Dialogues: #9 & #20
Susanna is a professor of European Union Law at the University of Salento (Lecce), where she has also taught international law and law of international organizations. She joined the Young European Federalists as an activist in her teens and has been advocating European integration ever since. She authored and edited numerous books and more than 50 scholarly journal articles and book chapters about the EU, European economic and monetary union, EU external relations, IMF & World Bank governance and functioning, Euro-Mediterranean relations. In 2019 she was awarded a Jean Monnet Chair from the European Union, which is a recognition of her prestigious profile in research, teaching and dissemination activities on the EU.
Through her work she aims at improving democracy on the global stage and supporting the EU in this endeavour mainly through academic research but also by fostering political awareness, scholarly debate, and civic participation. It is carried out by assessing levels of democracy in international organizations and exploring the achievements of the European Union both as a model and a lab in democratic experimentation, e.g. recently through the Conference on the Future of Europe. The aim is to suggest a toolbox for democracy - being creative if needed - that may be applied at all levels, from local to global.
The most compelling issues are nowadays global (e.g. climate change, migration waves, rising inequalities, pollution of the oceans). Yet, the main political and legal frame to face such problems is still national or – at best – intergovernmental. Associations of sovereign states such as the G7 or G20 lack both legitimacy and effectivity as, in these fora, member states represent just themselves and do not enjoy real decisional power. The situation is a little better in global structured international organizations (IOs) as the UN and the UN family: these IOs accommodate about 190 member states in their top decisional bodies, yet they are quite disconnected from the people whose interests are at the core of their mission.
This happens in spite of the tragedy of commons, i.e. the deterioration of the atmosphere and climate, the pollution of the oceans, the desertification, the rising inequality, which in turn foster poverty and wars at the very roots of migration waves. All the problems are interconnected and wait for a solution.
The UN global agenda is – since 2015 - set on 17 goals known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) who correctly identify the targets, yet they little say about the governance needed to attain them.
From the legal perspective, introducing democracy in the discourse about global governance would fill a gap that comes from afar, for the sake of a new sustainable Earth governance.
The difficulties in transferring democratic rights from state-level to the global arena are evident.
To this aim, Earth governance cannot but be decentralized and – for it not being a step backwards in legal and political culture - democratic, with citizens and communities as building blocks of democratic governance. Participatory democracy, together with representative democracy could provide bridges among citizens, communities, and global organizations.
The post-national approaches to global governance may be classified in three different main models: (i) the classical intergovernmental model, reflected by the existing constellations of IOs, which (being inter-national) see as main actors, national states working together inside legal frameworks. The flaws and limits of this model are under our eyes as all the actors aim at maximizing the national benefit and interest; (ii) the supranational model, whose focus is on the relationships between individuals and organizations, being individuals able to provide an organization with a legitimacy of its own - not derived by the states’ conferral of powers - as well as with some form of accountability which is not just towards national governments. These provide the IO with an authority over (supra) the states; (iii) the transnational model, which connects in a grid or net local authorities, communities and other actors across (trans) national borders. An example of this is the increasing collaboration in joint projects of cities and other local authorities.
These models do not exist in their purest expressions but are mixed up in governance systems which contain different bodies, regulations, and procedures.
A fourth model, sometimes mixed up with the previous ones, is the private-public partnership. An example of such hybrid is the Internet Governance Forum. This is, in its embryonic form, the multi-stakeholder platform model.
The aim of the project is mapping the democratic features in international organizations (IOs) in the perspective of their development, with the aim to (1) being able to assess their level of democracy, and (2) suggest new and innovative democratic tools to complement their structure combining the supranational and transnational models with some multistakeholder elements with the aim to improve their level of democracy.
The assessment sub 1 will be carried utilizing as criteria legitimacy, responsibility or accountability and inclusiveness. These three core values - legitimacy, accountability and inclusiveness—are the very texture of democracy as they reflect, in different ways, the grundnorm of democracy: the respect of human dignity.
The legitimacy of an institution stems from the fact that it has the right to exercise authority; its accountability is the duty to account for its activities and take responsibility for them; its inclusiveness is its ability to encompass and involve the largest number of interests and stakeholders. In the traditional approaches to international law and international relations, the relationships relevant to define the degree of legitimacy, accountability and inclusiveness of an international organization are those between the member states and the organizations. If the perspective assumed is the relationship between international organizations and individuals, legitimacy, accountability, and inclusiveness acquire a different meaning, which bring us much closer to our idea and experience of democracy.
Both the supranational and the transnational approaches will be explored in a logic of multilevel governance: as far as IOs’ legitimacy and accountability do not derive from states, but from individuals, they become original features of the international organization itself, attributing an authority and a voice which can resonate even over the states (supranational) and across their borders (transnational).
The EU is the most remarkable example of democracy beyond the national dimension. Yet, it isn’t fully supranational, not only because of some missing rings in the democratic chain - as the non-existence of genuine European parties or of a uniform electoral law for the European Parliament - but also because intergovernmental rules still dictate some decision-making. The genuinely supranational legislative procedure suffers exceptions in Common Foreign and Security Policy, partly in police and judicial cooperation, and in macroeconomic and fiscal policy.
Even if the nature of the Union as a democracy is not clearly stated, in Article 2 of the Treaty establishing the European Union (TEU) there is a commitment to respect democratic values*; The Title II of TEU is dedicated to the "Provisions relating to democratic principles" and Art. 10 grounds the Union on representative democracy. This confers on European citizenship a clear political role in legitimizing EU political institutions: directly through the European Parliament and indirectly through the Council and the European Council, where member states representatives sit (being they, in turn, democratically appointed at national level). This complex architecture is meant to encourage participation at all levels: ‘every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union’ and ‘decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen’ (Art. 10(3) TEU).
Participation rights are contemplated by Art. 11 TEU, as individual and as collective rights with the aim to ‘give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action’ and to ‘maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society”.
A specific goal of the research conducted on EU Law will be a listing of all the democratic features which could be transplanted from the European Union to other international organizations. Special attention will be paid to participatory democracy tools both online and offline. The Conference on the Future of Europe, carried from 9 May 2021 to 9 May 2022 is but the latest experiment in the European political sphere: the European institutions set out to listen to the voice of citizens through a double channel: a platform online and four panels of citizens, each made up of 200 people randomly chosen from the 27 Member States, representative of the diversity of the Union by geographical origin (citizenship and urban/rural context), by gender, age, socio-economic context and level of education. These two paths were intended to collect the voice of the citizens regarding the future of Europe, its governance and policies in the perspective of a possible revision of the founding treaties.
The EU is an interesting object for research not only as a lab for supranational democracy, but also as an actor on the global stage, promoting multistakeholder platforms as the COVAX initiative on COVID vaccination and leading the UNCCC response to climate change, as Article 21 TEU states that "the Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental
freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.”
*"The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”