Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is Global Democracy Possible?

Yesterday I participated in a lecture and debate with Jan Aart Scholte, from Building Global Democracy, organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. It was an interesting event and there was a lot of discussion afterwards. One of these "talks" that is so valuable for development of new ideas and perspective. Mr Scholte likened the global governance structure as a donut, with a large number of actors and nothing in the middle. Having said that he also didn't call for some global government to be put there in the middle. He also made a point of that business are not at all anti-regulation, on contrary they love regulations as long as they are made in their interest. I thought about the WTO as a perfect such example. The whole reasons to set up the WTO is to make rules that are good for business.

The most interesting aspect from my perspective is what other forms and institutions we can develop for governance than the (nation) state. Some people have a tendency to overplay the role of the nation state. They are called sovereigns but hardly ever are they sovereign. There are also on the national level a lot of other institutions that are competing with it for power. First we have the market, see my posting below. I don't think anybody disputes the strength of "the market" as an institution. But we have many more. In Sweden our municipalities have a certain degree of self-rule, i.e. the national government can't boss them around. Then we have a myriad of cooperatives or other ways that people associate to "govern" things that are important for them, e.g. a church, a landscape, water pipes or housing. Of course, in theory the nation state could forbid all these things, but in doing so it would both loose legitimacy and the foundation for its own existence. In addition nothing would work properly if all initiatives outside the state are oppressed. That is why dictatorships are not only bad from a democracy perspective, they are also bad for business and development.

Today, also national governments are subject to international regulations and standards that they have to obey. Many of them are actually set by non governmental organisations. That is in particular the case for standards. They are by and large developed outside governmental structures. But it also holds true for technology in general and many business arrangements.

Realising that the nation state is only one of many forms for governance and seeing the existing reality in global governance, i.e. a whole pot of intergovernmental organisation, private sector organisations, business associatons, civil society, international courts etc., it becomes clear to me that a discussion about global governance can't look only, or not even mainly into the WTO and the UN. They surely have their role, and there is a lot to be done to make them work better. The UN system has increasingly engaged civil society, and I have personally participated in various UN processed and events (such as the Johannesburg summit 2002) as a civil society representative. The WTO falls even short of that. Already national governments are increasingly loosing legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens and intergovernmental organisation certainly have even bigger problems with legitimacy. e.g. the EU has a major legitimacy problems towards the citizens of the EU member states. This is one reason, but there are many more, for why I believe intergovernmental organisations will not be the most interesting actors for global governance in the future (I now think in decades and not in years). I believe we can see more interesting things for governance and democracy develop outside of those inter-governmental organisations, in the same was as we see more interesting innovation in governance outside the nation state.

1 comment:

  1. Why democracy? Individual freedom and or capitalist world!. Look at the western social ills and capitalist evils because of too much individual freedom and capitalist hegemony respectively. We only need a world which is harmonious and caring for each other irrespective of democratic or communist.