Fernando Iglesias: Democratic supranational institutions are needed to avoid a global cataclysm » Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly

Fernando Iglesias: Democratic supranational institutions are needed to avoid a global cataclysm

Brian Coughlan, 14. January 2013
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Fernando Iglesias

Last week I spoke to Fernando Iglesias, a writer and a member of the Argentinan Parliament from 2007 to 2011, who was recently elected as chairman of the the council of the World Federalist Movement. His books include "La modernidad global", an analysis of the "complex dynamics of globalization" published in 2011. Fernando is also a professor at the Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires and during his term in the Argentinian Parliament, he was also Co-Chair for the Global South of the Parliamentary Advisory Group of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly.

We talked about world federalism, regional integration, global challenges, the role of the nation-state, the meaning of global democracy, global change and what the future might look like. The discussion was supposed to last five minutes but instead we ended up talking for over twenty!

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Audio transcript of the interview 

Today I'm speaking to Fernando Iglesias, a former Member of the Argentinan Parliament and current chair of the World Federalist Movement. Welcome to the UNPA Audio blog!

Hi Brian, nice to hear you.

We've been trying to get a hold of each other for a while. We finally managed to get together, that is excellent. In July you were elected as the chair of the council of the World Federalist Movement. For our listeners, could you say in a few words what the World Federalist Movement is about?

I was elected chair of the council of the World Federalist Movement and this is a big responsibility as it is the first time someone from the South has been elected, this is a sign of the times.

The World Federalist Movement is a very important movement that tries to put on the table the question of the political organization of our global world, meaning the idea of federalism which was thought of as being  a way of organizing national states. It is also a great idea to be applied to the global world, meaning we should have federalism at the regional level, maybe the European Union is the best example - but we need also to have federalist structures at the global level. Then we need to reform the United Nations, create new agencies and establish the rule of law at the global level. The basic contribution of the World Federalist Movement is the existence of political union inside the European Union - which was originally only an economic project; meaning the European Parliament for example, and also the campaign for the establishment of an International Criminal Court was an initiative of the World Federalist Movement at the beginnings of the 1990s...

...can I stop you there very briefly? The World Federalist Movement has important programs on the International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect. So what do you think is the next important milestone in the world federalist strategy - from that point of view - from the International Criminal Court, Responsibility to Protect-point-of-view?

I think we should move towards two other goals, in addition to the development of the International Criminal Court and Responsibility to Protect - these two goals are, in my opinion, the campaign for regional integration, meaning defending and promoting European regional integration now, but also using this model for different regions of the world which in different ways need something similar; need more political union; need more agreement on the common interests of their citizens...

...sorry, Fernando. So the European Union is a good example of the way things are going? Which other regions do you think could go the same way or in the same direction?

I think that there are many aspects of European integration that should be extended to other regions. Not the general model which can change according to the local situation. When I say European integration I mean a model of political integration with supra-national institutions, a supra-national parliament, a supra-national court of justice; meaning also the economic development but also the welfare state. It's very important to defend the European welfare state and not just to defend it inside Europe but to promote this kind of welfare state all over the world.

This year you initiated a manifesto for global democracy that was signed by a large number of intellectuals from around the world, and you are also working on regional integration and a UN Parliamentary Assembly. So you've talked a bit about regional integration. Now how do you connect that to the UN Parliamentary Assembly? What does that look like?

A basic fact of the last 20 years was the globalization of the economy and finances without the globalization of politics; particularly democratic institutions. So we are living in an imbalanced world in which finances and economy are very, very strong and politics is not. So we need to regulate the global market and we need to make technological improvements, this benefits all human beings all over the world and that is why we need - in one way - to build this kind of supra-national institutions, we need to democratize globalization. Meaning building democratic institutions above the national and state level, meaning the regional and global levels; that's why we need a regional integration on the one hand and a UN Parliamentary Assembly on the other hand.

So just to clarify: basically what you're saying is that on the one hand we have an integrated unified or nearly unified global economy but on the other hand we have no political accountability and that is the big imbalance...

...this is one of the problems; and the crisis of 2008  - which is still continuing - shows that you cannot manage a global economy through international agencies; you need global agencies and you need these global agencies to be democratic, like the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. These are the kinds of agencies that should be created inside the United Nations. We need these kinds of agencies not only for economic reasons but also for ecological reasons; we need also to stop nuclear proliferation; and we need to make decisions about a lot of global crises and global trouble we are facing now; like criminality; trafficing of drugs and people. That's why we need to build these kinds of global institutionsm, just as we built national institutions some centuries ago.

And yet the manifesto you initiated starts off with a statement that politics is standing still and resists the trend of globalization and it seemed, perhaps 15 years ago, that the nation-state was on its way out, that the nation-state was doomed, but now global politics has become very nation-state centric again. How do we explain this? How can a UN Parliamentary Assembly help us overcome this national-centric global governance model?

The first thing we need is an explanation. Why are we coming back to the past? I think that the world is facing now a kind of challenge; the kind of challenges that Europe faced at the beginning of the past century. When the international crises and global crises started at the beginning of the 20th century, the first reactions were to be nationalistic: "our country," "our family," needs to be kept safe from international affects. The problem is: if you continue this way you're going to face the same kind of scenario of the European crisis during the first part of the past century when everybody was focused on their own country.

Then you have protectionism, you have nationalism, then you have crazy men like Hitler and Mussolini starting to develop big armies and you need to do the same; and you know, we know where all these forces go. So we need to stop that and apply a different logic in which you keep national states - but you integrate national states and national interests into a more complex order which is global. Which is regional on the one hand, but which is global - and this is the challenge of the 21st century. Because, if we don't find the way of managing nuclear proliferation, global warming, financial crises, in a common way - in a participative and democratic way, we're going to have the same kind of craziness.

Fernando, I have one last question for you. You've touched on this idea of a kind of a hierarchical structure. The nation-state at the bottom, regional institutions in the middle, and the UN Parliamentary Assembly on top. Is that kind of what you're looking at? Is that an accurate portrayal of the structures you envisage?

Well, I think there are so many processes going on. For instance the G20. Ten years ago, the discussion was if global institutions were meant to be! But now the real question is: these institutions which already exist - meaning the World Trade Organization, G20, and the United Nations Security Council etc. - the question is if these organizations are going to be democratic or not; and this is a repetition of the history of the world. Because national powers were not democratic at the beginning they existed - and then they became democratic through the work of organizations, citizens etc. 

So we need to start something similar. We need to think about developing democratic agencies. For sure the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly would be perhaps the most emblematic one; but we also need regional parliaments; and a real court of justice; and we need also the International Criminal Court to be more balanced and be strengthened in order to judge criminals, crimes against humanity - like the war in Iraq, for instance. So there are so many ways.

What is very clear now is that there is a general dissatisfaction about the way politics exists at the global level and we need new answers, so, of course, a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly - by the way, I was the chair of the parliamentary advisory group of the South for many years and work together with the people who are developing this amazing initiative. We need to push on with the participation of people, the participation of citizens of the world , and this kind of initiative is crucial in order to put this on the agenda.

The American Revolution, the French Revolution these were all - even to some degree I suppose the Russian Revolution in 1917 - these were all critical pivotal points. What is the equivalent breakthrough moment for global democracy? Is there some kind of critical mass? Is there some key pivotal moment? Has it maybe already happened? What would such a breakthrough look like?

Well, firstly, I wouldn't put together the Russian Revolution with the French and American Revolutions. Focusing on these two last ones, the French Revolution and the American Revolution appeared in a moment of history that was very clear. It was a change from a civilization which was based on agriculture and had a particular way of political structure, meaning monarchy and the Pope etc., very hierarchical powers. Then the techno-economic environment changes from agriculture to the industrial revolution and then, of course, the old structures were not able to cope with the challenges of the future, so I think that the French and American revolutions were a way of adjusting the political system to the new conditions that were created by industrialisation and now we are facing exactly the same thing; because we are changing from the industrial society to a new global society of knowledge, information, Internet, mass media, communication, innovation. So the old structure of industrialism - meaning basically national states and secondarily international organisations - are not able to cope with the challenge of the future. If we're not able to change, and change in a fast way, we are going to face a very critical situation and I have to say that at the moment the initiatives are all very valuable but are still very far away from the objectives we need to achieve.

It sounds like you're saying the breakthrough moment has already occurred, the Internet, social media and the ability for many millions of people to contact each other and exchange ideas; that information revolution is already underway and that to some degree is what is pushing the agenda forward.

Yes, yes, of course, of course! I mean nobody knew that the Soviet Union was going to fail till the moment it failed and these kinds of ongoing processes - you are building a critical mass and you don't know that something is really happening until it happens - like in the Arab Revolutions, the Arab Spring, whatever.

Anyway, I think the real question now, for me, is: are we going to be able to develop these kinds of new structures as fast as the techno-economic situation changes the world? Because we are clearly  - and this is another assumption of the global democracy manifesto about the delay in politics - we're facing an amazing change in the techno-economic aspect of life but the change in politics is very slow in comparison. So the problem is: we're in a similar situation to which Europeans were a century ago and could face a big catastrophe before we arrive at the correct conclusions.

We need real input from civil society, from the citizens, from the political system in order to change the order and build new institutions, so this is the real question: whether we are going to arrive at these new democratic global structures before a big crisis occurs or after? Millions of lives, maybe the future of humanity, is at stake.

So we can do this the hard way or we can do it the easy way. The easy way is to recognize our shared interdependence and to act on it to create relevant institutions. The hard way is to have some kind of global war or some kind of global ecological collapse and emerge out of that and do the same thing anyway?

Yes, this is the point of history in which I think we are... I could be wrong...

...no, I agree. I think you're right. We're very much on the same page...

...in any case, if we're going to face a disaster, the point is to compare the end of the First World War and the end of the Second World War. At the end of the First World War, the political decision was to keep the politics and institutional organization of politics at the national level and the results of such a wrong decision was the Second World War.

In the meanwhile there were many people - Altiero Spinneli, Lionel Robbins - who were working hard keeping the mind on the need of creating some kind of federal union of Europe and to overcome the national paradigm. At the end of the Second World War, we have a catastrophe which was even worse than the first but the right idea was inside the minds of many politicians - Schumann, Jean Monnet - and the united Europe was built and the result was - even if there are many things to say, Europe is in crisis etc. - Europe has had a long period of peace and social progress and economic development for sixty years. So the problem now at the global level is this: at least if we're going to face a global crisis, we need to develop the right ideas for changing the world before or after the crisis.

Absolutely, let's hope we go the easy way! We do it the easy way so we don't have to go through the birth canal of some kind of violent conflagration or ecological collapse or something before we realize that we really all have to pull together.

Fernando, thank you for chatting to me, I appreciate you taking my call.