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Democracy and Internationalisation

by Paul Ruppen, Chairman of the "Forum for direct democracy"

In defence of political democracy

Democracy is a specific organisation of political decision processes. It can be considered as a fact that larg societies can't survive without institutionalized decision processes. Public goods like social security, juridictional security, infrastructures, environmental protection, and so on, are not produced by single individuals within free cooperation. That's why the utopia of the dispersion of the state within the civil society and within free cooperation of free individuals has to be abandoned. The consequence of this is the recognition of the importance of political liberalisme (parlamentarism, forms of direct democracy (referendum, initiative), separation of powers, freedom of association and meeting, pluralisme, state-critical political culture, and so on). Only these instruments permit the largest possible controle of the imperishable state. One of our main reasons to fight the EU-integration-process lies here: this process undermines political democracy und makes popular control of political decisions impossible or very difficult.

Democratisation of economy is not an alternative to political democracy. All known and more or less realistic models of democratisation of economy suppose regulation by the state. Without democratic control of that regulation, the democratic organisation of economy would be permanently threatened by the state.

The advantages of direct democracy

Direct democracy is the political system which permits a legally fixed percentage of the population to demand a votation about a certain subject. By it, the people has the right to attribute competences of decision to the different levels of the political system. Direct democracy as realized in an imperfect way in several States of the United States and in Switzerland maximizes political participation of the population. This kind of participation has to be considerd as a human right, as every woman and man (foreigners as well) should have the right to participate in the building of the social, economical and political framework in which he has to live. That's why the evalutation of direct democracy should not be done with regard to "confidence in the people's voice". A person has the right to participate even if she doesn't have the same opinions as me. Blind confidence in the people and in elites is dangerous. It is not the political system which can garantee the defence of his own values and ideas but the own political action. Direct democracy offers an ideal framework for it, because relatively small groups can demand a political discussion of a subject. Furthermore, political knowledge is getting relatively well distributed throughout the population.

The acceptance of the advantages of direct democracy doesn't imply the negation of the fact, that the outcomes of votations reflect the social and economical relations of power. The defence of an institution doesn't imply its mystification. But one has to consider, that all political systems reflect relations of power. That's why one can't reproach this fact to direct democracy. Within the institutions of direct democracy amendments are to be made which improve the chances of poor, women and financeless groups to influence political decisions in their favour. Similarly it has to be noticed, that one can't demand from direct democracy that it always leads to "correct" decisions. There are no political decisional procedures which garantee the "correctness" of decisions. Lack of respect of minorities is a problem of all political systems. Direct democracy offers a framework at least as good as other systems for engagement in favour of the respect of minorities and of the human rights. The late recognition of the right for women to participate at elections and votations in Switzerland is not an argument against direct democracy. Befor the introduction of the political rights of women the swiss systems suffered from a lack of direct democracy to the extend that it excluded a majority of citizens from participation. Similarly, an exclusion of foreigners is a restriction of direct democracy which is not an argument for less but for more direct democracy and the full political integration of foreigners (not only european).

On the background of the reflections about political and direct democracy we want to discuss the topic of internationalisation of economy and environmental problems. First we will developp a model of international cooperation respectful of local, democratic self-determination (within the limits of human rights for the whole population living in an geographical area).

Cooperation and local liberty of political action

It is a fact that international relations are getting more and more importante. This is from the point of peace politics a positive developpement. International cooperation is furthermore necessary to enhance the range of political action and the capability of democratic problem solution of the different states. Without cooperation, the fight for local competitive advantages will let die any desire to solve social and environmental problems. On the other side, international cooperation doesn't enhance by itself the capability of states to solve problems.

European Union and the GATT/WTO are examples for the fact that international cooperation enforces competition between countries and regions and leads by it to social and environmental dumping. That's why it is urgent to developp forms of international cooperation which saveguards the advantages of cooperation without the disadvantages of cooperation of the EU-type. Such an alternative aims at a decentralized, cooperative global society, at a strenghening of transnational democracy and at the overcoming of euronational block-building.

Transnational democracy

(a) The existing states have to be decentralised and democratised. Decentralisation has to be realised by the attribution of competences at the lowest possible level within the states. Democratisation has to be realized by the introduction of direct democracy at all the levels of the state (communities, areas, districts, regions, cantons, and so on). Every local political authority should have the right to conclude international treaties - within its range of competences - with every other foreign political entity.

(b) The international relations have to be decentralized and democratized. Decentralisation has to be realised by the solution of problems on the lowest political level possible. Only problems, which can't be solved alone are to be solved by international cooperation. If the solution of a problem requires international cooperation it should only be solved by the countries which are concerned. The traffic problems of the Alps have to be solved by the alpine regions. The problems of north-sea fishery don't concern the alpine regions and have to be solved by the north-sea costal countries. By the application of the developped principles a fine and dense global network of cooperation is created - without block-building.

Democratisation of the international relations has to be introduced by a stronger institutionalized integration of the population of the different states into international negotiation. For that we propose the following reforms: (1) principle of free access to information. The political system has the duty to inform the population about ongoing and planned international negotiations; all official papers and negotiation mandates have to be published. (2) institution of circles of discussion, where the different social interests can be articulated. (i.g. extra-parlamentary commissions where interested and concerned people (NGO's) are represented. (3) right of the citizens of the different countries to make propositions at the international level (OSZE, UNO, EU, WEU, NATO, environmental conferences, and so on; (4) constitutional obligation of the governments to favour the rights of participation of the population on the international and intranational level.

(c) By international treaties minimal social and environmental standards are to be introduced in order to prevent social and environmental dumping (minimal norms with regard to working hours, social charges, environmental taxes, and so on). The minimal standards could be strengthened by the different countries or groups of countries as long as this doesn't harm the poor countries. The minimal standards can be increased by the historical developpement (developpement of productive forces). This model doesn't prevent the different countries from making experiences with regard to different problem solution. This is very important because it permits experimentation with problem solution which is finally profitable to all the countries. The NGO's as trade unions, peace movement, women's movement, environmental movements, consumer protection movements, small peasent movements and so on play an important role in this context. They balance to a certain extend the power of the private industry lobbies - NGO's of a special kind. Intense exchange of information and the information of the populations impedes the strategy of "divide et impera" of international capital. In order to permit the NGO's the fulfilment of their task NGO's should have the right to participate in international conferences and to have representatives in the delegations of the different countries.

(d) It is necessary to find an organisation of the international monetary system which stabilises the exchange rates by fixing them to the real prices of goods and wich permits the different states more autonomous economical policies. The long term commercial and financial balances of the different countries must be in equilibrium with exception of the poor countries which should get advantages in order to have the possiblity to join the richer countries. Proposals for such an reorganistion of the monetary system exist (see for instance: Paul Davidson, 1992: International Money and the Real World, London, McMillan) They offer realistic perspectives to permit the different states flexible economical politics wich are adapted to local economical situation and which permit full employment politics in accordance with the local working conceptions. The measures proposed to fight social and environmental dumping and to reorganise the international monetary system have in common, that they suppose international cooperation in order to enlarge local freedom of decision. Some kinds of cooperation imply more local freedom and some (UE, GATT/WTO) less. We refuse forms of international cooperation which limits unnecessarily the local freedom to solve problems.

Weitere Texte zum Themenbereich:

"Why Switzerland should not join the EU" - English Versions of the Articles in the Swiss Left Wing Weekly WoZ
A Green Progressive Vision of Europe
British Trade Unions against the Euro
Citizens’ initiative and referendum in Britain and Northern Ireland 2007:
Democracy and Internationalisation
EU campaign aimed at young people in the UK
European Unification and the Rise of Corporate Power
Independence or Empire? Ireland and the Nice Treaty
The Economist Survey of 21.12.96 about "Direct Democracy (and Switzerland)"
The Forum for Direct Democracy - who we are
The History of Direct Democracy in Switzerland, by Kris W. Kobach, law professor at the University of Missouri (Kansas City) School of Law. (pdf-document)
The Netherlands: a century of struggle for democracy
The quotation of the year (1998)

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