World Parliament? 'Unrealistic'

The Nation, November 3, 2003 | Go to article overview

World Parliament? 'Unrealistic'


Geneva

* Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss's "Toward a Global Parliament" [Sept. 22] is right to draw attention to the lack of democratic accountability in international relations. However, their idea of an elected world parliament representing all peoples and functioning as a counterweight to the power of governments, laudable as it sounds, is unrealistic.

Aside from the logistical and representational problems, and the daunting task of defining the powers of such a body vis-a-vis national parliaments and governments, not to mention international institutions like the United Nations, a world parliament could not function until democratic values and practices are firmly established in the world. When one considers the war-torn countries where people have not voted seriously in decades, the countries where people's electoral choices are limited to a single candidate or party and the countries whose electoral systems unfairly penalize minority views or discourage voting, it is clear that the road to democracy, especially outside national boundaries, is long and tortuous. And it always starts at home.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is perhaps the institution that most closely embodies the ideas and hopes that Falk and Strauss put forward. The IPU, with its 145 member parliaments and offices in Geneva and New York, is today the UN's main point of contact with the world parliamentary community and the citizens beyond it. A key objective of the IPU is to bring a parliamentary dimension to the work of the UN and its related agencies, along with bodies like the WTO and World Bank. The statements and resolutions that member parliaments adopt at the biannual assemblies on virtually every topic of importance (climate change, food security, AIDS, trade) provide one way of making the views of parliaments, and their constituents, better known to the governments that run the UN and other international bodies. With its newly acquired observer status at the UN, the IPU is now in a position to participate directly in General Assembly debates.

The overall objective of the relationship between parliaments and the UN is to bring the voice of the people to the multilateral negotiating forums and engage parliaments more directly in their work. This includes increasing the understanding within parliaments of international agreements so that they can support them, and encouraging them to mobilize public opinion and forge national support for international action. It also involves assisting national parliaments, especially the newer and less experienced ones, to increase their capacity to exercise parliamentary scrutiny and oversight over matters that are subject to international cooperation. …

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