Trans-European democracy in 2030 is the first milestone towards implementing the large-scale agreements made necessary by the global issues of the 21st century

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The rise in the scale of political decision-making is an historical trend, related to the rise in the scale of the issues to solve and the need to avoid free-riding

Nation-states, inherited from the 17th century, act at a scale too small to be effective

Sovereign nation-states bargaining in secret inter-governmental negotiations are the negation of democracy

Democracy at a crossroads: trans-national democracy or nationalistic dictatorship

The European Union is the most advanced prototype of trans-national democracy

Trans-European democracy in 2030 is the first milestone on our 30-40-50 Roadmap to a liveable and desirable society

The rise in the scale of political decision-making is an historical trend, related to the rise in the scale of the issues to solve and the need to avoid free-riding

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The rise in the scale of political decision-making is an historical trend that started with the small groups of hunters-gatherers we all originate from.

The first reason for this is to avoid violence in the resolution of conflicts, in order to rely on the fairer and more predictable rule of law. These conflicts happen whenever sovereign entities (individuals, tribes, Greek polities, feudal principalities, modern nation-states) gather to solve common problems or issues. On the one hand, every entity wants to remain free from any obligation and of any prohibition, and wants to maintain its rights, liberties and honour intact. On the other hand, generalising this behaviour to all entities means that they exert unrestricted violence against each other. Peace is a fragile state, permanently threatened by the smallest provocation, and only painfully restored after exhausting and bloody cycles of vendettas and revenges0. Generally after painful and protracted conflicts, entities of smaller size have relinquished part of their sovereignty to entities of larger size, where their rights, obligations and prohibitions are protected and enforced by the rule of law, and not by the brutality of what classical European philosophers called the "state of nature". The penultimate occasion when this happened in Europe was at the end of the Thirty Years war (1618 – 1648), which had costed 5 million lives in Germany alone. The resulting peace treaties, known as the Westphalian Treaties, established the order of sovereign nation-states and under which we continue to live.

The second reason for the rise in the scale of political decision-making is the general rule that, for political action (i.e. regulation, taxation or public spending) to be effective at managing a collective issue, it must act at the geographical scale at which the underlying phenomena operate, e.g. at the scale of an urban area to manage its sewage system, of a regional labour market to manage its vocational education curricula, of a linguistic area to support literature, theatre and cinema, of a monetary union to manage interest rates and macro-economic balances, of the whole world to manage global public goods such as the climate, financial stability, the Internet and peace.

If the geographic scale of political action is smaller than that of the issue, no political entity can act on it effectively. The private players that the political entities attempt to regulate or to tax separately play these political entities against each other, in a race to the bottom. Political entities play free-riding tactics against each other when public spending is needed or common obligations must be fulfilled, each of them expecting the others to make the effort, the result being that none is made, or too little, too late.

Nation-states, inherited from the 17th century, act at a scale too small to be effective

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The political institutions with which we collectively operate have remained essentially unchanged since the Westphalian Treaties of 1648 that ended the Thirty Years War. The basic entity is that of the sovereign nation-state,  theorised by Thomas Hobbes in his "Leviathan" (1651, revised 1668). The very few notable exceptions are supra-national institutions set up after the bloodbaths of the two world wars 1914 – 1945: the European Union, which we will discuss later (p.33), and the much weaker international legal system of the United Nations.

In the system of the sovereign nation-state, each nation-state has an exclusive authority over its own people and territory, and organises its decision-making processes internally, sometimes democratically, too often not. The nation-state was the privileged framework and scale to establish the well-functioning political and social democracies of the 1950s and 1960s. It was the scale at which the (strong) regulation of economic players, as well as the (massive) solidarity, redistribution and economic transfers between regions and social classes, were established.

Unfortunately, as we have seen above, the scale of the issues valid for the 21st century has irreversibly risen far above that of the nation-state, because of the global inter-dependencies based on technological and scientific developments taking place since the 1960s, and described above.

As a result of the general rule mentioned above (p.29), nation-states have become ineffective when they attempt to act on phenomena that happen at a scale greater than their constituencies, such as the global issues of the 21st century described above (pp.12-27). This mismatch between the current geographic scale of political action and of democracy (the nation-state), and that at which the underlying phenomena happen (at continental or global scale) has led to a general (and often justified) feeling of political dis-empowerment. People feel that they have lost the control of the decisions that determine their collective future.

This feeling is reinforced by the fact that the stop-gap solution that nation-states have used to tackle these large-scale issues, while attempting to keep their national sovereignty intact, namely that of inter-governmental negotiations, is the negation of democracy. This negation of democracy is specifically problematic in the early 21st century, a time when the rise in education levels increases the demand for political participation, and makes democracy the only legitimate mode of political decision-making – at least in Europe (see below, p.40).

Sovereign Nation-States bargaining in secret inter-governmental negotiations are the negation of democracy

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As we have seen above, issues beyond the scale of the nation-state are managed (if at all) by inter-governmental negotiations, i.e. by the secret inter-action of official representatives of these nation-states (e.g. in the framework of the United Nations). In these inter-governmental negotiations, no party bears a global responsibility for the collective good. All have the narrow mandate to bargain for their constituency, and for it only. Because national sovereignty is considered as an absolute, decision-making is plagued by unanimity rules, and enforcement of decisions is essentially based on the pressure of peers. This results in opacity, powerlessness and lack of accountability. If "democracy" means "the power of the people", then inter-governmental negotiation is the negation of democracy: it has no power, and the little power it has is beyond the control of the people. This could be acceptable at times when the issues to be discussed were the dynastic disputes between members of royal families. It isn't any more when the geographic scale of almost all issues has risen beyond the boundaries of nation-states, and where decisions being taken with the most impact are precisely those taken in these secret inter-governmental negotiations.

Within the nation-state, democracy can exist, despite the predictions of many conservative political theorists of the 19th century that it only could operate at the scale at which it had previously been experimented, namely that of the Greek polity in the 5th century BC. The fact that each individual nation-state engaged in an inter-governmental negotiation is democratically elected does not mean, however, that the inter-governmental negotiation itself is democratic. The flaws of opacity, powerlessness and lack of accountability remain – as the discussions of the European Council, gathering the heads of State and of Government of the EU, to define "general political directions" but with no legislative powers, and of the less-publicised Council of the European Union, gathering ministers at technical level to take decisions on policies in dialogue with the European Parliament, painfully remind us every quarter.

Democracy at a crossroads: trans-national democracy or nationalistic dictatorship

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We can summarise the situation in a 2x2 matrix.

 

Locus of power /

Scale of action

Concentrated power: oligarchy

Distributed power: democracy

Larger than nation-state

2 – Global oligarchy: unaccountable inter-governmental negotiations + multinational corporations + the very rich

4 – Trans-national democracy

Nation-state and below

3 – Nationalistic dictatorship

1 – National democracy of the 1960s

 

The last 50 years brought us from square 1, the national democracy of the 1960s, with a strong regulation and generous redistribution at national scale, of which many keep the nostalgia, increasingly towards square 2, the global oligarchy, where a small group of people and players act above the law, evade their responsibilities and duties, and take decisions outside of any accountability, public scrutiny, or democratic control: State representatives in inter-governmental negotiations, Board members in multinational corporations, members of some "technical" bodies whose decisions have a huge influence on the economic and financial system (e.g. the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision1, the International Accounting Standards Board2), the very rich (the notorious "1%") and the obscenely rich (the billionaires).

Our societies seem to have progressively become aware of this evolution, often referred to as "globalisation". They seem now to hesitate between two possibilities.

One potential evolution is towards square 3, the nationalistic dictatorship, in a desperate attempt to revert to the national sovereignty of the 1960s, under the authoritarian rule of a phallocratic leader, at the price of any democratic freedom. This attempt is a disastrous political and moral regression. It is also a blatant lie: the multinational corporations that currently shape the political decisions act even more easily than before when all the democratic institutions that control governmental action have been dismantled. One dictator and his/her clique is easier to corrupt behind closed doors than a whole democratic political system open to public scrutiny. The immense fortune of all dictators is a testimony that any discourse on being "clean" by sheer personal virtue is a lie, when not strongly supported by democratic institutions and by the rule of law. Nationalistic dictatorship is also technically doomed to fail in its claim to recover sovereignty: the global inter-dependencies outlined above will not disappear by the force of human will, and the underlying flows can be cut at places, but not eradicated. Finally, nationalistic dictatorships promise prosperity for the people. They end up in destructive wars, under which the first to suffer is the very people that they claim to protect – as humankind bitterly experienced in the dark 20th century.

The other possible evolution is to create a democracy at a scale larger than that of the nation-state, the trans-national democracy of square 4.

A trans-national democracy unites citizens, and takes action, beyond national, linguistic and cultural boundaries. Its institutions are democratic, and built at a supra-national scale. Elected officials have the mandate to act in the interest of the whole community of citizens being administered, independently from their nationality, language or culture. Democratic debates oppose different political views, not cultural or national differences. They result in political agreements and decisions at a scale large enough for public policies to be effective and with sufficient political power and legitimacy to overcome the resistance of vested economic interests by multi-national corporations or by the oligarchy of the global rich and super-rich. The decisions taken are legitimate, and enforced by the power of law. Trans-national democracy thus overcomes the weaknesses, inefficiencies and illegitimacy of inter-governmental negotiations outlined above.

The institutions of the European Union, and specifically the European Commission and the European Parliament, despite all their weaknesses, are to date the most advanced and developed prototypes of a trans-national democracy, at the scale of a single continent.

The European Union is the most advanced prototype of trans-national democracy

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As of 2018, only one trans-national democratic institution exists, with a capacity to take and enforce decisions taken collectively by nation-states: the European Union. It is the only locus where trans-national democracy has started to emerge.

This institution has many weaknesses, and is far from being perfect. In our views, its much criticised lack of transparency and accountability is mainly located in one of its law-making institutions, and one only: the Council of the European Union, i.e. the inter-governmental gathering of Member States at ministerial level. This institution reproduces and perpetuates the undemocratic flaws of inter-governmental negotiations seen above1. The fact that most of its decisions (those under the “ordinary” legislative procedure where the Council acts on a par with the Parliament) are taken by qualified majority overcomes the traditional weakness of inter-governmental negotiation, namely the need for unanimity, and the resulting veto right by any participating nation-state. However, unanimous approval remains necessary for some essential decisions: social policy (collective bargaining between trade unions and employers, social security, social protection2), taxation (environmental taxation3, indirect taxation4, the resources feeding the budget of the Union5), trade (in services, Intellectual Property, Foreign Direct Investment, cultural and audiovisual goods, social education and health services6). Similarly, some essential elements of harmonisation between Member States are explicitly excluded from the Treaties: “fiscal provisions, [...] those relating to the free movement of persons [and] those relating to the rights and interests of employed persons7”.

The much-publicised European Council, gathering the heads of State and of government in regular “European summits”, and having the role of defining “general political directions and priorities” of the development of the Union, with institutional but no legislative powers8, shares the same features of opacity and weakness caused by veto right by any Member State. This veto is either explicit, when unanimity is required by the Treaties, or implicit, because its decisions are taken by “consensus9, with no clear rule for overcoming opposition by one or a few Member States.

Despite these weaknesses, the institutions of the European Union bear remarkable features of trans-national democracy: (1) they implement the essential elements of bicameral parliamentary democracy, and (2) this democracy is in many respects trans-national.

The European Union operates in a fashion very similar to a bicameral parliamentary democracy. Its vocabulary however may be confusing, and deserves being clarified in the following table that gives the equivalents of institutions of the European Union in national parliamentary democracies.

Nature of the institution

Examples in national parliamentary democracies

Name given in the institutions of the European Union

Head of State

President, Monarch

The European Council, gathering the national Heads of State or of Government

Head of Government

Prime Minister, Chancellor

President of the European Commission

Government, managing the executive power

Government

European Commission

Parliamentary Lower House, representing directly the people

National Assembly, Bundestag, Chamber of Deputies

European Parliament

Parliamentary Upper House, representing the territories constituting the full polity

Senate, Bundesrat

Council of the European Union, gathering the national Ministers

Legislation

Laws

  • Regulations (directly applicable to all Member States)

  • Directives (which must be transposed into national law by Member States)


Bearing this vocabulary in mind, the European Union operates, very much like a bicameral parliamentary democracy:

  • The Head of Government (the President of the European Commission) is proposed by the Head of State (the European Council), following the result of the elections to the Lower House of Parliament (the European Parliament), and must be then approved by this recently elected Lower House of Parliament10. The recent practice, inaugurated by the Juncker Commission elected in 2014, has deepened this democratic logic: the President of the Commission nominated by the European Council was the candidate supported by the largest political group in the Parliament following the election, under a system known in Germany as Spitzenkandidat11.

  • The Head of the Government (the President of the Commission) then builds his/her team, the full Government (European Commission)12. The full Government must then obtain a vote of confidence by the Lower House of the Parliament (the European Parliament)13.

  • The Lower House of Parliament (the European Parliament) controls the Government (the Commission), and can demote it via a motion of censure14.

  • The Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament (resp. the Council and the European Parliament) define and control the budget15.

  • Most laws (Regulations and Directives) are adopted by agreement between the Upper and Lower House of Parliament (resp. the Council working at qualified majority and the European Parliament)16.

This bicameral parliamentary democracy operates in many respects trans-nationally:

  • the European Commission is mandated to act for the common good of the whole Union (its ”general interest”)17. Commissioners are explicitly prohibited from seeking or taking instructions from their national government18.

  • the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are grouped, and vote19, according to their political preferences and interests20, and not to their nationality21.

  • Member States are subject to the rule of law, and to the judiciary power of the European Court of Justice22, like any legal or physical person. They are not the absolute, independent sovereigns that they would be in the international system of nation-states inherited from the 17th century Westphalian treaties.

For all these reasons, we support the views that the European Union is the first and most developed prototype of trans-national democracy.

Trans-European democracy in 2030 is the first milestone on our 30-40-50 Roadmap to a liveable and desirable society

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The task that humankind is confronted with is to reach the many political agreements required by the global and high-stake issues of the 21st century, in a legitimate, i.e. democratic, process, at the unprecedented scale of the whole world.

In order to achieve this, we need to set up a trans-national democracy, i.e. a democracy transcending national boundaries. This is the long-term mission and purpose of the CosmoPolitical Party.

We are fully aware of the difficulty of this endeavour, because it means that agreements must be reached between stakeholders that are: (1) subject to enormous inter- and intra-national inequalities in terms of income, wealth, education, health, political empowerment and access to resources and to communication networks, (2) separated by national, linguistic and cultural boundaries, (3) separated in time, between us and future generations and (4) separated in rights, between humans and non-human entities (e.g. the biosphere).

Overcoming social inequalities is the purpose of the second milestone of our 30-40-50 Roadmap to a liveable and desirable society (cf. pp.27-28). The CosmoPolitical Party has its own reflection and policy regarding linguistic differences, described below (p.43). Advocating for non-human entities or unborn humans is already the purpose of very active and effective political actors and NGOs. This is why we believe that the difficulties in implementing trans-national democracy, although important, can be overcome.

In our views, a trans-national democracy is the only way for collective decisions to be taken at the scale made necessary by the evolutions of scientific knowledge regarding our planet, and of technical networks connecting humans. It is the only way for institutions to ensure that justice be given to the legitimate claims of all. It is the only way to reach the legitimate political agreements necessary to overcome the global challenges of the 21st century. It is finally the only way to enforce these decisions, even against the will of the richest 1% (who refuse social justice) or the multinational corporations (who refuse the loss of turnover and profits implied by frugal and sustainable consumption). It is the only way forward.

This agenda is extremely ambitious.

This is why we believe that trans-national democracy must first develop where it is already most advanced: in the European Union. The resulting Trans-European democracy is the first milestone, to be reached in 2030, of our 30-40-50 Roadmap to a liveable and desirable society.

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0Diamond, J.: "The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?", Viking books, New York, 2012 - http://www.jareddiamond.org/Jared_Diamond/The_World_Until_Yesterday.html

1https://www.bis.org/bcbs/

1As highlighted by Transparency International https://transparency.eu/space-egg/The Council remains the least transparent of EU institutions. [… W]e know little of who says what on behalf of which government. [… T]he Council is a black hole in EU decision-making and lags way behind the other institutions on transparency, accountability and openness. Until the final vote, when all deals are done, you cannot see which governments are promoting or blocking which issues. There are few public meetings and no voting records.” and by the enquiry launched in March 2017 by the official European Ombudsman on “transparency of Council legislative work”: https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/cases/caseopened.faces/en/75850/html.bookmark

2Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, accessible at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:12012E/TXT&from=EN Art. 21.3, and 153.2

3Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 192.2 and 194.3

4Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 113

5Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 311

6Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 207.4

7Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 114.2

8Treaty on the European Union, accessible at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:12012M/TXT&from=EN Art. 15.1

9Treaty on the European Union, Art. 15.4

10Treaty on the European Union, Art. 14

11This happened because the European Parliament (including the other political groups than the one having won the largest number of seats) made it very clear to the European Council that it would accept no other candidate to the position of President of the European Commission than the Spitzenkandidat of the winning political group.

12Under strong – and unfortunate – constraints regarding the nationality of the Members of the Commission (Treaty on the European Union, Art. 17.5 and Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 244).

13Treaty on the European Union, Art. 17.7

14Treaty on the European Union, Art. 17.8

15Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 311 to 319.

16Under the “ordinary legislative procedure”, described in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 294. The other laws, in the limited but important fields described earlier, are adopted under a “special legislative procedure” where the Council decides alone, by unanimity.

17Treaty on the European Union, Art. 17.1

18Treaty on the European Union, Art. 17.3

19 D.Frantescu “Values topple nationality in the European Parliament”, European View, June 2015, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 101–110, accessible at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12290-015-0349-3/fulltext.html

21This development is not complete, though. Because elections in the European Parliament are performed at a national scale, and because, until the foundation of the CosmoPolitical Party, no political party existed at the scale of the whole European Union, MEPs are elected as members of their national political party. As a result, the political groups in the Parliament so far are coalitions of national parties rather than the expression of a single, EU-wide political party. One of the ambitions of the CosmoPolitical Party is precisely to build a political group in the European Parliament, with unprecedented cohesiveness stemming from its unity of decision-making at EU scale.

22Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Art. 258 to 260