Reimagining the UN

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Dr. Claudia Kissling has been a member of KDUN's (Committee for a Democratic UN) board since its foundation. Until 2008 she shared responsibility for the organization's management. She studied international relations at the Institute Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva and did her PhD at the Law Faculty of the University of Potsdam. She previously worked at the German Bundestag, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and at the University of Bremen's Collaborative Research Center "Transformations of the State." She is now employed at the Freie Universität Berlin. Am Johal interviewed her in Berlin.

Am Johal: How long has the movement for a World Assembly been going?

Claudia Kissling: It's a difficult question. There have been various movements, even as long ago as after the Second World War.

In terms of our movement, the Committee for a Democratic UN (KDUN) was launched in 2003 in Germany. We tried to contact other people and set up a network. In 2007, the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (CEUNPA) was founded.

AJ: Has there been support from within the UN?

CK: Not yet. They can't until there are a few governments that are willing to support such a system. This is our big challenge. We have been active, regional parliaments have been supportive, national parliaments have adopted resolutions. Governing parties have not yet stepped up even though we have had some informal contacts.

The UN acknowledges our existence, but without formal support. The first Campaign meeting could take place in the UN Building at the Palace des Nations in Geneva.

AJ: What would an elected world assembly do that is different from the current UN system?

CK: We would initially recommend an assembly that is not directly elected. It could begin with existing elected parliamentarians. It could be a voice for the people -- and it would be in a position to push things. National governments always have national interests. The elected people could take up the views and interests of citizens. A parliamentary assembly would oversee governments, would warn them before crises come up, and would push governments to do something earlier than it is done now.

AJ: Does it have to be under the current UN system or could a World Parliament be established independently?

CK: It could of course be established independently. But we don't recommend it. Decisions about global issues happen in the UN system. The decision-making at the UN has to be changed in a democratic manner.

AJ: How would it be funded?

CK: We have calculated the costs and they are not that much given the benefits of such a system. It could be funded as part of the UN budget.

AJ: Would individuals be elected by regions or through nation-states?

CK: We recommed a gradual implementation of democratic participation. What we say to parliamentarians is that we would look at the model of regional parliaments and first send national parliamentarians into a UNPA. It would be difficult to start direct elections given the current political and technical difficulties. But this would just be a first step. Like the EU Parliament, when it was formed, it consisted of national parliamentarians and was not directly elected until 1979. Yet, one could also imagine that at some point in time, some countries send national parliamentarians and others organize direct elections.

AJ: What are the international issues that such a World Assembly would deal with and how would it be different? Would it not just replicate the deficiencies that already exist in terms of inequities in international relations and economic systems?

CK: I don't think so. Even at the European level, the parliament is a distinct body. Governments try to push their national interests. A parliamentary body would control decisions and would warn in advance of problems coming up. At a parliamentary level where no one is bound by national interests, decisions are possible which are not possible at govermental level. At the European level, one could observe that the Parliament was a promoter of change when questions of reform were stuck. I think it would be different. Of course there are administrative difficulties as well.

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