Making global governance more democratic

  • Letters
  • Monday, 02 Feb 2004

Global Trends with Martin Khor

A NEW initiative has been launched by the Finland and Tanzanian governments to promote changes in global governance and a better partnership between the North and the South. 

They have launched the Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy which will produce a report but more importantly also try to build coalitions to change the way global policies are made. 

Last week, the Helsinki Group, which will guide the process, held its first meeting in Helsinki. 

The Group is co-chaired by Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete.  

There are 20 other members, including former Irish President and United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, former British Development Minister Clare Short, former World Trade Organisation director-general Peter Sutherland, South African entrepreneur and African National Congress leading member Cyril Ramaphosa, Prince El Hassan of Jordan, Li Shantong of the China State Council’s Development Research Centre and European Commisioner for Development Poul Nielson. 

Representatives of many non-governmental groups are also represented, including Irene Khan of Amnesty International, Vijay Pratap of World Social Forum India, Konrad Raiser of the World Council of Churches, Susan George of ATTAC France, and myself, representing the Third World Network. 

The business sector is also represented by Maria Cattaui of the International Chamber of Commerce whilst the trade unions by John Evans of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

Such a disparate group may have differing views on the state of the world. But they are tasked with coming up with ideas and proposed actions, collectively or in groups. 

At last week’s meeting, it was agreed that the Helsinki Process would not be just another commission producing a report, which would then collect dust after its launch. 

It would try to follow in the footsteps of an earlier Helsinki Process which started a dialogue in the 1970s between the Western and Eastern European countries and is credited with contributing to the eventual bridging of the divide between the two sides in the 1980s and 1990s. 

To bridge the divides in the present turbulent world is certainly a tall order which appears almost impossible. 

The Helsinki Group meeting brought up a whole range of problems, including the “democratic deficit” in global governance, especially in the way the international financial institutions and the WTO operate; the lack of progress in solving global environmental problems; financial instability; the erosion of multilateral co-operation; terrorism and the unilateral response by big powers, in the security area. 

In the end, the Group decided its work would be in the nature of issuing a “wake-up call” on the need to resolve key global problems, and change from the old development policies towards a new paradigm. 

Many members said the Helsinki Process should take the opportunity to get the world to move on from the old and failed fundamentalist free-market policies of the so-called Washington Consensus, and towards more realistic and workable policies that can deliver development to poorer countries. 

The members present agreed that the Helsinki Process would be action-oriented rather than only concerned with writing a consensus report. 

As a result, the Helsinki Group’s report will be structured around the following questions: 

  • WHAT is wrong with the world and why? 

  • WHAT is being done about it? 

  • WHAT needs to be done? 

  • HOW are we going to do it? 

    The Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said there are major problems such as the risky consequences of the failure of states on one hand, and poverty and vulnerability on the other, while social polarisation and political fragmentation reinforce each other. 

    He said that arising from these are questions such as what are the consequences these have for the present policy-making institutions and instruments, and what institutional and policy solutions are needed to overcome political fragmentation and violence, and reduce poverty? 

    Will the gradual problem-solving approach be enough or are deeper structural reforms needed? Where will the impetus for such reforms come from? 

    The Tanzanian deputy foreign minister, Abdulkader Shareef, identified globalisation as the poor world’s major challenge. 

    African countries had undertaken more than two decades of reforms suggested by the external agencies, but they remain indebted and poor. 

    He said that in Africa’s experience, the present wave of globalisation manifests the South’s irrelevance and inconsequence, and is an epitome for continuing poverty and deprivation. 

    He challenged the Helsinki Group to tackle two questions: 

    Who really shapes the global agenda in a globalising world, to what end, to what purposes and for whose benefit? 

    Who designs and manages the institution and processes of global governance, to what end and purpose and for whose benefit?  

    He called for more “national ownership” of reforms, where the heavy hand of the Washington Consensus must be lifted and homemade reforms and local policy innovations be accepted. 

    He also called for overcoming the “democratic deficit” in globalisation. The South must be included in decisions to manage globalisation, including at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, UN agencies and the “not-so-transparent negotiations of the WTO.” 

    Besides the Helsinki Group, the Helsinki Process also involves three “tracks” or working groups, dealing with new approaches to global problem-solving (headed by Clare Short), global economic agenda (headed by Fantu Cheru) and human security (headed by Fen Hampson). 

    The Group will meet again in August in Tanzania, and its main report is scheduled to come out next year.  

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