A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
Analysis and Parliamentarian Opinion
PARLIAMENTARIANS FOR GLOBAL ACTION
DRAFT - 12 August 1993
A Briefing Paper:
Prepared for the Standing Committee on External Affairs and Trade of the Canadian House of Commons
In November 1992, a delegation of Canadian parliamentarians, visiting the offices of Parliamentarians for Global Action, raised the idea of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, enquiring whether Global Action had considered the matter. In fact, a brief paper on the subject had been prepared by Global Action’s Australian Councillor in 1989, but no political activity had been undertaken by the organisation as a whole.
In February, the Standing Committee on External Affairs & International Trade of the House of Commons in Canada endorsed the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly. It recommended that the Canadian Government convene a meeting of parliamentarians in 1994 or 1995 to consider the question of such an Assembly, as part of Canada’s contribution to the 50th anniversary celebration of the United Nations. In June, the Standing Committee requested Parliamentarians for Global Action to (a) prepare a preliminary briefing paper on the political implications of a UN Parliamentary Assembly; and (b) prepare a preliminary strategy paper for promoting the proposal of an Assembly to parliamentarians of UN Member States. This paper is the product of that assignment.
Independent of the above development, Global Action’s Canadian branch in February, and its Australian and New Zealand branches in May, had expressed interest in the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly, or urged the organisation to become active on the subject. In May, Global Action’s Executive Committee resolved that the organisation should “pursue the idea” of an Assembly.
This paper, then, reflects what might be seen as an incipient but growing interest among politicians around the world in the idea of a parliamentary assembly of some kind that would, in some manner, be related to the United Nations. Expressions of interest from a select group of legislators in a few countries does not, of course, make for a consensus. For its part, Parliamentarians for Global Action has yet to formally endorse the establishment of an Assembly. That is why the research in this paper is intended to be value free; it makes no presupposition about the broad political opinion on the subject around the world. It seeks to explore the intellectual basis, and the various considerations at stake, in the idea, and it canvasses opinion on the subject, in an open ended way.
If the idea of such an Assembly is seen, in due course, to have merit, some profound political and indeed constitutional considerations will be raised in the area of international politics, requiring a measured and sound judgement. The idea, from the preliminary survey undertaken, seems to have attracted interest from among many members of national legislatures. It is to be hoped that, in the event the idea is pursued, it will be treated with understanding and a constructive attitude from other leading sections of the bodies politic in all countries of the world.
Senator Silvia Hernandez Dr. Kennedy Graham
International President Secretary General
Part I: Political Implications of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
1. Precedents and Models
2. Considerations Underlying a UN Parliamentary Assembly
3. Possible Characteristics of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
(a) Role, Scope and Competence
(b) Structure and Procedures
4. Means of Establishing A UN Parliamentary Assembly
5. Parliamentary Opinion on a UN Parliamentary Assembly: A Survey
Part II: A Strategy for Promoting the Proposal of a UN Parliamentary Assembly
This briefing paper considers the idea of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly *.
Many different bodies involving members of congresses and parliaments exist around the world today. They serve different purposes: to promote the objectives of a treaty of friendship and co operation concluded among states, to involve the people in a regional integration movement or to foster contact generally among members of national parliaments. None exists for the purpose of discussing, and making recommendations on, issues at the United Nations. Yet the United Nations Organisation is the world’s principal international institution, dedicated to the cause of peace, human rights, economic development and the rule of law.
There may be a case for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, based on notions of legitimacy and representative government. Or it might be concluded that sufficient parliamentary institutions exist for the purpose of international co operation, and that there is no need for one at the United Nations whose General Assembly is a deliberative organ in any event. Whichever judgment is made, what is required initially is a sound intellectual analysis, and a comprehensive survey of political and public opinion on the subject.
This paper seeks to help explore the relevant questions behind a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.
The paper is divided into two parts. The first part explores the political implications of a UN Parliamentary Assembly. It reviews the historical development, and analyses the various models, of the international parliamentary bodies that exist in the world of the 1990s, focusing on unique or important aspects of special relevance to the current question. It then explores some basic considerations underlying the concept of a UN Parliamentary Assembly, and outlines arguments for and against such an institution. It considers the possible role and area of competence of such a body, its structure and methods, composition and representation, and means of financing. The various ways in which a Parliamentary Assembly, related to the United Nations, could be established are identified. Finally, Part I investigates parliamentarian opinion on the subject, conveying the results of a survey conducted among members of Parliamentarians for Global Action.
Part II of the paper then gives thought, on a hypothetical basis, to ways in which the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly might be pursued further through parliamentary action, and possible action by governments.
* This paper was produced by the Secretariat of Parliamentarians for Global Action, under the supervision of a Parliamentarian Working Group, members of Global Action. Special appreciation is expressed to Mr. Josh Hamilton for assistance in the preparation.
Parliamentarians for Global Action:
Working Group on a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
Parliamentarian Members Country
Dip. Karen Olsen Beck de Figueres Costa Rica
Mht. Benazir Bhutto Pakistan
Mr. Philip Bokov Bulgaria
Dep. Emma Bonino Italy
Mr. George Foulkes United Kingdom
Sen. Silvia Hernandez (Chair) Mexico
Ms. Houda Kanoun Tunisia
Dr. A. Moyeen Khan Bangladesh
Rep. John Langmore Australia
Hon. David MacDonald Canada
Hon. Taher Masri Jordan
Hon. Lesedi Mothibamele Botswana
Hon. Arthur N.R. Robinson Trinidad and Tobago
Mr. Theo L. Sambuaga Indonesia
POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF A UN PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY
1. Precedents and Models
A. International Parliamentary Associations
Multilateral parliamentary bodies have existed for almost as long as international organisations. A few are global, some are regional, while others rest on post-colonial cultural and political links. Three principal characteristics distinguish them: the geographic scope they represent, the means by which they were established, and the extent of their powers. Other features, such as structure and procedures, composition and means of representation, and method of financing, are also important.
Only two parliamentarian bodies have true global coverage: the Inter-Parliamentarian Union and Parliamentarians for Global Action. The IPU is over 100 years old, Global Action only 15 years. There are twelve regional parliamentary associations - in Asia, Caribbean, Central America, and the Nordic region.
Four parliamentary bodies were formally established by treaties negotiated by the executive branch of governments: the European Parliament, and the Caribbean, Latin American and Nordic parliamentary associations. All of the others were established by decisions of parliamentarians themselves.
The powers of these parliamentary bodies vary. The sole supranational parliament, the European Parliament, has the most extensive powers, while others have more limited competence.
For a more comprehensive chronology of parliamentary associations throughout history, see appendix B.
The European Parliament
The European Community (EC) is more than a mere international agreement of alliance. Its purpose over time is to place selected national prerogatives such as currency, defense, and foreign policy under a sovereign supranational authority for the benefit of the Community as a whole. The concept of a Community rather than strictly national identification is embodied in the European Parliament, where members (MEPs) are seated according to their political affiliation, not their nationality. As the parliamentary arm of the still evolving European construct, the EP has developed in the span of forty years from a more modest Common Assembly attached to the European Coal and Steel Community to a significant legislative force in European politics. Two aspects of this transformation merit notice: direct election and budget authority.
Direct elections by universal suffrage were ultimately envisioned by the treaties establishing the EC Istitutions. Difficulties over a required “uniform (electoral) procedure in all Member States” (Treaty of Rome, Article 138) helped to postpone direct elections until 1979, prior to which MEPs were appointed from their national parliaments. With the advent of direct elections, EP went from 198 nominated members from national parliaments to 410 elcted representatives (now 518), immediately becoming more assertive.
Budgetary authority came in the 1970s and proved equally decisive. During the 1950s and 1960s, EP had power only to debate activities of the Commission (the EC executive) and to move to censure by two-thirds majority, forcing the Commission’s resignation. This never occurred, and the EP wielded little authority. Once Parliament was granted a role in developing the Community budget in the early 1970s, its standing began to change significantly. Not only did the legislature now possess a negative power in approving the budget, but by allocating funds for previously non-existent programs, Parliament effectively initiated Community policies in new areas. In this way, EP first claim to what has become an ever-expanding competence in European politics. An ongoing series of steps has enhanced and extended Parliament’s recommendatory, consultive, and legislative powers. It remains, however, for ratification of the Maastricht Treaty for the European Parliament to assume powers that might place it truly within the rea
lm of a legislature in the received sense, and more of an equal partner with the more dominant EC Council of Ministers.
Global Parliamentary Bodies
The Inter-Parliamentary Union
The oldest of these multilateral istitutions, with a unique history and status. Coming out of the peace movement, IPU was founded in 1889 on the personal initiative of two MPs (one british, one French) as the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on International Arbitration. After WWI, the League of Nations and the International Court of Justice (which developed from the IPU-inspired Permanent Court of Arbitration) obviated the arbitration role, so the Union widened is mandate to encompass broader themes of parliamentary contact and cooperation. Current organisation statutes state IPU’s aims as:
- to foster contact and co-operation among parliaments and parliamentarians;
- to discuss and express views on international questions to promote parliamentary action;
- to defend and promote human rights; and
- to work to enhance representative institutions worldwide.
Although historically a European dominated group, Asian, African, and Latin American representation in the Union increased dramatically in recent decades, particularly since decolonisation in the 1960s. Today, membership comprises 118 countries from every part of the globe. Three facets of IPU are here of particular interest: its quasi official status; its past relationship to the League and then the UN; and questions of national membership criteria.
Although an unofficial organisation, IPU has since 1922 required its parliamentarian members to join through their country’s “National Group”. The National Group then selects delegates to the organisation’s annual Conference held in the national parliament of a member group. Each group is assessed a financial contribution to IPU which the parliament pays to maintain membership privileges.
The semi official nature of the National Group system leaves the organisation in a somewhat awkward position—both lacking independence from governments and, at the same time, denied the concomitant power of official government sanction. The membership structure enables access to public funds for IPU activity, but it also enhances potential government leverage over individual members. Conversely, unofficial status makes IPU’s efforts purely recommendatory. The Conference passes resolutions which National Groups are constitutionally obliged to promulgate in their parliaments. The intent is that, through such action, the executive branch of governments might be persuaded to act in line wieh IPU recomrnendations, either at the UN or in other international fora. In practice this duty appears neglected.
Earlier in the century, the question of IPU’s relationship to the League of Nations was debated extensively. According to a former senior official of the IPU, the Union “jealously guarded its independent position.” Postwar, and again in the [1960s], a similar issue arose with regard to the UN […].
The question of criteria for acceptance of National Groups has posed difficult judgements for the IPU. With the increase in number of sovereign states, the IPU has faced difficult decisions on admitting new Groups, as it seeks to balance the mandates of promoting representative government and fostering co operative contact among parliamentarians of all nations. IPU tends to be inclusive; however, a Group may be suspended if its parliament ceases to function as such in the view of the organisation’s Executive Committee. Historical choices illustrate the difficulty: In 1928 the Union resolved in favour of “freely elected parliamentarians” and expressed disapproval of any tampering with parliamentary regimes without due process. This seIved little practical value. Between 1947 and 1955, a Spanish Republican Group asserted its right to Union membership and was initially accepted, but ultimately IPU decided in favour of parliaments “functioning as such” within their national territories and accepted instead membe
rs of Franco’s Cortes as Spain’s National Group. In recent decades, the issue has intensified with the spread of one party states. In principle the IPU has attempted to apply juridical rather than political criteria in accepting National Groups. In practice, it has often used membership in the UN as a measure of a nation’s acceptability, particularly with respect to East European countries during the Cold War period. Blatantly anti representative developments such as coups d’etat are grounds for suspension: currently Algeria and Peru are under suspension.
Parliamentarians for Global Action
An unofficial world wide network of members “who have taken a seat in a national or regional legislature.” Members join either as a national group or in their individual capacities: membership currently stands at over 900 members from 73 countries, including those from twelve national groups. The principal purposes of the organisation are:
- to service parliamentarians, informing them on issues of global security, economic development and the environment; and assisting them in co operative efforts to resolve such problems, and on issues concerning the strengthening of global institutions; and
- to approach governments with suggested courses of action on these global issues.
The organisation’s approach is policy and action oriented. It is known primarily for its Six Nation Initiative in the mid 1980s and the initiative to amend the Partial Test Ban Treaty to introduce a comprehensive nuclear test ban. More recently, it has been focusing on other issues such as peacekeeping, democracy, population and sustainable development.
Other global parliamentary networks which focus on specific issue areas include: Global Committee of Parliamentarians for Population and Development a non profit entity registered in the United States. It is a looser network and less active today than it was during the 1980s. A related body is the Global Forum for Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival, which has convened four gatherings over the past five years to contemplate the relationship between human values and political action in an interdependent world. This organisation took the initiative in the establishment of the new Green Cross, an international network for the preservation of the global environment.
Regional and Sub Regional Bodies
Parliamentary Assembly of the Conference on Security and Co operation in Europe.
A new body that has attracted much attention, given the political success of the CSCE itself. The institution is too new to have a track record, but the circumstances of its creation are most interesting. The 1990 Charter of Paris, the principal document acknowledging the end of the Cold War, referred to the desirability[?] of, but did not establish, a CSCE parliamentary assembly. Picking up on the initiative, the Spanish Parliament decided to host meetings toward creating such an Assembly. At a preparatory staff level meeting in March 1991, the Canadians circulated a survey to all the delegations. A paper based on the written responses of 17 nations provided the basis for a working paper prepared by the Spanish Chairman. The paper was circulated at the formal April 1991 meeting where it took under three days for the drafting committee to produce the document subsequently adopted. The constituent document is thus the agreement recorded among parliamentarians at the Madrid meeting [ratified subsequently by na
tional legislatures?] The first formal Assembly of the CSCE was held in Budapest in July 1992.
The stated aims of the Assembly are:
- to assess the implementation of the objectives of the CSCE;
- to discuss the issues and work of the Ministerial Council and the summit meetings; and
- to initiate and promote further co operation and security in Europe.
Beyond the advantage of a certain limelight, this parliamentary assembly enjoys the enhanced status of having grown out of an official inter governmental agreement which now comprises 52 states. What successes may await it remains to be seen.
Latin American Parliament
Created by international treaty, this group has official status under international law, although its resolutions are not binding on member governrnents. One of the Parliament’s most visible activities is working to develop a regional response to the scourge of drugtrafficking, a threat which is clearly beyond the powers of any one country to defeat. A unique feature of this organisation is that membership includes representatives from both the national legislatures and the national judiciaries. The recent Buenos Aires Conference on Latin American legal unification was an LAP initiative.
A parliamentary assembly of the five Nordic countries established under the Helsinki Treaty of 1951. The Council passes resolutions and makes recommendations to Nordic governments for action. Its main work has been on domestic issues, such as establishing a free market for travel and labour within the region.
ASEAN Inter Parliamentary Organisation
Established in 1977 by parliamentary delegation heads from ASEAN Treaty states. Its stated purpose is to promote ASEAN goals and to solve problems of common interest through cooperative action.
Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians
An agreement explicitly delineating this entity was drafted at the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference in July 1989, but which has yet to be ratified[?]. Among identified goals are: more involvement of CARICOM citizens in community affairs, and improved regional communication, cooperation, and development.
Other Regional and Sub Regional Parliamentary Associations include:
Amazonian Parliament, Andean Parliament, Central American Parliament, North Atlantic Assembly, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and West European Union Assembly.
Trans National Parliamentary Associations
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
An association of parliamentarians from the countries of the Cornmonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth, before that the British Empire). The CPA is particularly notable for its election monitoring activities […]
International Assembly of French Speaking Parliamentarians
Established in 1967 as an “Association” by delegates from 23 parliaments in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe. Its original purpose was defending and promoting the French language and culture, later broadened to include development and human rights issues and the rule of law. Francophone and partly Francophone countries are eligible. The organisation serves to strengthen cultural bonds and forge a sense of cornmunity among diverse nations around the world. A major accomplishment in this vein was the creation of the francophone inter goverrLmental organisation ACCT (Agence de cooperation culturelle et technique) in 1970.
B. Current Parliamentary Activity at the United Nations
Several of the parliamentary organisations discussed above enjoy Affiliated NonGovernmental Organisation (NGO) status at the United Nations, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council. The Inter Parliamentary Union maintains Category I status (which includes the right to speak at meetings and to propose agenda items for ECOSOC), while Parliamentarians for Global Action and the Global Committee of Parliamentarians for Population and Development have Category II status (which includes the right to speak at meetings, but not to propose agenda items).
Informal Meetings of MPs at the United Nations
For the last fourteen years, Parliamentarians for Global Action has convened an Annual Forum, inviting parliamentarians from around the world to a two day conference at the United Nations. The MPs discuss topics currently before the UN and adopt a parliamentary declaration expressing their position on issues of common concern. In November 1992, it convened a two day parliamentary debate on global environmental issues and peacekeeping. The debate, held in the chamber of the Economic and Social Council, was opened by the Secretary General and filmed for international television broadcast.
The IPU has also begun hosting parliamentary meetings recently during the General Assembly session. The Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Union to host an international parliamentary gathering in 1995 as part of the UN’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Parliamentarian Involvement in National Missions to the United Nations
Some Member States have maintained a practice of including parliamentarians from their national legislatures in their delegations to the UN General Assembly each year. In July and August of 1992 Parliamentarians for Global Action mailed a survey to the Permanent UN Missions of 84 countries requesting information on the history and nature of parliamentarian involvement in their delegations.
1. Of the 24 respondents (8/12/93) five, or 21% reported no involvement either currently or historically. 46% have had ongoing involvement since the 1950s.
2. Of those with parliamentary involvement, 79% sent ten or fewer parliamentarians to the 47th General Assembly. 16% sent fifteen or more.
3. 58% of respondents anticipated fewer than ten MPs attending this year’s 48th session. 13% expected attendance of at least fifteen.
4. Authority to select the parliamentarians for UN delegations was evenly spread among Parliamentary Speakers, political parties, Foreign Affairs Committees, and governments in cooperation with these actors.
5. 79% of parliamentarians attending did so as individuals, 21% attended as part of a group.
6. Only 32% were assigned to specific committees of the General Assembly. Others were free to devote their time as they saw fit.
7. 58% of the respondents deemed the parliamentarians to be integral to their nation’s UN delegation, while 37% classified them as observers.
8. 84% of the missions with a history of parliamentarian involvement expect parliamentarians to be in their countries’ delegations at the UN 50th anniversary celebrations.
The parliamentary bodies operating around the world in the 1990s are many and varied. One is a regional supranational legislature that passes laws and acts as a check on the regional executive. Others are regional assemblies that foster general co operation while leaving it to the executive branch of their national governments to effect that co operation. Some have a conscious political philosophy and aspire to certain global goals. Others are international institutions that serve as a platform for an exchange of views. Some have been formally established by the executive branch of governments. Others have come into existence through decision of parliaments or a group of parliamentarians themselves. Some are constitutionally bound to promote the purposes of a treaty negotiated among the executive branch of governments. Others jealously guard their independence from governments. All seek to promote international co operation in one way or another.
Principally missing from this large group of parliamentary bodies is one whose dedicated aim is to formally discuss the issues where they cannot help but receive official consideration —that is, before the principal international institution of the late twentieth century—the United Nations Organisation.
2. Considerations Underlying a UN Parliamentary Assembly
Some profound political and constitutional considerations underlie the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly. The philosophical basis for such an institution needs to be addressed, involving the legitimacy of UN decision making through the direct representation of the peoples of the world in UN affairs. Other, more practical considerations are also at stake: the question of duplication of activities and the need for institutional and financial efficiency, and the credentials of delegates for involvement in such a body. Not all of these are of equal import. If the fundamental reasons for an Assembly are not strong, practical difficulties might be such that no real effort is made to resolve them. But if a compelling case exists for the body, then practical difficulties in the way of its establishment should be seen as a challenge to be overcome.
The Philosophical Basis for a UNPA
Legitimacy through Democratic Representation
The fundamental tenet upon which the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly would rest is that representative democracy is a positive good in its own right. Despite the often complex and occasionally chaotic nature inherent in an arena for multiple contending viewpoints, a strengthening of the representative nature of the United Nations through expanding its breadth of access to include the peoples’ representatives would directly advance the goals of peace and co operation as enumerated in Article 1 of the Charter.
Among the benefits of greater citizen involvement in the United Nations through a UN Parliamentary Assembly is the likelihood of enhanced support and legitimacy for its actions. As the UN is called upon to perform more and greater tasks each year, with many of those tasks likely to involve the use of force, it becomes increasingly important that the organisation have broad support to act decisively. It will certainly be difficult to achieve agreement in a much larger, more open forum, less constrained by executive direction; but once reached, the mandate to execute a decision would clearly carry greater weight.
The “Democratic Deficit”
The lack of an international legislature raises the question of the legitimacy of decisions and actions taken at the global level. There is no question of the legal sanctity of proper decisions and actions taken by responsible governments through the organs of the United Nations established by the Charter itself. But underlying the present structure, an enduring legitimacy for the United Nations Organisation requires the direct and continuing consent of the people.
The UN structure itself is established in the name of the people: the opening phrase of the Charter states, UWe the Peoples of the United Nations … have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims,” namely peace, human rights, the rule of law, and better standards of life in larger freedom. Accordingly, the Charter continues, Uour respective governments … have agreed to the present Charter.” Thereafter, no mention is made of the Upeoples of the United Nations” who, it is left to be inferred, have delegated authority for all practical purposes to the executive branch of their governments.
There is, then, no direct representation of the people at the United Nations. The degree of authenticity of their indirect representation differs among Member States. Members speak in the name of their national interest, but this interest is not always that of the people they represent; indeed, at times the government is defending itself against charges of human rights violations on its own citizens. Some governments are rnilitary dictatorships. In some democracies, the ministers of government, embodying the national sovereignty of the state when they attend the UN, are appointed by the head of government, and the executive and legislature are completely separated. In others, the head of government and ministers are drawn from, and remain members of, the legislature, and the executive and legislature are to that extent merged. In all cases, the diplomats and other officials before the UN are professional appointees in the foreign ministry of the executive branch of government. Their freedom of thought and ac
tion is tightly constrained by policy directives, formulated at home within the executive branch with little input from the citizenry or the legislature. For their part, the legislatures in the national capitals devote little time to foreign affairs, and little of that to UN issues. Their two principal functions are to discuss and ratify the treaties negotiated by the executive branch, with no power of amendment short of an international renegotiation by the executive; and to vote the funds for the conduct of foreign policy by the executive branch.
Legitimacy requires consent. Consent requires free debate among representatives directly elected by the people and periodically accountable to them. Legitimacy of the United Nations, therefore, would seem to require that the peoples of the world have the right to be heard directly through their representatives, assembled at the United Nations. A mutual understanding of, and respect for, the different values of national societies, and the gradual building of a global consensus, require a free debate among the representatives of Uthe peoples of the United Nations.” The establishment of a UN Parliamentary Assembly would be in line with several of the stated purposes of the United Nations as set out in article 1 of the Charter, namely:
“To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples…;
To achieve international co operation in solving international problems of an economic, cultural or humanitarian character…; and
To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”
The Question of Existing Institutions
The principal argument against a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations is not a denial of the need for legitimacy and democratic representation in the UN. It is rather that such a body is unnecessary since other institutions and organs already exist which suffice for this purpose. Two bodies might be seen as sufficient for the purpose: the UN General Assembly and the Inter Parliamentary Union.
The UN General Assembly is a deliberative body with nearly universal membership responsible for all issues before the United Nations. It cannot be held that the General Assembly lacks the scope and competence to handle all UN affairs. The issue is whether, being composed of representatives of the executive branch of governments, the General Assembly enjoys sufficient legitimacy to directly convey the views of the citizenry of the Member States; or whether a parallel body of parliamentarians is necessary to provide that collateral political support to the Organisation. This is a political judgement; it cannot be proven one way or the other on the basis of technical argumentation.
The IPU is based in Geneva and has no organic link with the United Nations; indeed, suggestions to that effect were resisted in the case of its predecessor, the League of Nations, and left unacted upon in the case of the UN. The IPU, whatever its intrinsic merits, does not suffice for the purpose of parliamentary deliberation of UN issues. Yet, if a UN Parliamentary Assembly were to be established for the purpose of promoting that organic link, the raison d’etre for the IPU would be significantly diminished.
The Question of Cost
A Parliamentary Assembly would increase UN administrative costs. Many of the costs, however, would be absorbed by current overhead. Were the Parliamentary Assembly to meet in the weeks prior to General Assembly sessions, or in the Chamber of another principal organ such as the Trusteeship Council, the resources of the United Nations would be efficiently used, perhaps for a greater gain. The main cost would be the expenses of the parliamentarians themselves, and support staff and services. The former rnight be the responsibility of each nation, thus imposing a relatively slight burden on the UN budget. If the expenses of parliamentarians were to come from the UN budget, the expense would indeed be substantial.
A further consideration is the savings a UN Parliamentary Assembly rnight naturally engender to offset increased outlays. As the UN Secretary General noted in hisAgendafor Peace, the United Nations has so far proved far from prescient in anticipating crises or containing them in the early stages, where the cost, human and financial, is least and the probability of success greatest. The Secretary General has attributed much of the blame to a lack of resources, human and otherwise, particularly information. The energies and resources of UN parliamentarians would improve the critical flow of information. Certainly it increases the human assets at UN disposal. Moreover, a new and significant avenue for communication would possibly improve the chances of cooperative rather than violent solutions to international problems, thus lessening the need for costly UN (or unilateral) military operations.
A major weakness of the United Nations at present is that at a time of increasing demands on the Organisation, many Member States fail to pay their assessed contributions either promptly or in full. As most national legislatures wield budgetary authority, an increased legislative involvement might encourage a greater readiness to pay.
General Knowledge and Expertise
It is sometimes contended that parliamentarians in national legislatures are not experts in issues of foreign policy: that, indeed they are expected to be experienced mainly in domestic affairs if they wish to win elections. It may be argued, however, that in today’s world, voter interest is broadening beyond purely national concerns to encompass issues affecting other nations and indeed the planet as a whole. It is also true that the majority of officials in the world’s executive branches of governments are not expert in foreign affairs. In absolute terms, the number of expert parliamentarians is quite substantial. Thousands of parliamentarians serve on foreign affairs, intelligence, international trade and defence committees in their national legislatures. There are a large number of inter parliamentary institutions expressly constituted for foreign affairs work whose large membership and various accomplishments further indicate significant parliamentary expertise and interest in global issues.
Independence of Legislatures
The philosophical rationale for a UN Parliamentary Assembly presumes a minimum degree of independence of its representatives from the executive branch of governments of Member States, especially if Assembly members are to be appointed by or from the ranks of national legislatures. The situation in this respect differs from country to country.
Two considerations are pertinent: whether the legislature itself is democratically constituted; and its degree of political dependence on the government or ruling political party.
Since democratic representation is the raison d’etre for the Assembly, what might be the effects on the institution of members sent as representatives of non democratic legislatures? Would their presence compromise the whole endeavour? While their legal right to represent their country internationally might be perfectly legitimate, the nature of their selection and constituency poses difficulties for a Parliamentary Assembly.
Whatever their respective merits, different representative political systems by nature confer widely varying degrees of individual latitude on parliamentarians. Some presidential systerns allow members of a legislature function virtually autonomously. Congresspersons are directly accountable only to the voters of their electorate. The executive is elected independently and is often not of the same party as that which controls the legislature. Cabinet officials can be drawn from any sector, and legislators approached by the President for cabinet or other executive posts must resign their congressional seat should they accept.
Parliamentary systems are different. The government is formed by the majority party or coalition of parties in the legislature. The Parliamentary Leader becomes Prime Minister and forms the government, inviting parliamentary colleagues to join his or her cabinet. In the Westrninster system, cabinet ministers do not relinquish their parliamentary mandates, in fact they must maintain them to be eligible for their portfolios. Party discipline is generally strong because, inter alia, the party determines who shall stand for a particular seat, who shall be Prime Minister should the party get to form a government, and because the cabinet is drawn from party members in good standing.
Other political systems have a mix of the presidential and parliamentary structures.
Irrespective of the particular system adopted, however, much depends on the political culture and tradition of the country. In some countries, the norms of legislative independence are scrupulously observed, and political faith in the restraint of executive leadership is strong. In some other countries, the rights and freedoms of the legislature are either not well developed or are overridden, and the parliaments become little more than subordinate institutions to the executive. In these latter situations, the freedom of judgement from official policy of a representative to a UN Parliamentary Assembly would be curtailed, and to that extent the rationale for such an Assembly diminished.
3. Possible Characteristics of a UN Parliamentary Assembly
(a) Role, Scope and Competence
The role of a UN Parliamentary Assembly would essentially be to complement the work undertaken at the United Nations by its current organs, providing them with a legitimacy that can only be derived from a free expression and exchange of opinion.
The scope of its work would inevitably be broad. It could be entrusted to focus on any issue it deems fit. Or it could confine itself to precisely the same scope of issues as that accorded to the General Assembly, namely, Uany questions or any matters within the scope of the present Charter.”
The competence of the Assembly, that is to say its powers, would necessarily be limited, at least for the foreseeable future. It is unlikely that it would act as a “strong” legislature in the sense of a body with vested powers passing binding laws upon all peoples of the world. If such a body is ever established, it must perhaps await a global consensus over human values. Rather, the Assembly is likely to function as a Uweak” legislature, entrusted to debate the issues before it, and perhaps to pass on resolutions expressing an agreed view. The General Assembly itself has, under article 10, recommendatory power only, with its recommendations being addressed to “the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both.” A Parliamentary Assembly could have recommendatory power only to the General Assembly, so as to avoid confusion.
Another possibility would be to give the Assembly different competence in different areas. For example, drawing on the traditional legislative power over public expenditure, it might be entrusted with a more than advisory competence in determining the UN budget or formulae for assessing national contributions. Considering the authority many legislatures wield over their national budgets, this sort of arrangement might strengthen the resolve of Member States to meeting their financial obligations. Or it could have a stronger competence in an area such as human rights, while having a deliberative, or recommendatory competence only, in other areas.
(b) Structure and Procedures
The structure of an Assembly could mirror that of the current General Assembly: seven cornmittees focusing upon security issues, special political affairs, social and economic affairs, human rights, trusteeship issues, administrative questions, and legal issues. This way, the General Assembly could benefit directly from the views of the parliamentary representatives.
The Parliarnentary Assembly would itself determine its procedures. But it might be sensible for it to meet each year in advance of the General Assembly, perhaps from May to July inclusive, so that its debates and recommendations could be made known and formally conveyed to the General Assembly; that is to say, to governments preparing for the General Assembly, in time for its views to be properly absorbed. Although it would not be essential, it would make logistical sense for a Parliamentary Assembly to be located within the UN building in New York; the relatively un used Trusteeship Council chamber is one possibility; or the General Assembly chamber itself might be possible from May to July as the General Assembly is not then in session.
Rules for decision making should benefit from past experience. Decision by consensus can be crippling to progress and decisiveness in areas where complex considerations are at stake, since it effectively awards the power of veto to each of 184 Member States. Particularly if the Assembly’s powers are purely advisory, most matters should probably require only a majority of members present and voting—perhaps, as with the General Assembly, a twothirds majority for more significant issues such as resolutions recommending sanctions or use of force. Another option, more complicated, could comprise a mix of factors: two thirds of the members present and voting, representing both two thirds of the population of members present and voting, and two thirds of the financial contributions of those present and voting.
Questions of composition raise some fine points of judgement:
Eligibility of States:
Should a UN Parliamentary Assembly accept representatives from every UN Member State, or might it allow entry for non UN Member States, such as Kiribati, Nauru, Switzerland and Tuvalu? This depends, perhaps, on the means of establishment of such an institution. If an Assembly were established under the Charter, and is therefore an integral part of the United Nations Organisation, it would follow that only its Member States could send delegates. If, however, it were to be established by parliaments independently of the Charter yet still called a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, the way would be open to include representatives from states other than UN members. (The means of establishment are explored in chapter 4).
Should there be standards of any kind for eligible states before admission to an Assembly is granted? Should an eligible state be required to have a national parliament? If so, how should a parliament be defined? If a state meets the definition of a parliament, should there be a further standard of democracy applied to that parliament before representatives are admitted to a UN Assembly? Currently, some X of the 184 UN Member States are classified as democratic by XXXXX.
These considerations would be influenced largely by the method of representation adopted. If the representatives are selected from within the ranks of a national parliament, then the existence of one would seem to be a precondition, unless exceptions were explicitly allowed. If, however, the method of representation were from outside the parliament, such as direct election by the people of an eligible state, or appointment by the parliament of nonparliamentarians, then the issue does not arise. Even in these cases, however, some might be disposed to suggest that general standards of democracy should be applied for state eligibility, such as accountability of leaders, and compliance with the human rights obligations of the Universal Declaration and the two covenants. Democracy, as such, is a particularly subjective and emotive issue. It may be more prudent to rest any standards, if some are to be applied, on the universal human rights, since these are established in international law.
In general, the challenge is to balance universality with democratic standards. The present near total inclusiveness of UN membership would need to be assessed in light of the values of genuine democracy which would form the raison d’etre of a Parliamentary Assembly.
What should be the size of a UN Parliamentary Assembly and how many representatives should a Member State have? How should they be chosen?
Size of Assembly and National Representation
There is no absolute criterion for determining the maximum size of a UN Parliamentary Assembly. The relationship between assembly size and method of representation is close. If the former is consequential upon the latter, such as direct proportion to population, the numbers would be vast. One seat per million citizens would result in an Assembly of some 5500 deputies. Conversely, if a low ceiling is placed on total numbers, this will force a determination on the method of representation.
Two considerations are relevant. Too large a number of representatives would mitigate against deliberative efficiency. The second is a logistical point: the requirements of seating and servicing a large number of delegates (the UN General Assembly has a capacity of roughly 2100). These factors suggest an Assembly size of perhaps 1000 to 2000.
Method of Representation
The method by which UN Assembly parliamentarians might be chosen is politically complex. The two basic distinctions are between election, and appointment.
It seems a point of first principle for the UNPA to regard population in apportioning assembly seats. But this raises complications, no matter what method is used.
Direct Proportionality: At one extreme, a distribution scheme based purely on population would allot a full fifth of the seats to China. And, as noted above, the total numbers would be too large.
Sliding Scale: One modification would be a sharply sliding scale requiring ever larger numbers of citizens to qualify for each successive seat. The second possibility would be to group countries into several broad categories based on a population range, with all members of a given category receiving the same number of representatives. This is the method of the CSCE and European Parliament.
If direct elections are envisioned, further complexities would arise. The question of differing electoral systems—e.g., majority versus proportional systems—has enormous implications for who secures representation and by whom. Identical input at the polls can produce a different representation depending on the system under which the vote is tallied. Should direct elections ever occur, a uniform electoral system would appear essential for fairness. However, an imposed electoral scheme differing from a particular national system could conceivably send a different party as a majority to the Assembly than that which controls the national legislature. These issues have plagued the European Parliament and for years helped to delay the advent of direct elections to that body.
Even under an appointive system, the question of minority representation remains. The solution would seem to be to require parliaments to appoint Assembly members from political parties on a roughly proportional basis to their parties’ national showing. But this also poses a problem, viz., smaller countries must then receive a minimum of three representatives if the opposition is to have a voice without overtaking the majoritv position of the leading party. The ultimate consequence is a larger assembly and over proportional representation for the smaller nations since the upper size limit for a manageable Parliament would not allow for a proportional rise in seats allocated to the larger members.
The means of financing are essentially two fold: financing of delegations by national parliaments; and funding from the United Nations budget.
(i) UN Financing:
This would properly remove the Assembly from political vagaries in Member States. Symbolically, it is important to place the UN Parliamentary Assembly as much as possible on equal footing within the UN system; therefore, it should be funded in the same manner as other organs. Increased parliamentary input might elicit a greater willingness to provide financial resources on the part of Member States. Certainly the larger states, which now bear the bulk of the UN financial burden, will continue to do so. However, in comparison with the single vote they receive in the General Assembly, in a Parliamentary Assembly they would have a substantially larger proportional voice than those smaller states which pay relatively little, thus mitigating a common complaint of the wealthier nations.
(ii) Parliamentary Funding:
This solution would drastically reduce the burden a new Assembly would place on the current UN financial structure. However, questions of fairness might reasonably be raised, as poorer nations might not be financially capable of supporting some or all of the parliarnentary delegation to which they would otherwise be entitled.
4. Means of Establishing
A UN Parliamentalg Assembly
A fundamental question is how a UN Parliamentary Assembly might be established. Other international organisations, such as the UN itself, have been established by treaty negotiation among sovereign states.
Official Action by Governments
Article 7 of the United Nations Charter establishes six “principal organsn: the General Assembly, the three Councils, the Court and the Secretariat. No provision exists in the Charter for the creation of further principal organs. If a Parliamentary Assembly were to be given equal status to that of the General Assembly, this would require a Charter amendment.
Article 22 stipulates that the General Assembly may establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions. This would mean, however, that the UN Parliamentary Assembly, composed of members of a legislature, would be subordinate to, and exist at the discretion of, the General Assembly, which is composed of representatives of the executive branch of governments. This may not be a constitutionally desirable arrangement.
If neither Charter amendment nor subsidiary status is satisfactory, an alternative way of proceeding would be to create a UN Parliamentary Assembly by a separate legal instrument. Nothing in the Charter precludes, or could preclude, the negotiation of a separate treaty by sovereign states—which may be all, or some, of the UN Member States—that sets up a “Parliamentary Assembly of the United Nations” [name United Nations isn’t proprietary?]. Provided such a treaty is registered with the Secretariat as required under article 102, and provided that its provisions are compatible with those of the Charter as required under article 103, no political or legal difficulty arises with this approach.
It is beyond the competence of parliaments, acting together in their own capacities and independent of the executive branch of governments, to negotiate and conclude a formal treaty to this effect. Parliaments may therefore prefer to request their executive branch to so negotiate a treaty. Failing that, there is nothing to prevent them from agreeing, through some exchange of formal documentation, to establish a “Parliamentary Assembly of the United Nations”, and to fund it from their own parliamentary resources.
5. Parliamentary Opinion on the Idea of A UN Parliamentary Assembly: A Survey
Ultimately, whether a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN is taken up as a serious initiative will depend on the degree of interest and support the idea attracts, especially among the parliamentarians themselves and the people who elect them. Political factors likely to mould government and UN reaction must also be considered.
To assess the political sentiment among parliamentarians around the world on the idea of a UN Assembly, Parliamentarians for Global Action conducted a poll of its membership during July and August 1993. Questionnaires were sent in four languages to parliamentarians in 73 countries.
The sample is skewed in the sense that those members of parliament who join Global Action usually do so because of an attraction to the spirit of global co operation which is the philosophical rationale of the organisation. At the same time, the return does throw light on whether there is a sufficient political interest in the idea: that is to say, if there is a large absolute number of parliamentarians who are interested in the idea, it may not require unanimity among all, and could accommodate a degree of indifference, even opposition, from others. What the survey does not ascertain is whether there might exist a significant body of parliamentarians hostile to, and prepared actively to oppose, the idea of such an Assembly. This could be explored in the context of a larger, more representative survey of parliamentary opinion undertaken at a later date.
Some 73 of the 900 members (8%) responded to the questionnaire within the first month. The response rate is reduced by the fact of elections in the two countries where Global Action is largest (accounting for 28% of total membership), and also the summer recess in the legislatures of the Northern Hemisphere. A final response analysis will be undertaken on 30 September, three months after the questionnaire was dispatched.
The [preliminary (73 respondents from 37 countries)] results are set out in Appendix D. They show a clear and widespread interest in the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly.
1. Some 86% of respondents believed that the United Nations, as presently constructed, did not adequately reflect the views of the world’s people.
2. 92% believed there was not a proper balance between the representation of the executive branch and the legislative branch of governments in the UN system.
3. 97% supported the establishment of a UN Parliamentary Assembly.
4. 80% thought that a UN Parliamentary Assembly should take, as its subject focus, any lssue lt chose;
5. Respondents supporting an Assembly were divided about the degree of authority a UN Parliamentary Assembly should have concerning various issues. Answers were as follows:
Subject Debate% Resolution% Law%
Peace & Security 14 53 33
Disarmament 10 52 38
Economic/Trade 15 70 15
Environment 5 56 39
Social Issues 15 59 26
International Law 11 56 33
Democracy 23 45 32
Human Rights 9 42 49
Financing of UN 15 48 36
Five respondents left this section blank.
6. 82% thought that Assembly sessions should be of limited duration, rather than year long.
7. 75% believed that all recognised States should enjoy membership in the Assembly. 17% wanted qualifications, usually a functioning or democratic parliament.
8. 63% felt Parliamentary Assembly members should be national MPs appointed by their parliament. 25% would put the method at each parliament’s discretion.
9. Likely support for the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly:
Yes% No% NA%
(a) public 75 17 8
(b) MPs 92 4 4
(c) govts 44 36 20
10. Financial support:
(a) public 31 34 35
(b) MPs 63 20 17
(c) govts 39 37 24
11. 98% favoured discussion of the UN Parliamentary Assembly at the UN 50th celebration.
12. 93% were interested in attending a conference on the subject in 1994 or 1995.
OPTIONAL STRATEGIES FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION AND POSSIBLE ESTABLISHMENT
In the event a sufficient body of parliamentary opinion is in favour of establishing a UN Parliamentary Assembly, the question will arise as to the best way of proceeding. This section seeks to answer, on a hypothetical basis, that question.
Opinion as a Factor in a Strategy
In one important sense, it is open to parliamentarians to proceed on their own resources, and sufficient for them to do so, should they wish to go this route. If parliamentarians, who enjoy a political legitimacy through direct election by the people, judge that a UN Parliamentary Assembly is in the best interest of their citizens they represent, there is no power on earth that has the right or the competence to deny them.
At the same time, it is the essence of political wisdom that politicians know and understand the mood and opinions of key sections of society on any issue. The likely views and reactions of several sections would be germane to the issue of a UN Parliamentary Assembly: namely, the people, the national governments, and UN officialdom as represented by the secretariat. No survey of opinion has been undertaken of these sections for the purpose of this report, but some hypotheses might be in order.
The Peoples of the United Nations
Public reaction to a UN Parliamentary Assembly is difficult to postulate. Current data finds the American public generally quite favourably disposed toward the United Nations, while aware of certain problems and inclined to put limits on their support.
Among respondents to the parliamentary survey, a strong majority thought that the public would support the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly, but they were less sure the public would be prepared to finance it. Several possible reactions seem plausible.
The possibility of a greater financial burden to support an enlarged UN is unlikely to evoke support unless it can be demonstrated that the return on investment is significant. Citizens are often known to express lofty globalist sentiments when questioned on general principles, and to surrender them when costs or trade offs are concerned.
With parliamentarians at the UN, citizens would gain a more direct representation in international affairs, on issues which have a greater direct impact on their lives as time passes. Whether elected to a UN Parliamentary Assembly seat directly by their constituents, or appointed from the ranks of legislators elected to national office, UN parliamentarians would be far more accountable and accessible to citizens than the career civil servants and political appointees who now represent them at the United Nations and elsewhere internationally.
This paper provides no empirical data on the views of governments concerning the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly. Among respondents to the parliamentary survey, however, 43% felt their government would not support the idea; 38% did think support likely; and the remainder were unsure.
Such an assembly would represent an erosion of the traditional executive branch monopoly on diplomacy and international policy making; it might follow, therefore, that governments would not welcome its establishment. All power is jealous of its prerogatives, and foreign policy has historically been the purview of the executive. Most governments show little inclination to act collectively when they possess the means to proceed unilaterally. A parliamentary voice in the United Nations might be expected to call more vigorously for collective rather than unilateral action, and in some instances perhaps advocate stands contrary to the government line; parliamentarians unfettered by government mandate would tend to be seen as beyond the restraint of official briefs.
A UN Parliamentary Assembly would alter, albeit probably not greatly, the current balance of power at the UN. This might be resisted by the permanent five Security Council members, and by other powerful states who see their interests aligned with them. For those UN Member State governments who do not now see themselves well represented by the status quo as set in 1945, the reaction might be different. Assuming some form of modified proportional representation to allocate seats in the Parliamentary Assembly—probable given its representative rationale—a number of nations stand to gain “voice” over their current situation of one nation one vote in the General Assembly.
Potential benefits accruing to all governments include: increased communication and opportunity for multilateral cooperation and resultant economies of scale—ie. burden sharing—and increased potential to prevent or avert costly and dangerous crises through better communication and understanding.
United Nations Offlcials
Officials at the United Nations are international civil servants, and essentially neutral and impartial on any political issues of the day. Their professional responsibility is to serve the Secretary General who answers to the Member States. No doubt the Secretary General would be allowed the prerogative to express a view on the idea of a UN Parliamentary Assembly, in the event that the issue gained a momentum that brought it before the General Assembly.
It would be presumptuous to anticipate these views. Several possible considerations might, however, be taken into account in judging a possible approach by the United Nations itself. First, there might be a fear that the addition of a new and large assembly would overload the already strained financial, personnel, and physical resources of the Secretariat. Secondly, there could be a possible institutional wariness of a potentially fundamental change in the nature of an organisation that has developed its culture and routines over the course of 50 years.
On the other hand, three factors might be seen as potential benefits to the UN secretariat from this sort of change. First, the UN would have a greater visibility with the public at large as citizens will be more involved through their representatives. Second, the addition of politicians and their staffs rnight be perceived as augmenting the UN’s resources. Third, a stronger mandate for a given United Nations action might result should both assemblies support it.
Developing a Strategy
In the broadest sense, the alternative ways of proceeding with the idea are:
- To engender parliamentary support for the idea within national and regional parliaments;
- To put the idea before the executive branch of governments for their consideration, and possible action in support, in light of the parliamentary interest;
- Failing executive branch support, to proceed, as parliaments, to establish a UN Parliamentary Assembly independent of the executive branch of governments.
Initial Parliamentary Support
Possible ways of achieving initial parliamentary support include:
- debates, motions and resolutions within parliaments;
- inter parliamentary exchanges on the subject;
- a meeting of interested parliamentarians, either at the UN or hosted by a national parliament in the capital, to consider the idea.
It should be reiterated that parliamentarians and parliamentary organisations have already begun to consider the question of a UN Parliamentary Assembly.
Within Parliamentarians for Global Action, three national groups (Australia, Canada and New Zealand) resolved, in the first half of 1993, to promote the idea of an Assembly, and in May the Executive Committee decided to “pursue the idea.” Other national groups within Global Action could undertake a similar course. They could table the matter before the full chamber or the foreign affairs committee of their parliament. Two half day sessions of Global Action’s 15th Annual Forum at the United Nations, in October 1993, will be devoted to consideration of the idea and formulation of a possible strategy for pursuing it in 1994 and 95.
In the Canadian House of Commons, the Standing Committee on External Affairs has recommended that “Canada support the development of a UN Parliamentary Assembly and that [it] offer to host the preparatory meeting of the Assembly in the Parliament Buildings as the centrepiece in [its] celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UN in 1995.” One way of proceeding would be to invite the chairs of the foreign affairs committees of all national parliarnents, and perhaps an opposition counterpart, to attend such a preparatory meeting. This could be held in 1994, in preparation for a more formal meeting in 1995.
The IPU has been invited by the UN Secretary General to convene a three day meeting at UN headquarters in 1995, [28 August 2 September] as part of the 50th armiversary celebration. Depending on who attends and whether there is sufficient interest among the organisers and participants, this occasion could appropriately focus on the question of a UN Parliarnentary Assembly. If not, another meeting could be convened.
Executive Branch Support
Possible ways of proceeding to attract the support of the executive branch of governrnents include:
- parliamentary delegations to heads of government;
- action by the executive branches through a resolution at the UN General Assembly, for either negotiations to commence for a Charter amendment to create a new principal organ, or simply to set up, under the resolution itself, a subsidiary body.
If the executive branch of governments offer active support for the idea, the parliaments could simply urge the governments to create a Parliamentary Assembly at the UN, and ensure adequate funding
for it. If it is left to the legislatures themselves to act alone, they could begin moves, in 1994, to create a separate UN Parliamentary Assembly in 1995.