Ensuring the accountability and legitimacy of global governance » Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly

Ensuring the accountability and legitimacy of global governance

Elmar Brok, 24. October 2013

As global interdependence and international cooperation grow stronger, the requirements to achieve public acceptance and trust in global governance increase, argues Elmar Brok, the chairman of the European Parliament's Commission on Foreign Affairs in this piece. A UN Parliamentary Assembly, he writes, would be a means to allow for greater public participation in the UN and to exercise global parliamentary oversight over UN bodies.

Elmar Brok (image: EP)

Elmar Brok (image: EP)

The international system developed after World War II has been based on intergovernmental cooperation, in which executives take the lead and act on behalf of their states. In the post-Cold War era, however, the growth of economic interdependence, the proliferation of transnational actors and other stakeholders, including parliaments, the spread of technology, and increasing numbers of global issues generate a strong need for more and wider international cooperation.

At the same time, parliamentary democracy in general has spread world-wide. In 2003, some 121 electoral democracies have been counted by Freedom House, compared to only 66 in 1987 and 30 in 1975. The acceptance of parliamentarism as a means of legitimizing decisions has grown. Nowadays, complex initiatives for intergovernmental cooperation need stronger-than-ever parliamentary backing in order to achieve public acceptance and trust.

We must insist on behalf of our citizens that international organizations be open to public scrutiny instead of mysterious, secret diplomacy.

We must insist on behalf of our citizens that international organizations be open to public scrutiny instead of mysterious, secret diplomacy. The European Parliament provides an example to the world of how a multi-nation parliament can evolve and function for the benefit of its citizens.

In the process of reforming global governance and making it more accountable and legitimate, we remain committed to the reform of the UN system in order to enhance the Organization's representativity, transparency and effectiveness. Interaction on global issues between governments and parliaments has to be promoted and global governance strengthened. Therefore, I support the establishment of a UN Parliamentary Assembly within the UN system to allow for greater public participation in the activities of the UN, acknowledging that a UNPA would be complementary to existing bodies, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

A UNPA, as a consultative body within the United Nations system and as an institutional voice of the citizens, would allow world civil society to be directly associated in the global decision-making process. It would give citizen representatives, not only states, a direct and influential role in global policy and would be an additional means to integrate parliamentarians A UN Parliamentary Assembly would allow world civil society to be directly associated in the global decision-making process more effectively into the shaping of globalization. By holding hearings, providing a forum for discussions, and adopting resolutions, the UNPA could exercise global parliamentary oversight over other UN bodies. Parliamentarians would be free to ask questions, raise sensitive issues, and table proposals for consideration by the Security Council, the General Assembly, and other UN bodies.

Nevertheless, we also have to carefully listen to the opponents of such an initiative, which raise valid questions regarding, among others, funding, voter turnout, and the fact that many UN member nations are undemocratic and not electoral democracies, which could create legitimacy concerns for a UNPA – and such views are widely echoed in the European Parliament as well.

Until an UNPA is created, parliaments - including the European Parliament - should exercise oversight of global decisions through scrutinizing their executives, in our case the European Commission and the European External Action Service, in the making of global decisions with regional and local impact - this is the duty of the people's representatives serving their citizens in the international arena.

The author is chairman of the European Parliament's Commission on Foreign Affairs. This article is based on a statement delivered at the opening of the 5th International Meeting on a UN Parliamentary Assembly on 16 October 2013 in Brussels