Subcommittee on the United Nations considers the question of a UN Parliamentary Assembly

Secretariat, 14. June 2013

MPs talk with the head of the international Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly

Set up by the Foreign Affairs Commission of the German Bundestag, the Subcommittee on the United Nations, International Organizations and Globalization conducted a conversation on Wednesday in Berlin about "ways to strengthen democratic structures at the United Nations." The discussion revolved mainly around the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN, a recommendation that was made by the chair of the Committee for a Democratic UN, Andreas Bummel, who was invited to attend the meeting as an expert.

Heike Hänsel, Andreas Bummel, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul and Jürgen Klimke (from the left) before the meeting
Image: KDUN

According to Mr. Bummel, the fundamental democratic deficit of the United Nations lies in the fact that only the governments of the member states are represented in the bodies of the world organization. The fact that in the existing bodies each member state has one vote alike without any consideration of population size would lead to "imbalance" and was "problematic." In contrast, a parliamentary assembly could provide for compensation as the number of seats of its elected representatives could "approximately" be distributed according to population size. The UN would require "parliamentary participation and control."

The expert of the bipartisan committee, who is also secretary-general of the international Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, pointed out that the German Bundestag in 2005 had adopted a resolution to the effect that it supports the development of the existing Inter-Parliamentary Union IPU, established in 1889, into a parliamentary assembly of the United Nations. He criticized that in clear contrast to this decision, the German parliament's president, Mr. Norbert Lammert, was key in organizing opposition against reform efforts in this direction at the Third World Conference of Speakers of Parliament hosted by the IPU in 2010. "In the eight years since the resolution was passed, there was no noteworthy development in this regard at the IPU," Mr. Bummel noted. Not least for this reason the committee and the international campaign suggested the complementary option that a UN Parliamentary Assembly is established independently of the IPU as a whole new body.

Discussion with parliamentarians

The chair of the subcommittee, Heike Hänsel, posed the practical question of how a global parliamentary assembly could remain functional, from the perspective of size, without losing its democratic representativeness. She also pointed out that many important political issues would not be dealt with by the United Nations but rather by other organizations and informal fora such as the G20 meetings. A UN Parliamentary Assembly thus would have little effect. Rather, the UN as such should be strengthened, Mrs. Hänsel noted.

Parliamentarian and former German Minister for International Development Cooperation Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul expressed support for the proposal of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations. At the same time, she stressed that according to the existing policy established eight years ago, the Bundestag would prefer a corresponding reform of the IPU over the establishment of a new body. The subject needed to be re-evaluated and promoted more strongly within the IPU and the Bundestag, Mrs. Wieczorek-Zeul said.

Deputy Jürgen Klimke noted that a global parliamentary assembly would ultimately mean to have direct elections. However, this was hardly viable in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the acceptance of such a body by the population at large might be an issue, he said. The European Parliament already would often be perceived as being too far away from the citizens. However, Mr. Klimke concluded, more transparency and citizen participation in the United Nations could initially be achieved through the delegation of parliamentarians of the member states to an appropriate UN body. As an example for this he mentioned the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

In the discussion, Mr. Bummel pointed out that it is now a consensus in the international Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly that the assembly should not be narrowly limited to the issues raised at the UN General Assembly and that its competences ultimately should extend further, for instance to the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization. Mr. Bummel expressed amazement about the fact that the German Bundestag apparently is not participating in the consultations of the speakers of parliament of the G20 countries that were initiated by the Canadian Senate in 2010.

Other topics that were covered at the meeting included the reform of the UN Security Council and in particular the question of the veto power of the five permanent members of the Council.

Top image: The Reichstag building in Berlin. Source: Flickr (maxie-online), CC BY-NC-SA 2.0