World Federalism, Global Democracy and Coronavirus

By Fernando Adolfo Iglesias - 10 April 2020
World Federalism, Global Democracy and Coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis shows the consequences of the enormous contradiction under which seven billion human beings live now: a world globalized by technology and economy but politically divided into almost 200 national states all taking separate and uncoordinated measures. Does anyone still believe this can work?

Financial instability. Climate change. Coronavirus crisis. Indifferent to the warning signals, we continue to keep our political systems bounded to the national/international model based on the paradigm of national sovereignty. Each govern to according to whatever best suits their national interest. “Sovereignism” they call it, and we all pay the consequences.


Has there been Chinese negligence during the start of the coronavirus pandemic? Was it a Trump’s, or a Putin’s, or a terrorist sect’s plot? Did all the involved countries react appropriately? Are they doing it well? We do not really know, as there are no transparent global mechanisms for early detection and control of pandemics. We do not know, but our lives are at stake over this.


Of course, despite the sabotage of national populists, the United Nations and the World Health Organization still exist. But the coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that the capacities of the UN and its agencies are far below the requirements of a global society, which needs binding action at the global level: early warning systems, information sharing, delivery and enforcement of general norms, management of transmission across borders and vaccine-treatment research.

Basic regulations and mandatory standards are crucial to preserve world public goods such as human health, environment, financial stability and international peace.


Yet, although the UN and its agencies do exist, national states are free to refuse to take action and to follow the wrong measures, causing disastrous consequences for the rest. Exaggeration? It is exactly what is happening with coronavirus and global warming right now.


A new world will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, everybody says so; but nobody knows if it will be a better or a worse one. If each country decides to play its own cards - as at the beginning of the 20th century - the consequences will be the same: disconnection, a rise in nationalism, an inability to face common challenges, extended crises; and then, authoritarianism, growing conflicts, tragedies, death and despair.


Fortunately, it is fated. Since the creation of the United States and the European Union, we human beings have developed two paradigms to avoid these nightmares, federalism and democracy, which have been extraordinarily successful at the national and regional levels. The time to apply them to the global scale has come.


Unfortunately, despite being amazing innovators in technology and pragmatic geniuses in economics, we human remain conservative in politics. Applying federalism and democracy to the global field still sounds like a utopian dream for most. At the same time, a network based on electrical impulses and encoded by ones and zeros almost covers the whole world regardless of how divisive it is for our economies, cultures and social relationships. Indeed, it now seems the most natural thing on Earth to everybody.


A federal-democratic global structure or a new nightmare, that is the question we face? A global democracy in which a world parliament delivers mandatory early-warning standards and binding health protocols in response to pandemics is needed. And it should be complemented by a world federalism that preserves national sovereignty on national issues but delegates decisions on global ones.


It’s not a plot against national states but a desperate attempt to save democracy. It does not mean a world state, or a world government, based on a centralized executive power. On the contrary, world federalism and global democracy would reinforce the capacities of the global judiciary and parliamentary powers that embryonically exist at the global scale.


Specifically, I am calling for a UN Parliamentary Assembly whose directives should be binding but limited to critic global issues such as pandemics and climate change. They could be reinforced by an International Criminal Court able to sanction genocides and war crimes but also those governors who do not comply with coronavirus control protocols.


A world totalitarianism? Hardly. Totalitarianism has always been based on nationalism and wars against external enemies that do not exist at the global level other than in the unlikely case of a Martian invasion. Moreover, contrary to Orwell's 1984, world federalism does not mean the building of a central Big Brother but rather the decentralization of global and local attributions that the national state has misappropriated.


This will support a more balanced and decentralized local, provincial, regional and global decision-making system in which each level has its own capacities and limits and is able to limit and control one another. A network! millennials would say. A network as horizontal and decentralized as the digital world, and as interactive, participatory and fast as its platforms.


A 21st Century global political system for a 21st Century global society. As simple as that.


Maybe the coronavirus crisis has taught us how small the Earth is, how close we are to each other and that humanity is already a community of fate. Maybe we only learn from tragedies. If this is the case, the panic generated by insufficient responses to global crises, discontent and anger will continue to grow; and with it, nationalism and populism, with their simple responses to complex global issues and their threats to democracy and human life.


Science fiction? Science fiction is already our reality. It remains to be seen whether it will be like Star Trek or Star Wars.





Fernando A. Iglesias is an Argentine-Italian-Spanish author on globalization and the society of knowledge and information. He is a national Deputy at the Argentine Chamber and the chair of its Mercosur commission, the World Federalist Movement president, the director of the Campaign for the Latin American Criminal Court and the director of the Buenos Aires Spinelli chair. He also wrote and promoted the Manifest for a Global Democracy that was signed by D. Archibugi, J. Attali, B. Badie, Z. Baumann, U. Beck, N. Chomsky, R. Falk, S. George, D. Held, D. Innerarity, G. Marramao, T. Negri, H. Pätomakki, S. Sassen, R. Sennett, F. Savater and others. Among his published books, Republic of Earht-the end of national modernities (2000), Globalizing democracy (2006) and Ten global laws on globalization- a Copernican revolution on human affairs (2011).

Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels

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