The frontier of international democracy

Simon Anholt’s new project is pushing the boundaries of democracy beyond the nation-state. By James Bartholomeusz


It is perhaps the central political problem of our age: how can modern democracy, built on the foundation of the nation-state, be made fit for an era of ever-greater global interconnection? The set of multilateral institutions established after the Second World War offer one solution, with national representatives hammering out a consensus on behalf of their respective elected governments. Another, more recent phenomenon is the blossoming of grassroots activity worldwide over the last few decades, with ordinary people taking power into their own hands and forming new networks that cut across national boundaries. Now, the Good Country is presenting another proposal: an online tool allowing citizens of one country to vote in another’s election.

For the time being, the tool is of course a technological conceit – no votes cast on The Global Vote will be counted officially. The point, as the project’s conceiver Simon Anholt lays out, is to provide an alternate perspective on the responsibilities of an elected leader. When there is such a degree of interdependence between different states – when an economic crisis in one immediately spills over into another, and rising sea-levels pay no attention to lines on maps – how can we say that the leaders of one country are only responsible for the wellbeing of their own citizens?

Over the coming months, anyone who registers on The Global Vote website will be able to have their say in a series of elections from around the world. The presidential ballots in the USA, Zambia and the Seychelles are amongst those covered, as well as the UK’s referendum on its EU membership. As a result, Anholt wants to see commitments of international responsibility to become the norm in national election campaigns, with citizens of a given country also holding their leaders to account for how their decisions will affect others.

As advocates of a much stronger European-level democracy, we at the Project for Democratic Union are very excited about this initiative. When CEO Benjamin Zeeb interviewed Anholt last year the two found a great deal of common ground, with the latter describing the European Union as “the most successful experiment in multilateralism in human history”. After The Global Vote, we believe the next question is how international democracy can be embedded in institutions, rather than just relying on a variable culture of international responsibility in national politics. For Europe, our answer is clear: a federal union, with the European Parliament transformed into a fully-functioning legislature and subsidiary democracy on the state, regional and municipal level.

Clearly, the cornerstone of such a union would be a greater sense of European consciousness across existing national boundaries. As a new way of prompting voters and leaders to think internationally, we will be watching the development of The Global Vote with interest.

Image ‘Ancient World Map from 1689’ courtesy of Nona Lohr via Public Domain Pictures, released under Creative Commons License 1.0

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