A World Parliament and the Transition from International Law to World Law

4. A Hybrid Global Legislative System
In particular, world law would need to be based on a global legislative system that, in principle, is capable of determining universally binding regulation in areas of global concern. As Grenville Clark pointed out, “the word ‘law’ necessarily implies the law of a world authority, i.e., law which would be uniformly applicable to all nations and all individuals in the world.”14 The procedure, participants, and the scope of decision-making of such an authority are of primary importance. To a high degree, it is the structure of this decision-making that determines the level of democratic inclusion, legitimacy, and accountability as well as the effectiveness of the system. For this reason, the proposal of a democratically elected world parliament as a core institution in a global legislative system addresses one of the most important aspects of the transition.

In the transition from international law to world law it is long overdue to begin with an incremental process towards the establishment of a global legislative system. In this process it needs to be taken into account that without direct representation of the world’s citizens in the global system, it is impossible to implement the principles of world law. The development of an elected world parliament thus is an indispensable long-term goal.

As states will continue to be the most important entities of governance and while vast gaps prevail in the level of development throughout the world, a global legislative system necessarily will have to be a hybrid of international law and world law that manages to find the best possible balance between the principles that characterize the two.

With a view of the “balkanization of the world” that went along with the emergence of ever more independent nation-states, Wilfred Jenks for example has already spoken of a paradox “parallel progress of interdependence and independence” and the requirement to “reconcile in a responsible manner the greater concentration of political authority required by the progress of interdependence with the wider diffusion of political freedom implied in the progress of independence.”15

As Vaclav Havel pointed out in his speech at the UN’s Millennium Summit, global legislation in a reformed United Nations thus would “probably have to rest on two pillars: one constituted by an assembly of equal executive representatives of individual countries, resembling the present plenary, and the other consisting of a group elected directly by the globe’s population in which the number of delegates representing individual nations would, thus, roughly correspond to the size of the nations.”16

Additionally, it is imaginable that for global rules to become universally binding, it would be useful to include another layer of decision-making. It could be provided that regulation passed by the UN General Assembly and the directly elected body would have to be approved by a certain majority of national parliaments as well, so that the traditional process of ratification is not entirely abandoned but partly included in the new system. To be more effective, it might be better to give a certain majority of national parliaments the possibility to overrule global legislation within a certain period of time after which it otherwise would automatically enter into force.

With regard to overcoming the principle of consensus decision-making in intergovernmental negotiations, Frank Biermann suggested that “We could think about different majority and voting rules for different issue areas. We can think about multiple, complex, combined, or layered majorities. And surely, we need to clearly define institutional guarantees that protect smaller countries.”17 Implementing the requirement of different qualified majorities for different issue areas in different decision-making bodies and layers is a good approach for binding decision-making in a global legislative system.

5. A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
“It is finally time to recognize that major change is unlikely to be initiated and spearheaded by governments.”

At this point, a pragmatic first step would be the creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA).18 As should be clear by now, this wouldn’t just be another UN body. It would be the first body in human history mandated to represent the world’s citizens as such. Members could be directly elected or initially be appointed from among national parliaments. They would be grouped according to political affiliation rather than by national origin and thus would transcend one-dimensional national interests. Unlike government-appointed officials and diplomats, UNPA representatives would not be subject to the authority of government executives.

For political reasons, the formal powers could be largely consultative at the beginning and be expanded over time. Still, the assembly would be in a position to deliberate on all issues of global concern. Its recommendations and proposals would carry moral weight and could pressure national governments to adopt programs and solutions that deliver better outcomes in the common global interest. Article 22 of the UN Charter enables the UN General Assembly to establish a UNPA. No cumbersome reform of the UN Charter would be required in the initial stage.

In formulas for the apportionment of seats, population size would have to be taken into account in some way in order to reflect the democratic equality of the world’s citizens. According to most models for the distribution of seats, it is evident that a majority of the assembly’s delegates would come from electoral democracies which would ensure that the democratic character of the assembly essentially is maintained.19,20

A more balanced distribution of voting power might be a key to allow methods of qualified majority voting. Earth system scholars have rightfully pointed out that “governance systems that rely on majority-based rule are quicker to arrive at far-reaching decisions and that consensus-based systems limit decisions to the preferences of the least ambitious country.”21 The illusion of the equality of states that is formally implemented in most international bodies is an important cause of the dysfunctional character of global institutions and decision-making.

The European Parliament that began as a consultative assembly composed of national parliamentarians is now a directly elected legislative chamber of the European Union which provides an instructive example for how a UNPA could be developed. It takes majority decisions and the distribution of seats is based on the principle of degressive proportionality. This means that on a sliding scale, smaller countries are allocated relatively more representatives per capita than larger countries.

6. UNPA as an Agent for Global Change
Just as the European Parliament proved to be an important player that pushed European integration forward at crucial points, a UNPA could become a key political catalyst for global change and the transition to world law. Calls for a major restructuring of global governance have been made for decades. In 1976 for example, the Aspen Institute and others promoted the “Declaration of Interdependence” authored by Henry Steele Commager and Harlan Cleveland who argued in favor of a “Third Try at World Order.”22 When the Cold War had passed, the Commission on Global Governance in 1995 called for a World Summit on Global Governance to take place in 1998 that should reconsider the whole system and whose decisions should be implemented by 2000.

It is finally time to recognize that major change is unlikely to be initiated and spearheaded by governments. Despite successful campaigns for the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the International Criminal Court, so far civil society, too, has not managed to address the need for systematic change in global governance in any adequate manner and, more importantly, the little effort that is spent on this issue is badly coordinated.

As Dieter Heinrich reasoned, the best thing UN reformers could do “would be to stop dissipating ourselves in trying to promote this or that isolated policy to deaf governments and their equally unhearing, unimaginative and unambitious foreign ministries. Instead we might try uniting our meager energies behind just one common goal that would serve all our causes, that of creating a consultative assembly at the UN. We could hope that once founded … it could recapitulate for us at the UN the course of events followed by the European parliament.”23 A UNPA thus would not only be an embryonic element of a post-Westphalian order but also its most important agent.

7. Conclusion
The World Academy of Art and Science’s initiative for the establishment of an international Consortium on a New Paradigm comes at the right time and it’s exactly the approach that is needed: strengthening civil society’s efforts towards systemic change through better networking and coordination. The establishment of a UNPA as a first step towards a world parliament and a transition to world law should be a key goal.

14. Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn, “Introduction,” in World Peace Through World Law: Two Alternative Plans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966).
15. Clarence Wilfred Jens, The World Beyond the Charter in Historical Perspectice: A Tentative Synthesis of 4 Stages of World Organization (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1969), 127.
16. Vaclav Havel, “Address of the President of the Czech Republic at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations New York,”
17. Frank Biermann, “Governance in the Anthropocene: Towards Planetary Stewardship,” Harmony with Nature of the United Nations New York, 22 April 2014.
18. Andreas Bummel, “Towards a Global Democratic Revolution,” Cadmus 1, no. 2 (2011): 103–108.
19. Andreas Bummel, The composition of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations 3rd edition (Berlin: Committee for a Democratic UN, 2010)
20. Joseph Schwartzberg, Creating a World Parliamentary Assembly: An Evolutionary Journey (Berlin: Committee for a Democratic UN, 2012)
21. Biermann et al., “Navigating the Anthropocene”.
22. Harlan Cleveland, Third Try at World Order: U.S. Policy for an Interdependent World (Philadelphia: Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, 1976).
23. Dieter Heinrich, The Case for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (Berlin: Committee for a Democratic UN, 2010), 42

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