council. The next step could then be a UN-led preparatory process that deliberates on the statutes of a UNPA and finally adopts them. A majority decision of the General Assembly is a possibility for this to happen. In many cases, governments will probably only decide to embrace the proposal if they feel that there is considerable popular support. An international poll carried out in 18 countries several years ago showed that on average 63 percent of respondents endorsed the notion of a directly elected UN parliament with powers equal to the UN General Assembly. In all countries, the number of supporters was significantly bigger than those who opposed the proposal. Such polls, however, will not be sufficient.

The second aspect is that public support will have to get visible through political action. There could be mass petitions addressed to governments and political leaders, for example. The cause of global democratization and a world parliament could be taken up by social movements and could play a central role in mass protests and demonstrations around the world. This is not far-fetched. At the protests in Seattle in 1999 one of the slogans used was “No globalization without representation.”

The third aspect then is that the proposal will be taken up by enlightened and progressive elements of the global elite. They will provide critical support to the campaign and facilitate serious initiatives by governments. Finally, for all this to develop the momentum necessary to achieve a historic breakthrough, there might have to be a trigger event. This could be another apex of the global financial crisis or the failure of the UN climate negotiations. It’s impossible to know beforehand.

In the meantime, the UNPA campaign will keep working on the other fronts. There’s no official timeline. Still, we hope that within the next five years major milestones can be achieved so that the UN can take a decision on the establishment of a UNPA at its 75th anniversary in 2020. The Commission on Global Justice, Security, and Governance envisions that there could be a diplomatic process that deliberates on the reform of global institutions that could culminate in a world conference in 2020. This is a very good approach. Negotiations on a UNPA would have to clash royale be included in such an agenda.


What are the biggest challenges the Campaign faces?

There are numerous challenges at different levels. We need to achieve the support by a critical mass of governments. To date, governments are still very reluctant. Most haven’t even dealt with the proposal in any serious manner. We need to find ways to convince them of the merits of a UNPA. This is not a matter that is necessarily decided by the best arguments. It’s a political struggle. Considerable public support will have to be generated for this to be successful. NGOs, activists, and the public at large will have to be educated about the transformative potential of a UNPA. The assembly could help to achieve a leap forward in global integration. It could be decisive to build the necessary pressure to achieve an effective climate policy, to strengthen the global human rights regime or to restrict the use of the veto in the Security Council. At a practical level, the campaign has been operating on a shoestring budget. This is a key impediment. Of course, this is not unique to the UNPA campaign. All organizations and movement that strive for global systemic change deal with the same problem. The logistical and political issues are connected. I believe that once a number of credible governments decides to endorse the proposal, the campaign will also be able to get more financial support from institutional donors.