Transnational Democracy

Report from the Democratic Audit of Sweden 2001
Olof Petersson, Karl Magnus Johansson, Ulrika Mörth, Daniel Tarschys

Summary in English

Globalisation Need Not Pose a Threat to Democracy

Globalisation and Europeanisation need not lead to a weakening of democratic government. Major - though as yet unexploited - opportunities exist for strengthening the democratic aspects of international politics. These involve a policy committed to creating a democracy without borders.

Transnational democracy is the topic of this year's report from the SNS Democratic Audit of Sweden, whose current members are the political scientists Karl Magnus Johansson from Södertörn University College, Ulrika Mörth of the University of Stockholm, Daniel Tarschys of the University of Stockholm and a former General Secretary of the Council of Europe and Olof Petersson, Research Director at SNS.

The old boundary between domestic and international politics is becoming increasingly obsolete. An ever greater number of issues are being dealt with by international bodies. This process of globalisation and Europeanisation brings with it new challenges for democracy. How is democracy to be defended and renewed?

According to the Democratic Audit, it is entirely possible to adapt our democratic institutions and legislative rules to the kind of decisions increasingly being reached at international level. In their report, the members of the Democratic Audit put forward a series of proposals for improving democracy at global and European level. They also propose a number of reforms that would make national democracy better prepared to meet the challenges posed by the internationalisation of politics.

Economic and Political Globalisation
As a small and open economy, Sweden is extremely dependent on the course of global events. While the European countries have become considerably more prosperous as a result of the increase in the volume of trade, this has also involved a greater degree of dependence on economic and environmental factors both in their immediate surroundings and in distant parts of the world. Ever increasing mobility across borders has extended individual freedom but also intensified certain threats, such as those arising from international crime.

Economic globalisation has been made easier by the concomitant advance in political globalisation. A greater measure of international cooperation has become necessary not only in order to provide world trade with an institutional framework, but also to construct a joint response to the many risks entailed in the growth in trade. In Europe these challenges have lead to increased cooperation and closer political integration, primarily within the European Union.

Challenges for Democracy
How do these developments affect the quality of democracy? Some degree of pessimism is a dominant feature of the debate. Political globalisation is said to lead to a depletion of democracy, a diminution of the accountability of politicians to the voters and a gradual transfer of real power to those politicians and officials in charge of international cooperation.

Diplomacy and democracy have traditionally been considered incompatible entities. The significant element of negotiation that occurs in relations at the intergovernmental level has been highlighted, as have the problems involved in imbuing such an element with the transparency democracy requires. Another prevalent viewpoint is that a precondition of effective government is a homogeneous population, a demos with its own identity and common frames of reference. A third problem arises in connection with new and hard-to-define types of decisions increasingly being arrived at within international bodies. The EU heads the field here with its profuse flora of declarations, recommendations, guidelines and other forms of soft law.

Democratic Globalisation
It is not the intent of the Democratic Audit to underestimate in any way the problems that lie ahead for democratic globalisation and an improved European democracy, its members nevertheless insist that there are no grounds for defeatism. It is entirely possible to adapt our democratic institutions and legislative rules to the kind of decision-making increasingly taking place at international level.

Allowing economic globalisation to continue without attempting to achieve joint control through specific forms of political globalisation would be as absurd as allowing political globalisation to lead to a weakening of the democratic polity. Democratic control over political decisions which are arrived at through cooperation at the intergovernmental and supranational levels will have to be improved if the confidence of voters is to be retained. The difficulties apparent in achieving this goal are not cause for resignation but rather provide a reason for giving this matter greater attention and assigning it higher priority.

Democracy has already begun the search for new ways of working. One obvious trend in recent years is that national parliaments are devoting much more attention to international issues. Transnational parliamentary assemblies have also acquired greater influence, the European Parliament above all. Transnational contacts between the political parties are increasing.

A Structural Policy for Democracy
The EU currently devotes just over a third of its budget to what is known as structural policy, the aim of which is to promote social and economic cohesion. There is every opportunity to transfer resources to a new kind of structural policy, a structural policy for democracy. Political and cultural cohesion could be improved by promoting transnational democracy.

The cause of the current democratic deficit is due not only to shortcomings in the formal decision-making rules and the relations between various institutions, but, equally importantly, to the absence of a democratic infrastructure, of functioning systems for news distribution, opinion formation and cross-border contacts between the social movements.

Major efforts are needed to create a public sphere in Europe and lend real meaning to the notion of European citizenship. The Democratic Audit proposes that efforts should be devoted to stimulate the media and lend greater weight to European and global issues in schools and education in general. Greater resources must be devoted to break the barriers of language or European cooperation will become a monopoly of the well-educated.

Demokrati utan utland. Demokratirådets rapport 2001.

Olof Petersson, Karl Magnus Johansson, Ulrika Mörth, Daniel Tarschys
SNS Förlag, Stockholm 2001.

The Democratic Audit of Sweden is organized by SNS, the Swedish Center for Business and Policy Studies, a Stockholm-based research organization. The task set itself by successive Democratic Audit Groups has been to contribute to a constructive, objective debate on the workings of Swedish democracy by highlighting different aspects of the Swedish political system. The group is variously composed each year, but it is always made up of four to five independent social scientists.