Wolfgang PAPE Bruxelles, October 2018
“Opening to Omnilateralism –Democracy from local to global for and by all?”
Omnilateralism, in a nutshell, means firstly to open up the current still mainly western-inspired system of global governance to cultures and good practices of non-Western origin. Secondly, in the so-called multilateral system ‘nations’ remain the supposedly ‘sovereign’ actors as imposed world-wide by European history of imperialism. However, the global level of governance (cf. “United Nations”) has to open up to civil society and to encompass the responsibility to the public of influential trans-border non-state actors (eg GAFA, BATX etc.) in order to reign omnibus.
Furthermore, the practice of democracy ought to differentiate according to the level of governance. More direct democracy is feasible in local elections, referenda etc. rather than at provincial, national, regional and global level, where the dependence on information by media increases exponentially and thus expertise of parliaments and other filtrations become more necessary.
Recently, the unilateralism of President Trump in the USA and subsequently the initiatives notably of China and Japan reacting to defend the multilateral system have brought them closer to the Europeans (cf. ASEM Summit 2018 in Bruxelles) thus giving substance to the talk of Eurasian connectivity also to strengthen global governance by adding Eastern understanding of issues ranging from climate change to cyber space. While the West is currently split on many trans-border policies like trade and environment, this provides a timely window of opportunity to open up towards omnilateralism with input from non-Western cultures, for instance with their comprehension of natural cycles also for patterns of modern economies.
After a peak in the number of recognized democracies towards the end of the 20th century, the score of their quality declined world-wide in recent years. While the claimed “mother of democracy”, the UK, now ranks at the lower end of “full democracies” within Europe, the USA has fallen into the big world-wide pot of “flawed” ones. The two Anglo-Saxon shocks of 2016, Brexit and Trump, had cast doubt in many minds notably in Europe on the practice of “liberal democracy”. In other parts of the world as well, sudden unexpected disruptions of the status quo occurred in established democracies in spite of all the prior psephology to the contrary.
However, politics do not only play out at national level, governance is a multi-level affair - as Brexit now teaches the British and Catalunya the Spanish about ‘going down’ a level in order to meet the aspirations of a counted majority of voters. Increasingly in Europe, in spite of what populist nationalists loudly proclaim, the authority of the nation state is thinning and flowing upstream towards global decision-making and downstream towards local politics. Our economic interdependence has been growing immensely (as Brexit issues now demonstrate clearly), in particular through fragmented value chains of production and trillions of Euro moving daily on the world’s financial markets. On the one hand, these and other issues, which obviously transcend borders - climate change, the Internet, management of the high seas and in outer space - demand rules at global level. On the other hand, people everywhere in our liberal democracies feel increasingly empowered through advanced communication technologies (the ‘digital death of distance‘, but within the limits of narrow echo-chambers) to question the position of their politicians whether in Tokyo, Brussels or New York (cf. health apps vs GP expertise). Hence, they turn ever more anti-elitist and demand that their own voices be heard more directly in politics.
Nowadays such instant democracy is technically feasible – almost everybody could decide in a few clicks whenever a public issue came up for a vote. However, the wider spread and success of the parliamentary system since WWII provides evidence to the contrary, that such direct voting (including the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election) can carry enormous risks at national and international levels. It is an obvious fact that the higher the level of governance (from local up to global) the wider is its geographical and demographic impact. At global level the entire earth (universe even) and its peoples are affected. Hence the highest standards of expertise and overall responsibility are required for the right policies. On the contrary, at the lowest level of public governance, namely the local community, in most cases the impact on people and the earth is much smaller accordingly, due to the geographical limitations (eg the village). However, at that local level because of their direct proximity, the relatively few people concerned are much better and more directly informed about the issues (eg whether to build a football stadium or a theatre) and the choice of personalities (eg electing a mayor from among their neighbours). Hence, at local level, direct judgment and voting by ‘one person-one vote’ is most reasonable. Whereas at the higher levels of provincial, notably national, regional and global governance exponentially increasing inputs of moderating expertise, clearer transparency, stricter accountability and wider responsibility are required. However, on top of our almost complete dependence on information through mainly market-based media these requirements are hardly met at (inter)national or the rare cases of supranational level.
An idealistic conclusion would point the way to the proposition of an omnilateral stakeholder democracy for a more legitimate and efficient governance to build a ‘better world’.
Hence, in view of recent short-sighted backlashes against globalisation and of echo-chambers of left and right populisms, the need for a more inclusive and participatory form of pluralistic governance grows stronger, thus my original proposal of the title 'Opening to Omnilateralism'.
Even the much discussed proposals of further decentralisation and subsidiarity with more direct democracy (vertical legitimacy) at national and higher level cannot suffice. A truly participatory governance must be complemented by ‘horizontal legitimacy’ that draws from all pro-active stakeholders world-wide with their cultural diversity (cf. need of bio-diversity for sustainability of life), rather than falling into the narrow trap of the Western conclusion of ‘The End of History’ that even its author already repudiated.