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A Case for a Democratic and Modern Governance for the Planet, by Christel Hahn

The last G20 summit in Hamburg saw unprecedented violent protests, unelected bodies like the IMF or the IPCC shape our economies, the UNO and its financing is in a crisis and the EU is being questioned by Brexiters and other popular movements, yet problems of planetary dimension keep piling up. After shortly elaborating on the rationale for our current system of governance I want to show, how digitalisation can democratise global governance.

I. How our Current Governance Systems Came into Existence

Man for a long time lived in „tribal“ societies. Those tribes had a certain coherence, a certain economic structure and were led by chiefs. Some of these tribes developped, became bigger, we got kingdoms, empires, …

But during this development also the individuals grew beyond the tribes, the citizen emerged. This citizen to a large extend is a homo economicus. A complex economic tissue developped and through the emergence of the individual (citizen) the coherent structure of the tribes were broken up.

The emergence of the nation state

So this needed new political structures. The citizens transformed the existing absolute monarchies into the modern state. This created a certain stabilization for the now incoherent societies, based on the rule of law and a monopoly by the state on using physical violence, a constitution and a process of negotiation between the different groups of the society: the modern constitutional state with separation of powers and a parliamentary democracy.

The modern process of this type happened in Europe and created a strong dynamics based on the liberation of economic forces through these nation states. This dynamics led to an export of the political model through economic activity, through emigration, through extending the states into old tribal areas, through colonialisation and the liberation of the colonies, … Landmarks were the French revolution and the American constitution. Some of the new states (US, Russia, China, India, Australia, …) were of the size of continents or sub-continents, in other areas smaller and often artificially creates states emerged.

So within these nation states a certain stability and peace was maintained, a pre-requisite for successfull economic activity. Yet similar structures were not available between these states, because there was nobody who could enforce it. So the millions of years old mechanism of tribal wars still served as the main mechanism for negotiations between those nation states. Another mechanism was the development of empires (or super-powers), who were able to create this stability in a large area of the planet: pax romana, pax habsburgiana, pax britannica, pax americana, … Yet no empire is forever ….

The age of nuclear weapons

Those never-ending wars were negotiations at the expense of millions of deaths and cumulated in the 20th century in the two world wars. But through the development of nuclear weapons of mass destruction at the end of the last world war, the process itself took on a different quality. A third world war became impossible due to a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons piled up on the two sides of the iron curtain, but violence itself continues through many, and very deadly regional wars, proxy wars, civil wars, terrorism and also through an enormous violence within the societies.

The global world order, that was the result of the second world war (UNO, …) can be seen as the expression of this nuclear stalemate with the permanent members of the security council being the five official nuclear powers[1] . The famous „pax americana“ was rather a „pax“ imposed by the division of the world into two camps armed with nuclear weapons.

European integration

At the end of the second world war Europe was in ruins, the fascist german state, that had ventured to subjugate the whole continent, destroyed, Europe’s old colonial empires, especially the British, a few steps away from desintegration and the continent divided through an iron curtain with its eastern part under Soviet rule. In this situation Western Europe turned towards the European integration process. And this integration found its initial form after the war of Suez[2] and the uprising in Hungary through the signing of the treaty of Rome and the establishment of the European (Economic) Community.

A community, an experiment to negotiate between and integrate a group of Western European States, an opportunity for the continent to prosper and to heal, the creation of institutions and an administration, always limited by the existing political elites, who did not want to loose their grip, but also the start of a dynamics to go beyond the european nation states, which has shaped the current active generations of (Western) Europeans, who grew up in this positive dynamics.

Very few people saw, that this was not enough, although no historic situation can last forever. Most people at that time took the environment for granted. Even shortly before the fall of the Berlin wall hardly anybody dared to anticipate this drastic change[3]. So a bold vision and a preparation for the upcoming changes was missing and the EU of today is a result of a limited version  of continental governance without anticipation and bold vision confronted with major changes and reacting by implementing and reinforcing a technocratic answer[4].

II. A new Form of Governance for the Planet

Global fracture, digitalisation and multipolarisation

The fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet super-power and the Warshaw Pact created a totally new situation. Russia set on the path to a democracy, but also inherited the structures of the Soviet Union, especially its military and nuclear arsenal. It is still a miracle, that such a dangerous process as the desintegration of the post-stalinist Soviet Union happened without a catastrophee of global impact[5]. A governance process had been created to manage this transition: the CSCE, later renamed into OSCE. This was a governance process and structure of great potential, that unfortunately was not further developped due to the diverging interests of Europe and the USA[6].

The fall of the Iron Curtain was not only a fracture, but also a liberation. It again set free economic forces and these were reinforced by two other developments: digitalisation, the transformation of our societies through computers, and multipolarisation, the multiplication of powerfull actors, like the economically strong European Union with its single market and and its single currency, the economically strong China and the transformation of the „third world“ into emerging powers.

The digital age kind of started through the decoding machines of the second world war, made a gigantic leap in 1981 with the release of the first PC through IBM and the launch of the Nordic Mobile Telephone System, another leap in 1990 with the start of the commercial phase of the Internet, another in 2007 with the release of the first iPhone and in 2008 with the first publication on Bitcoin and yet another in 2017 with artificial intelligence beating the worlds best Go-player[7] … Only by being aware of this „technical“ development we can really understand the changes we experience since the eighties/nineties of the last century. Globalisation in this view is a product of digitalisation. The intense global economic activity of today would not be possible without the tools provided by digitalsation.

Global challenges

So this acceleration through digitalisation and multipolarisation has given us a globalised economy. This globalised economy with its economic and monetary interactions gave itself a technocratic governance (BIS, IMF, World Bank, WTO, EU, trade treaties, …). It created global mega-actors, many of them more powerfull than nation-states, and, as those mega-actors are not part of this governance, lobbying related to national governmements / lawmakers[8]  and all instances and projects of supranational governance (without any democratic element) has accelerated dramatically.

Economic growth in the developping regions of this planet has given us a very strong population growth in these regions and population groups, who migrate in an unregulated way from their home countries into countries that promise a better future. This migration would not be possible without the advances in communication through internet and mobile phones.

Unfortunately the current accelleration has given us also rogue states and terrorist actors with their financing networks, the danger of nuclear proliferation to these actors and powerfull networks of global organized crime, who currently dominate and exploit the unregulated migration.

But these advances in communication, together with a weakening of the dominant powers have also given us the emergence of populations as political actors. One of the first examples of this, the Arab Spring, led through the involvement of other powerfull actors to the deadly Syrian war, but we now can witness in Iran a people, that in a very self-determined way works for its liberation[9]. Others, like the Brexit or the election of Donald Trump, have been grossly underestimated by denouncing them as the result of desinformation (fake news) or even Russian interference. But elections continue to bring change through the involvement of the people: France elected Emmanuel Macron, Austria Sebastian Kurz, Italy M5S/Lega, Mexico AMLO, …

But we also come to realise, that man is not only a homo economicus with a smartphone, he is much more. Also his home, this planet earth, is much more than a piece of rock. We all know this, but unfortunately have handed over the caretaking of this “biosphere” to the number-crunchers[10]. Economic growth and globalisation have given us a situation, where our future on this planet is threatened by the accumulation of environmental problems, by uncontrolled, and often negative changes in the biosphere, that all living creatures on this planet share. This dangerous situation also involves our own health, as our bodies are part of the environment and the biosphere: if the insects die, men’s health is also detoriating. Unfortunately in both areas (environment and health) we can see a trend to try to treat the symptoms through sophisticated digital programs and neglect the search for real causes for real environmental/health problems and the vision for a harmonious balance of the biosphere.

So we can see from this non-exhaustive list, that there is an urgent need to look into, what a 21st century global governance could be. The time is ripe, also we are now in the final phase of the ongoing middle eastern wars[11] and it was during the final phase  of the Second World War, that the post-war world order (UNO, Bretton Woods, …) was designed[12].

A local perspective of global governance

The small town, where I live, has developped a Vision 2030[13]. This was done through a questionaire to all citizens, three public meetings and finally a debate and a decision of the city council. The whole process was managed by a citizen’s committee (Spurgruppe), that consisted of citizens, that were systematically selected from all possible groups of citizens. The process was very successfull, especially because of the work of this „Spurgruppe“.

The same company[14] that provided the support for this process, also provided the support for a citizen’s committee in the state parliament of Baden-Württemberg[15]. In this case the members of the committee were randomly selected citizens. They were tasked to develop a proposal for a pension system for the members of the state parliament (a public outcry after a first decision of the parliament had led to this approach). So, although the task was quite complex the citizens managed to write a proposal (but the parliament has yet to make a new decision ….).

Process-oriented versus structure-oriented

These two experiences have led me to the realization, that the existing institutions of transnational governance (EU, UNO, G7, G20, WTO, ….) are all very much institutions of the age of nation-states. They are based on the same principles, work according to the same procedures and are staffed by the same politicians. For the 21st century we need a new approach!

Also the experience shows, that we need to drop trying to devise and implement the perfect organigram, but should start working on the issues, that need to be tackled, in this case the burning issues for humanity to co-inhabit this planet. Anyhow, the failure of EU-constitution and the failure of the UN-reform demonstrate, that the first approach will certainly not work, so its time for the second approach: something like „agile globale governance“.

How digitalisation can democratise global governance

Also the description of the global fracture in this paper makes it clear, that the defining mechanism of the current development is digitalisation (internet, mobiles, artificial intelligence, …). But our governance processes are still based on 19th century technologies, so its high time to implement them with 21st century technologies.

Why not a multi-level governance-internet with state-of-the art tools (video conferences, automatic translation, mulit-level access, secure voting systems[16], …) and a governance-engine (powered by artificial intelligence)? Such an internet would be a non-hierachical platform to connect all possible actors (including all global citizens) and the governance-engine can supply all the necessary intelligence (like all possible legal frames, all related scientific findings, …).

If this for example is combined with committees of randomly selected citizens, the governance-engine could even define all possible groups of citizens, that need to be consulted. The results of these consultations could then go to the consitutional bodies for decision (like to all concerned national parliaments), because the governance-internet should not override the existing constitutional systems, rather it should enance them and thus enable them to perform in the current information-age.

The governance-internet can of course also be connected to the existing elected governments, head of states and administrations. So it could, depending on the issues, define a G-n to meet at a certain date (physical meeting or video-conference) to decide based on the intelligence gathered by the governance-engine. Or it could define a permanent cooperation (like the CSCE) of concerned governments agencies (and this could even be law enforcement) for a longer process to tackle certain issues.

This governance-internet could also include aspects of meritocracy. Besides elected political actors and citizens it can draw upon the expertise of professionals, be it scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, … to develop solutions. By opening up these kind of consultations to the global public of the governance-internet it should be possible to get rid of the current damaging lobbying systems and structures.


Yet the important point is not this specific set of ideas, there could be better processes based upon new experiences, the important point is the approach: problem/process-oriented and not structure-oriented[17]. Also, I hope to have shown, that we do not have to fear artifical intelligence (nothing, but an extension of our brain). We should use it as a tool to “rationalize” governance, which then frees us to develop towards our truly human dimension.

Christel Hahn, Tengen

[1]    Interesting enough the UN-charta was signed a few days before the Trinity-test in New Mexico, USA.

[2]    The ending of the European colonial empires (especially the British) was one of the goals of Roosevelt’s war efforts and with Eisenhower forcing the British and the French to retreat, Suez can be seen as the end of those empires.

[3]    One of them was Franck Biancheri, see Franck Biancheri Documentation.

[4]    Franck Biancheri had this bold vision, see his historic book “Community or Empire” from 1992:

The main problem of the “union” is that for it to live, diversity must die. History tells us so … For a year now, they keep telling us about this European Union.
A failure of individuals and minorities facing a centre and a bureaucracy aiming to control, to standardise and not to develop. A failure of the peace ideals also, because an empire is always providing platforms where conflicts and wars proliferate, a sine qua non condition for the maintenance of interior peace. Finally, the failure of a positive contribution to mankind, because an empire needs enemies, whilst a Community requires partners.“

[5]    In this exceptional artistic visualisation, you can see the impact of the fall of the Soviet Union: Hashimoto

[6]    See OSCE

[7]    See GEAB, 3/2016

[8]    According to Fox News Research congress lobbying has risen from 61 million in 1986 (average 113 700 per lawmaker) to 3.1 billion in 2016 (average 5.8 million per lawmaker), Source: Twitter, 24/2/2017

[9]    See for example: @HeshmatAlavi

[10]  We can see a nearly complete reduction of environmental policies to the campaign to reduce CO2 (which can then be managed through digital processes, like carbon emissions trading).

[11]  Source: GEAB 126

[12]  Already the dissolition of this order has led to new forms of governance (G7 after the collapse of Bretton Woods, G8 after the fall of the Soviet Union, G20 after the Asian crisis, …).

[14]  Source: Translake

[15]  The picture-gallery of the proces: Bürgerforum Bildergallerie, and a description of all details, including the recruiting of the committee and also some interviews with participants: Bürgerforum

[16]  See for example Election-Europe

[17]  As an european example for such an approach, see for example „Moving towards a Circular Economy with EMAS“, European Commission, 2017

À propos Marie Hélène

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