Monthly Summary I (October 15 - November 17, 2002)
Debate on Values, Principles and Purpose
The discussion was initiated with a debate on values, principles and purpose. In general terms, most everyone agreed that there is a necessity for today's world to look for global solutions to urgent problems such as war, inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation. There were definitely two main currents in the discussion. The first one was adamant that a good amount of time be devoted to coming to an agreement on values before any move be made to construct a World Parliament. The second group seemed more impatient to move on to practical matters and looked at the whole issue of values as something which, in essence, has already been resolved through multiple efforts and initiatives at global governance. In conclusion : the World Parliament as a tree of palaver.
The forum for a World Parliament for the 21st Century will take place for the next several months. The discussion was initiated with a debate on values, principles and purpose. In essence, the question revolved around the values a world parliament might be founded upon, around which principles and for what purpose.
We need for global solutions to urgent problems: war, inequality, poverty...
In general terms, most everyone agreed that there is a necessity for today's world to look for global solutions to urgent problems such as war, inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation. Is global governance a possible path to finding solutions to these and other problems? This will be the central question of this forum. From the outset, everyone seemed to agree on the fact that the current system of state-based governance, whether it takes the form of individual state action, multilateral initiative or collective activity, is wanting in many aspects and will not be capable, in its current state, of resolving these problems and others that might occur in the future.
A majority of participants also agreed on the fact that, should a World Parliament be launched, it should be founded upon and promote a certain number of values. Several participants actually listed some of the values one could consider in this light. One contributor suggested, for instance, that one take a close look at the following basic values: ethics, solidarity, liberty, transparency, and democracy. Another proposed a seven-value structure: respect and solidarity, transparency, coherence, protection, a real representativeness, flexibility and adaptability, and earth citizenship (or Ci-terrestrial-ship).
There seemed to be general agreement that an important value revolves around the idea that people should be able to meet their basic human needs such as for food, shelter, decent livelihood, economic well-being, etc. And that one of the principles upon which a world parliament would be based would be ensuring that these needs are met (and an area of disagreement concerned how these needs should in fact be met.)
One person suggests that a basic minimum fee should be provided to everyone, while another said that we should move beyond the various political ideologies of the past century. Another difference of opinion was in how many values should be recognized. Should we try to be inclusive or list only a few? One suggestion was to list primary and secondary values. Then we would need to determine how to decide which are primary and which secondary.
While finding a set of universal values is fundamental, one must also address the following question: how can one ensure that global governance, or a world parliament, operates according to the values that are agreed on? As a corollary, one can go further and ask: which tools or instruments could best represent and define these values and principles (and which not) and why? Finally, one must be able to answer the following: how can we ensure that our global institutions begin to operate according to such principles?
Certainly, we did not try to answer these questions during this initial phase of the discussion other than through suggesting specific programs and proposals to address the global challenges that currently undercut our basic values and principles, and these basic issues will serve as a guiding thread to the whole discussion.
From deep and integral to pragmatic and minimal values
It seemed to many contributors that the key to the successful design for a World Parliament would be a good balance between the ideals sought after and the pragmatic ways to achieve them. A significant part of the discussion comprised a critique of the current state of governance. Viewed from this angle, a World Parliament should try to address the problems that the current system of governance has failed to tackle. This approach has the advantage of comparing itself to what already exists, yet it also runs the risk of trying to achieve the impossible. One contributor in particular expressed his concerns that the discussion might ultimately fall into a type of romantic idealism that will lead to an impasse. To be viable, he suggests, a WP must gain respect, legitimacy, and power, for its power "will come from fundamental rights, from the realization that it actually truly represents better than any other body in the world the will of the citizens of the world." The principles on which a WP are founded, he said, must be limited in number and address the concrete workings and processes of the WP. Still on the topic of legitimacy, someone corroborated this by saying that every one should be included in the World Parliament while roundtables could be created at every level of government and decision-making to allow all people to participate fully.
Someone also suggested a strong effort be made to respect each and every one 's values, culture and history adding that a WP should organize around the development of "communities of ideas" based upon Rights to qualities of life, which could include:
"Food for all", "Right to lodgement for all", "Egalitarian access to Justice", "Protection of the minorities", "Right to the health", "Equality of educational opportunities", "Respect of the childhood", "Right to information"
Going beyond of the obsolete current forms of governance and parliament
Many contributors approved of the idea of self-governance, where people look after their own needs at all different levels. But, if one wants to put this idea into practice, one must also look beyond the forms of governance that we inherited from 18th century models of parliament. A World Parliament for the 21st century must take into consideration new elements that were non-existent in the past, including a high volume of participation and the respect for diversity. In terms of sheer numbers, technology might be a way to resolve certain issues. E-Democracy, for instance, might be right around the corner.
One participant saw the WP as taking on the role of *guardian* and *protector* of the weakest, in particular of the children. As its task, such an institution would "put an end to all war, to the craziness of weapons, to all industrial, sexual or domestic exploitation of humans and other species." It would also allow for the restoration of the ecosystems.
Multiculturalism and Western-based values
The question of multiculturalism goes to the root of the issue of values, for what are, in essence, universal values? There was definitely a strong current in the discussion that was concerned about the possible dominance of Western-based values. Some participants suggested we look closely at traditional value systems. The issues of culture and values were especially strong in the area of language. One of the basic questions we must ask ourselves early on is in what language or languages a World Parliament will function? Several contributors are convinced that a World Parliament should operate in a neutral language. Esperanto was mentioned several times. Other ideas included the revival of a dead language.
This question leads us to the crux of the problem. There were two main currents in the discussion. Representatives of this first current were adamant that a good amount of time be devoted to coming to an agreement on values before any move be made to construct a World Parliament. This group tended to be in favor of initiating an intercultural dialogue and looked to a World Parliament as a body that should address a multitude of problems, including economic and social inequities and North-South inequalities. The second group seemed more impatient to move on to practical matters and looked at the whole issue of values as something which, in essence, has already been resolved through multiple efforts and initiatives at global governance. This group suggested we look at some of the work already accomplished in this domain and build upon it. The second group tended to favor a "minimal" system of values, while the first group tended to want to develop a more elaborate system.
Following is an example of what one of the contributors defined as a set of "minimal" values that could be adopted by a World Parliament (these principles are based on the Campaign for World Democracy):
1) Ultimate political sovereignty resides in individuals 2) Collective sovereignty of the people must be expressed through direct or representative democracy 3) Rule of law 4) Solving problems at the most practical local level (Subsidiary principle) 5) Institutional and procedural transparency to create and maintain trust 6) Use of peaceful means to build such institutions 7) Non-Discrimination (art.2 of Uni. Dec. of Human Rights)
Traditionally, political philosophers tend to look at progress in governance in two manners: through the reform of human nature or through systemic ameliorations. Which is the purpose of a World Parliament? From this first month of the discussion, one can surmise that it would tend to be the latter.
Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the most profound. I will end this summary with a message from one of our participants. I think it grasps in a few words the essence of what many feel that this is all about:
"In Africa, we have known the tree of palaver (l'arbre à palabre). In effect, it is under this tree that all differences were resolved in the presence of all or of their representatives. I dream that the World Parliament become a reproduction for modern times of our trees of palaver."