The following are some remarks on the World Federalist Movement — Canada that I prepared at the invitation of the Lakeshore Unitarian Fellowship in Montreal. When I was unable to attend, Eric Cooper delivered the remarks in my place, Feb. 22, 2015. This text, entitled ‘A Fresh Perspective on World Federalism’, was a collaboration between the two of us.
What is a World Federation?
One way to picture it is to think of Canada as a federation of provinces and territories that gradually joined together into a larger body. Historically, Confederation came about as a defense against the United States which had entered into their Civil War. It was thought that a stronger centralized government would be create a stable coalition between English and French Canada. Roads and railways could be built linking East to West, bringing people together but requiring a larger pool of taxation. All in all, our colonies wanted to maintain their control over local issues, but pool resources to get more loot for their loony.
Every province passed some of its responsibilities and powers to a larger federal authority. The choice of which powers to make federal was done based on the concerns of the time. This is why we have separate provincial and federal governments. It’s why there’s a hierarchy of courts in every province and territory, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada. World Federalism would take this a step further. Linking countries together through common goals. Supporting the United Nations efforts to create international unity and promote basic human rights.
Last summer my friend Nicolas who participates on the board of the World Federalism Movement of Canada went to a conference in Ventotene, Italy, to learn all about the continued development of the European Union. There he discovered that many federalists look to the system in Canada and compare its strengths to the EU’s shortcomings.
We don’t often think of comparing the European Union to Canada. We are more likely to compare Canada to countries like Germany or the United Kingdom that are subdivided into their own regions and are therefore federations themselves within the larger European confederation. Of course all these systems of governance are unique. It is only worthwhile comparing sovereign states to other sovereign states.
The truth of it is that there is nothing else in the world like the European Union. Sovereign states have a single foreign, monetary and fiscal policy. The EU is different because it has a common monetary policy, the Euro, but there is no united fiscal policy or single point of contact for foreign relations. Many of the European federalists say The European Union is still incomplete. However, even if this is true, the European Commission is still the most impressive example of a functioning supra-state government.
Despite problems with debt or differing opinions on foreign policy you won’t see nations in the EU going to war with each other any time soon. And efforts to cooperate in many areas are formalized by the union. Even now, the debt negotiations between Germany and Greece would be very different if they were not bound together in this family of states. This is approaching the relationship World Federalists want to foster among all nations. Independent states capable of collective decision making within more rigid structures to create democratic global governance. The European Union emerged from a continent suffering unprecedented casualties and destruction
after two World Wars. When confronted by the unchecked atrocities of the Holocaust and the horrifying power of the atomic bomb, independent groups all over the world began promoting a philosophy of global unity and cohesion. It is in this spirit that we have institutions like the United Nations, The Bretton Woods economic structure, and the Geneva Conventions.
These are forms of global governance, and even if some are outdated or flawed, the concept of the rule of law, human rights, and world citizenship are at their core. These are the pillars of the world federalist philosophy. Just like the sixth principle of the Unitarian Universalists, the World Federalist Movement seeks a world community with peace, liberty and justice for everyone.
Of course, anyone would agree these are noble goals worth aspiring towards. So what’s standing in our way?
Competing sovereign states are ill-equipped to face the growing number of global problems. Most states currently compete with each other within the same anarchical framework when in so many ways the world community is interdependent. As World Federalists, we are custodians of this cooperative vision. We seek to understand the geopolitical realities, the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations system, and apply the principles of democratic federalism to world affairs.
Ever since the movement began, the world has been shrinking. While the momentum for global institutions may have waned in the postwar period, these bodies that were established have grown and solidified, indicators from the past decade show a marked increase in nationalism and strong conservative leaders worldwide, but we are still more connected, more regulated, and more legislated across state boundaries. This trend of globalization demands governance. The global economy needs governance. The Internet, earth’s environment, the international legal system, and peacekeeping efforts all need some form of governance.
The World Federalist Movement believes that this has to be a democratically elected body that respects local oversight. Wouldn’t that be the ideal solution? I like to think of it as what we all want the United Nations to be. We want to help it get there.
Without World Federalism the world’s problems will only be addressed haphazardly as they become emergencies, and solved with rudimentary “band-aid” agreements between nations. We want to give real power to international treaty law. Right now, international laws are like fairies. If countries don’t believe in them, they die. Every country in the world could sign a treaty abolishing nuclear weapons, but that doesn’t mean the earth will be rid of nuclear weapons. Not yet anyway.
So what can we realistically hope to achieve? Looking forward.
The World Federalist Movement of Canada has made some impressive progress in the world community. We played an important role in the evolution of UN peacekeeping, and the development of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Particularly notable is our involvement in developing the Rome Statute which led to the creation of the International Criminal Court. the World Federalist Movement are the ones who convened the Canadian Network for the International Criminal Court.
We are currently big supporters of the campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. This is a particularly interesting campaign going on across the globe. It advocates for an elected body alongside the United Nations General Assembly that would make non-binding recommendations on matters of international significance. These elected representatives would vote to influence the General Assembly and the Security Council.
While recommendations do not appear to have the same force as binding resolutions, it would still be a powerful political tool for one important reason. Democracy. Democracy legitimizes. We see the power of referendums and elections worldwide. The force of democracy is not something that should be underestimated, and many across the world believe this to be an important first step to bringing illiteracy into the United Nations system.
The campaign had its global week of action this past October. You can see some incredible photos from Uganda, Palestine, Italy, Australia, the United States, India, and many other places if you go to World Parliament Now Dot Org (worldparliamentnow.org). It’s really incredible to see the globalspan of this project and those participating. There are photos of World Federalists participating all across Canada as well.
There are many other topics we try to stay on top of including: Canada’s controversial laws on cluster munitions, and our waning contributions to UN peacekeeping, which we report on consistently. We really benefit from the expertise of our membership. We have members with very strong background in nuclear disarmament, net-neutrality, and sexual or gender-based crimes in conflict. If you’re interested in any of this stuff, you will definitely find the World Federalists as a stimulating group to be apart of.
One thing I want to convey while I’m here is the strong emotional argument for World Federalism. Nationalism is passé. We’re not that type of warring world anymore. It’s time to rid ourselves of the thinking that the value of human life is based on regionalism. We’re all on the same planet, in the same boat. A few hundred years ago, we might not even know there was a whole continent next door to us. But when the assassination of an archduke can lead to millions of people dead in two world wars. Turmoil in the Middle East 10,000 km away leads to a Canadian Corporal being shot in Ottawa. More than ever, we are one world. And more than ever, we need to act like we’re on the same team. We need to recognize the absurdity of weapon stockpiles and doomsday scenarios. My question, and a question I hope my generation starts asking more frequently, is what are we doing about it?
Thank you for your time.