MEPs push for a UN parliament

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In the midst of the many crisis and challenges facing today’s world,  MEPs have sounded off the urgent need of setting up a parliamentary assembly in the United Nations.

“A United Nations Parliamentary assembly is a vital component to strengthen democratic legitimacy of the United Nations,” said centre-left MEP Jo Leinen, during an international conference last week (17 October).  Leinen and ALDE party leader Graham Watson have been on the forefront of such initiative since 2007.

Since the 1990s there have been many calls to reform the UN, but there is little clarity or consensus on the way to change the organisation. Some point at the need to reform the UN Security Council, others at the lack of accountability and the need for more democratic scrutiny.

At present, citizens are only indirectly represented in the UN General Assembly by their respective governments. As a result, votes cast do not adequately reflect the political spectrum that exists in each national parliament—including opposition forces. That’s why a growing number of parliamentarians in Europe and elsewhere has called for adding a democratic dimension to the UN system.

In a message issued on the occasion of the conference in Brussels, last week, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, emphasized the longstanding support for the proposal.

"The European Parliament may serve as a model for how a UN Parliamentary Assembly could develop over time. What once began as an advisory body composed of national parliamentarians is a directly elected legislature today," Schulz said.

The intergovernmental nature of the United Nations has reached its limits, said Jo Leinen, lamenting the growing global democratic deficit.

To increase people’s trust in the UN and restore its legitimacy, a UN Parliamentary Assembly would be a decisive step towards the introduction of new quality and impetus into international governance, they say.

“Global problems need effective solutions,” said Watson. “No adequate measures have been taken to address the democratic deficit of global governance in general and of the United Nations in particular," reads the declaration.

The conference suggested that "a global democratic body of elected representatives" should be established "to bring global governance in the pursuit of post-2015 development goals" closer to the world's citizens.

Start with a consultative body

Alfred de Zayas, a professor tasked to lead a group of independent experts and formulate feasibility routes to reform the UN, said that reform through public participation does not pose a threat to stability, on the contrary it is a condition of stability.

“Governing elites need not to fear the exercise of the right to participation, because such exercise enables gradual adjustment and gives the population a sense of satisfaction through ownership of their destinies, “ Zayas said.

The professor insisted that a  population that can meaningfully influence governmental policy through consultation and voting ensures continuity in harmony.

Supporters say that the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly could start initially as a consultative body and gradually develop into a truly legislative assembly.

"In a world where global governance lacks even the thinnest veneer of democratic legitimacy the need for the UN as a powerful player is greater than ever before," added Watson, insisting as a first step the establishment of the UNPA. Under Article 22 of the UN charter, the UN General Assembly may establish 'subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions.' 

A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) is a proposed addition to the United Nations System that would allow for participation of member nations' legislators and, eventually, direct election of United Nations (UN) parliament members by citizens worldwide.

The idea was raised at the founding of the League of Nations in the 1920s and again following the end of World War II in 1945, but remained dormant throughout the Cold War. In the 1990s and 2000s, the rise of global trade and the power of world organizations that govern it led to calls for a parliamentary assembly to scrutinize their activity.

The Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly was formed in 2007 to coordinate pro-UNPA efforts, which as of July 2013 has received the support of over 800 Members of Parliament from over 100 countries worldwide and is supported by over 5,000 people.

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