Democracy Without Borders

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First conference on supranational democracy concluded in Lecce

The first ‘Supranational Democracy Dialogue’ conference in Lecce, Italy, was successfully held in April this year. It proved to be a unique opportunity to discuss major challenges currently facing humanity with about thirty speakers having the opportunity to explain their proposals for an in-depth reform of global governance (see the full program here). The event had an interdisciplinary approach as radical change at the global level cannot merely be viewed from a juridical or political perspective. Above all, an anthropological and philosophical view is needed as well.

The concept of evolution plays an important role. Politics is deeply affected by the way people think and perceive the world. Globalization is now a reality, with societies becoming increasingly interconnected. Virtual communities are crossing national borders. Economic, environmental and migration issues are just some examples of the world’s growing complexity.

Global problems as a catalyst for paradigm change

According to Daniel Goldman, Gabriella Capone and Diana McKeage, individual states have been unable to address global issues and, faced with this failure, uncertainty has spread. Citizens have lost their confidence in institutions as well as their self-awareness. However, global problems could also catalyse a new way to consider their place in the world. New systems of cooperation are needed which could bypass impotent national mechanisms.

As Myra Jackson and Nick Duffel underlined in their presentations, rediscovering the links which bind us with nature and other living beings is fundamental. Accepting these interconnections does not mean denying individual or collective identities. On the contrary, identities would expand and embrace a new harmony with everything. Having rediscovered their role in the world, citizens could play a much more important role in defining and implementing political choices. This could redefine the traditionally centralising dynamic of nation-states to one that strengthens the participation of their citizens in democratic processes.

The need for supranational governance

Being representatives of specialised interests, nation-states are more often an obstacle rather than a means to solving transnational problems. The fight against climate change and the recent migratory crisis are just the tip of the iceberg. Even if they were willing, individual states would not be able to address global challenges. Rather, supranational solutions to these problems are required as Izabela and Peter Schiffauer argued in the context of migration and asylum policy. Only a common approach would allow to implement human rights protection, sustainability and responsibility at a supranational level.

Nonetheless, such an important achievement would require a deep revision of the traditional decision-making processes. It was pointed out that civil society should be given a greater role in defining global policies. States should forgo their role of supremacy, giving their citizens the power to define the most relevant priorities; a growing body of evidence indicates that citizens are ready for this. As we hear about the increasing number of environmental and human rights associations and the progressive involvement of companies and international organisations in promoting more sustainable trends of life and consumption, we can permit an optimistic view for the future. A New Earth Renaissance might be coming.

Exploring global democracy

Many contributors endorsed democratic supranational governance of the most pressing issues and suggested democratising international institutions. As Chris Hamer argued, regional organisations such as NATO and the OECD could be totally reformed, with their mandates rewritten to go beyond security and sectorial cooperation. They could become a centre of aggregation and promotion of democracy across the Nations, gathering countries beyond Europe and the Atlantic. Finally, the UN Charter could be rewritten, and its bodies could be elevated to constitutional and democratic statuses, transforming the UN General Assembly into a global and democratic parliament.

Such momentous change cannot be immediate; the world is still divided between democratic and non-democratic countries. However, historical achievements are rarely sudden and immediate phenomena. Instead, they are the result of slow and “small steps”. Ongoing dialogue and cooperation between states and citizens are necessary to attain fair and equitable federalism among people in the world. In his presentation, John Bunzl argued in favor of global agreements between nation-states.

A unique hybrid

What made this conference a unique hybrid of an academic conference and an activists’ congress was the atmosphere of enthusiasm and commitment which made the adoption of a final manifesto possible which summarised the minimum common denominator among the different views and suggestions expressed – and the common ground to start building an open platform.

A number of partnerships may materialize in the near future, with further initiatives already planned, including one or more publications, a documentary film and further meetings in Lecce to continue, enlarge and enrich the dialogue.

The conference was held at the University of Salento in Lecce. Sponsorship was received by the Workable World Trust and Democracy Without Borders, among others.

Angelo Ardito
Susanna Cafaro
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