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For a Parliament of the Peoples of the World

Gustavo Marín
Future of the Planet Program
Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation, Paris

[Statement to the Parliamentarians and Local Elected Officials round table at the Dialogues for the Earth conference organized by the International Green Cross and the Earth Council in Lyons (France) from February 21 to 23, 2002.]

One of the main proposals resulting form the World Citizens Assembly held in Lille (France) in December 2001 was to launch the idea of preparing a Parliament of the Peoples of the World.

The proposal had already been brewing within the different workshops of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World for several years. In particular, the Thematic Workshops that had been dealing with issues related to global governance and the renewal of political systems had underscored the need to recast the systems of governance on a world scale.

It is most significant that during the World Citizens Assembly this idea was put forward by the participants of the North America Group. Rob Wheeler, Coordinator of the Millennium Peoples Assembly based in New York, announced this proposal when he presented the results of Group's work. It is also most significant that Siddhartha, who is based in Bangalore (India) and coordinates the Alliance in the Asia Pacific region, took up the idea in his closing speech at the Assembly.

This claim for a new representative body of citizens on a world scale had already emerged at the end of World War II, promoted by the founders of various so-called "world" movements, such as Les Citoyens du Monde. Such groups advocated the establishment of a world government that could prevail over geographic and national borders to lead the fates that had been so deeply injured by the wars. The idea of a world government, however, was not only very controversial, it was also hardly applicable in the political framework of the Cold War, which was being waged by the major powers and basically froze the movement. Now, in the age of globalization, a Parliament of the Peoples of the World has become an obvious necessity. Political leaders and citizens alike are feeling the need to build a new body that will have the authority to regulate the various proposals for living in peace in a world of diversity.

The perspective of preparing a Parliament of the Peoples of the World was sketched out throughout the eighties and in the early nineties. The conferences organized by the United Nations, followed simultaneously by NGO meetings, announced the emergence of a new civil society on a world scale. New, because it was shedding former ideological models and old methods of political and social organization and was beginning to break new ground to face capitalist globalization. Seeking new paradigms, new gender relations, new relationships between generations, an appreciation of cross-culturalism and diversity, claims to new human rights, and a new relationship to the Earth and to the Universe were among the many elements that constituted the fertile land for this new, increasingly pluricultural world civil society.

This emergence happened at a time when we were witnessing major changes: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked a historical turning point, with capitalist globalization becoming the dominant, non-contested system ... there were even those who asserted that the "end of history" had come. Citizens were left facing a capitalism that was no longer opposed by any ideological or economic adversary and the ineluctable disintegration of the Soviet society and its satellites. The economy, society, and culture were to be deeply altered by a new globalization of the market—finance and trade—a rampant information society, and an increasingly powerful capitalistic modernization.

In this new and difficult context, however, the world's civil society beat a different path. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre (Brazil) represented a new perspective for assembling this world civil society, now autonomous from United Nations agencies. The Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World, initiated in 1994, also constitutes an unprecedented and pioneering approach to the new forms of building such citizenship on a world scale that are taking shape at the threshold of this new century. Other international alliances and networks have developed along similar lines, about one hundred of which are present in the International Council of the World Social Forum.

Continuation of the World Social Forums is a promising perspective. The second one just took place, with greater attendance than the first. The next one will be held in January 2003 again in Porto Alegre. It will be preceded by many continental and thematic forums. In January 2004, it is planned to take place in India and in 2005 in an African country. This yearly event has become the indispensable meeting to assemble the various initiatives fighting for a citizens' globalization that will be capable of countering the hegemony of the globalization conducted by the capitalist powers, and in particular by the most conservative forces of the North American political system.

The continuation of World Social Forums or other international gatherings, however, needs to be polarized by the preparation of a Parliament of the Peoples of the World. Without the perspective of holding this Parliament in the medium term, around 2010 or earlier if possible, the yearly meetings of organizations and networks working for another globalization could become diluted or dispersed.

This being said, preparing a Parliament of the Peoples of the World constitutes an unprecedented challenge. Citizens have never been confronted with having to form a representative, democratic body on a world scale. A proportional representation of all populations and cultures, an active citizens' participation, responsible management by elected officials, an open use of the media, an effective control over the exercise of authority by those over whom such authority is exercised ... as it is, all of these are missing in the democratic systems on the national scale. On a world scale, they will introduce even greater problems.

Moreover, democratic practices are not completely generalized and even in countries holding a claim to a longstanding democratic tradition, governance is frequently plagued by corruption, impunity, and lack of transparency and accountability.

The invention of new bodies for citizens' participation and action—in addition to alliances, forums, parties, and social movements—is a crucial challenge for this era. The preparation of a Parliament of the Peoples of the World may seem an colossal task, but paradoxically, it can help to overcome a number of obstacles in the search for democratic renewal on a world scale. The impetus that a new deal such as this will generate on the international stage will make it easier to question the existing international and intergovernmental organizations, which are hampered by the bureaucratic burdens imposed by the state systems, agreed by everyone to have become obsolete.

In the final analysis, the collective elaboration and broadly consensual validation of a Charter of Human Responsibilities or an Earth Charter can take place within a new body such as a Parliament of the Peoples of the World. Discussion of these new founding texts by the greatest variety of civil-society organizations and political, religious, and spiritual leaders of all cultures, also constitutes an essential means for the preparation of said Parliament.

The outline of a Citizens Agenda for the Twenty-first Century is coming into view as the century is dawning. The World Social Forums, the Continental Meetings of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World, the Dialogues for the Earth are, along with others, the new meeting places where the civil society convenes at a time when crises and wars portend a dark, ominous future, perhaps even darker than the one our grandparents experienced in the early twentieth century. A Parliament of the Peoples of the World may seem a Utopian ambition. It can also be a historical opportunity for this generation and the next.
Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer © 2003