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About the e-Parliament

A new global forum for democratic problem-solving.

This section tells you why and how the e-Parliament got launched, how it works and who is helping to launch it. You can scroll down to read it all, or jump ahead by using the buttons to the right.

WHY?

The e-Parliament is building a new kind of international institution - one that is democratic and transparent, in which anyone can participate. Why is this new initiative needed?

The e-Parliament has been created to address two major problems facing humanity: a global democracy gap, and a problem-solving gap.

A democracy gap.

The e-Parliament, for the first time, links together the world's democratic members of parliament and congress into a single forum. This community of democratic legislators, together with interested organizations and citizens, can address a democracy gap at both the national and global levels.

The national level:

For the first time in history, a majority of the human race - roughly 60% - has won the right to decide in free elections who will govern them. But some 40% are still denied this democratic right by authoritarian governments of one kind or another. In almost every case, brave democrats are confronting their authoritarian rulers, many of them risking their lives for the simple principle that their own people should enjoy the same rights as the majority of their fellow citizens around the world.

Those democrats would be greatly strengthened if they could rely on the consistent support of an international body made up of democratic legislators from all parts of the world. At the same time, the e-Parliament can provide important assistance to new parliaments getting established in emerging democracies.

The global level:

At the global level, the problem is different. More and more key decisions are taken at the international level, whether in organizations like the United Nations or the World Trade Organization, or in the boardrooms of transnational corporations. As a result, our elected representatives in national parliaments are being increasingly sidelined. We're seeing a steady erosion of democratic accountability - of our ability as citizens to influence decisions that affect us. If democracy is to survive and prosper in the 21st century, we have to extend its reach to the global level.

Democracy and conflict:

The globalization of democracy is not only important for the future of democracy itself, but also for the benefits that democracy brings. Among those benefits is non-violent conflict resolution. Within a working democracy, major conflicts are resolved by elections, parliamentary votes or courts of law. Too often, similar conflicts are resolved internationally with bombs and bullets. The transformation of western Europe in the second half of the 20th century, from the most warlike region of the world to the most peaceful, shows how common democratic institutions can give people an alternative to war as a way to achieve their goals.

Modern transport and communications are shrinking our world. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were a terrible reminder of how events on one side of the planet can affect people on the other side. They were also a reminder that when people are denied their democratic rights they are more likely to find violent ways to express their anger and frustration. More than ever before, we need common democratic institutions to help us resolve our conflicts peacefully, and to help ensure democracy for all.

A global problem-solving gap.

Another reason for launching the e-Parliament is the failure of our current international system to solve a host of critical global problems. To take just three examples:

  • The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is higher every day, and no effective action to stop the increase is in sight.
  • In the next 90 minutes, the number of children who will have died for lack of safe water and simple vaccines will be the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of children crashing to the ground.
  • Despite years of negotiations, trade barriers remain stubbornly in place that help to keep millions of people in developing countries trapped in poverty.
What accounts for these and many other failures? Part of the reason is a simple lack of political will. Combined with this is an ineffective system for solving global problems. And contributing to the situation is a profound lack of communication between the world's legislators. Let us look at each in turn.


Political will:

Political will in democratic countries is heavily influenced by the concerns of the electorate, of the media, and of the national legislators. By contributing to awareness raising and action on critical global issues among legislators, the e-Parliament can help to generate the political will to solve global problems ranging from AIDS to terrorism.

The current global problem-solving system:

Our global institutions and intergovernmental negotiations are simply too slow and too easily blocked to keep up with the problems. Before global action can be taken through the usual method of treaty negotiations, we have to reach agreement among almost 200 national governments, each fiercely defending its national interests. This results in weak agreements. Meanwhile, our world institutions have too few resources and too little democratic legitimacy to confront our mounting global challenges.

Much could be achieved by coordinated action in national parliaments, without the need for any formal treaty negotiations. Elected legislators have democratic legitimacy, national parliaments decide how the taxpayers' money is spent, and they are the ones who pass the laws. But this raises a new difficulty: systems for communication and coordination among national legislators range from poor to nonexistent.

Communication between parliaments:

In an era of globalization, each national or regional parliament faces an increasingly similar agenda. Each is grappling with the same problems, and trying different solutions. Given this reality, it is remarkable how little mutual learning there is between one parliament and another. While companies, citizen movements, news organizations - and tragically, even terrorist networks - adapt to the world of global communications, national parliaments still operate much as they did in the 19th century, each in its own separate space.

This means that each parliament is 'reinventing the wheel' on issue after issue, without good up-to-date information about best practice from other countries. And it means that many opportunities are being missed to help solve shared problems through coordinated legislative action, when those problems cannot be solved by a single parliament.

Furthermore, elected parliamentarians are largely excluded from global decision-making processes, which denies their constituents the possibility of direct input into those decisions through their elected representatives. Particularly for the world's poor majority, this means their voice is muted in decisions that directly affect them in institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

What we need is global institutions that are democratic, flexible, well-resourced and not easily blocked.

Design Process

In early 2001, reflecting on the challenges of global democracy and problem-solving, William Ury, co-author of the world's best-selling book on negotiation Getting to Yes, and Nicholas Dunlop, a former Secretary-General of the legislators' network Parliamentarians for Global Action, were struck by an idea. By linking the world's democratic legislators together through the internet, with a voting system and committee structure comparable to that of a national parliament, it would be possible to address all these problems at one stroke.

By creating a kind of informal world parliament, we could create the first genuinely democratic world institution. At the same time, we could create a parallel global problem-solving process, alongside the intergovernmental talks, which would be transparent, accountable, inclusive and flexible. Even though a global e-Parliament cannot make decisions that bind anyone, and the power of decision will rest as before in national parliaments, it could nonetheless be potentially influential, since legislators play a central role within each national government.

A three-year design process brought together leading legislators, researchers, civil society groups and business leaders in a creative brainstorming process. The result is the e-Parliament with the services provided through this website.

The e-Parliament will develop gradually, issue by issue and adding additional services one at a time. It can engage steadily increasing numbers of citizens and legislators as time goes on.

HOW?

How does the e-Parliament work?

The four main sections of the e-Parliament website (www.e-parl.net) represent the principal functions of the e-Parliament. Two - Ideas and Communicate - concern the exchange of information. Two - Vote and Act - concern decision and implementation. Let us look at each in turn.

Ideas

Everyone involved in policy-making needs good ideas. One good idea can make all the difference. One bad idea can be disastrous. Whether in government or opposition, legislators and political parties all need to be on the cutting edge of policy.

The Ideas section of the website contains an 'ideas bank' where participants can, so to speak, deposit and withdraw ideas at will. It groups under issue headings innovative and/or effective approaches to policy and legislation that have been tried or proposed in different countries. Legislators, government officials, organizations, or individual citizens interested in policy-making can browse the site and look for approaches that could be adapted and introduced in their own countries. Likewise, participants in the e-Parliament can propose their own favourite policy ideas to be included on the site, thus reaching a wider global audience.

Legislators and organizations who have registered to participate in the e-Parliament can place ideas on the site, using a standard format (click on Ideas for details), subject to approval by the e-Parliament Secretariat. The e-Parliament Council and staff will play an editorial role, helping to ensure that ideas are presented in a way that is as useful as possible for legislators. Citizens or journalists registered to participate are encouraged to propose ideas for inclusion, which will receive careful consideration.

In this simple way, 'best practice' from around the world can be more quickly replicated in more countries.

Communicate

The e-Parliament will put legislators, organizations, citizens and journalists in touch with each other through a simple Question and Answer process.

Everyone who registers is asked which issues are of particular interest to them from a fairly comprehensive list of policy areas. Any participant is able to pose a question on any issue, requesting information or advice, and to answer or comment on questions from others. All questions and answers are posted on the website. In addition, some questions will be forwarded by e-Parliament staff by e-mail to interested participants.

Questions from legislators will also be sent by e-mail to all parliamentary colleagues, organizations and citizens who share an interest in that issue. Answers from legislators and organizations will be e-mailed back to them, as well as posted on the site. They can check the website for other responses.

Questions from organizations will be e-mailed to other organizations and citizens interested in the issue. Responses from organizations will be e-mailed back to them, and once again they can check the website for other responses.

Questions from journalists will be e-mailed to everyone interested in the issue, and responses from legislators and organizations will be forwarded back to them. Other responses will appear on the website.

These procedures are designed to make the system as user-friendly as possible for busy participants, while not overloading anyone's email in-box with either questions or answers - or overloading the e-Parliament staff. It ensures that most of the time, people are only hearing from the e-Parliament on issues of interest to them.

Most importantly, this communication system will allow legislators and other participants to gather up-to-the-minute information and advice from a global community of people interested in the same issue.

As funds permit, a series of conference calls, video conferences and face-to-face international parliamentary hearings will enable parliamentarians who are confronting the same problems in different parliaments to communicate in person. In these live sessions, the legislators can question experts from around the world about concrete ideas for parliamentary action, and consider proposals for joint initiatives. This is a key part of the e-Parliament's work.

The first e-Parliament hearing was held in September 2005 in the US Congress on the issue of space weapons. Legislators from nine countries, including Republicans and Democrats, questioned experts who were both for and against deployment of new weapons and other military technologies in space.

Vote

A participatory policy-making process:

The e-Parliament's operating methods draw on the experience of national parliaments. The main job of legislators is to make the laws (including the annual budget), and to monitor implementation of the laws by the executive branch of government. The e-Parliament can't make laws that bind national governments or parliaments. But through the creation of issue networks, it can have an input into the national legislative process on selected issues in each country, and it can monitor the performance of international institutions.

In a traditional parliament, decisions are prepared by specialised committees, which may invite input through public hearings. Policy decisions are then taken in the parliamenary chamber, by majority vote. The e-Parliament has adapted this 'standard operating procedure' for the internet era, and for a community of up to 25,000 democratic legislators plus many more organizations, companies and individual citizens.

All those who indicate interest in an issue when they register are automatically part of the e-Parliament network on that issue. This doesn't commit them to any particular action or policy position, but ensures that they are informed of any e-Parliament initiative in this area. As funding is secured and the networks are activated one by one, the e-Parliament Council appoints a politically representative Committee from among the network members to guide the activities of the network. The Committees will meet regularly in person. The networks (including potentially hundreds of members) and their Committees (consisting of up to 25 members) together perform a role comparable to parliamentary committees at the national level. The first two such issue networks, one on climate and energy and one on defence and disarmament, have already been launched. The work of the e-Parliament Network on Climate and Energy has already led to parliamentary initiatives in Brazil, the European Parliament, Ghana, Norway and the UK, which could potentially benefit millions of people (see the 1 Watt Tool Kit in the Ideas section.)

On each issue, the e-Parliament goes through a participatory process to establish global Policy Targets, to be advanced through the national legislative process. The Policy Targets are arrived at by parliamentarians around the world through a series of on-line polls of participating legislators and other consultations. The polls will typically become progressively more specific, starting by choosing among general priorities and later identifying specific policy tools. At first, the decision-making process may involve only the members of one issue network, but once a recommendation is ready, the issue network will put it to the full e-Parliament for approval as an e-Parliament Policy Target.

It is the task of the e-Parliament Council, and each network's Committee, to prepare options for the consultations. It is then for the members to choose among the options. This ensures that the e-Parliament is democratic, participatory and truly controlled by the people's representatives.

In each poll, organizations and citizens participating in the e-Parliament are invited to cast an 'advisory vote' on the website.

Each e-Parliament issue network is responsible, as part of its work, for monitoring the international institutions which have primary responsibility for its issue. Some public hearings may focus specifically on the work of a particular institution.

National parliaments seek to define and defend the common interests of the national community in a way that has democratic legitimacy in the minds of the citizens. The e-Parliament, through a similar process, will work to define and defend the interests of humanity as a whole. And because the decision-makers are directly elected by the people, it will have a democratic legitimacy that eludes most international institutions today.

The mechanics of voting:

An individual legislator can participate in the decision-making process in just five minutes. They receive one or more questions by e-mail, and can simply click Reply, indicate their preferences, and click Send. By making the process quick and easy, we can steadily build up the level of participation. As in any parliament, of course, while larger numbers may participate in votes, a small group of knowledgeable and committed members will do most of the work on each issue.

At times the e-Parliament may be asked to vote on a resolution proposed by an issue network, the international Council or some other group of legislators. For a resolution to pass it needs to gain a 'double majority' in two separate counts:

  • In the first count, it needs a majority of those legislators participating in the vote: one legislator, one vote. In this count, the votes of all democratic members of parliament, directly or indirectly elected or appointed, are counted.

  • In the second count, each legislator's vote is weighted by the average number of people a parliamentarian represents in his or her country. This figure is arrived at by dividing the population of the country by the number of elected legislators (in the national parliament and in any regional parliament such as the European Parliament.) In this second count, only the votes of directly-elected legislators are weighted by population.

Act

Once a Policy Target has been established by the e-Parliament, a Parliamentary Tool Kit is created. The Tool Kit gives legislators all the information they need to take action in their own parliaments. It states the goal, summarizes what action is currently being taken by governments, lists policy tools to achieve the goal, recommends sources of information and expert advice, suggests possible parliamentary questions, and contains alternative models for legislation which can be adapted to each national situation. Different approaches may be recommended for different parts of the world.

At times an issue network may produce a Parliamentary Tool Kit on a particular proposal which has received strong international support, even without seeking to make it a formal e-Parliament Policy Target. (The first Tool Kits can be found through the Act section of the website.)

Once a Policy Target is established and a Tool Kit prepared, the next step is the most important: to use every opportunity to raise it for consideration in the national policy-making and legislative process of each country. This work will engage only those participants who actively support the Policy Target. There is obviously no commitment for anyone who opposes it, or feels unsure about it, to be involved in efforts to promote it.

The e-Parliament will enable those legislators interested in promoting a Policy Target to stay in contact, and to draw on advice from leading experts around the world as they adapt the idea to their national circumstances. Information on progress in different countries will be shared through the e-Parliament website.

By spreading good ideas and sharing information, and through simultaneous policy initiatives in different parliaments, the e-Parliament has the potential to improve national legislation and policy on selected issues, and to enhance the capacity of legislators to solve problems that we all face.

Languages

The central pages of the website will be translated into a number of languages, so that parliamentarians, organizations and citizens can exchange information within their own language groups, and vote in their own languages. The number of languages covered, and the amount of text translated, will depend partly on funding. In languages confined to a single nation, one person in that country's parliament, perhaps a parliamentarian's assistant, may be asked to provide basic support. In some cases the national parliament's secretariat may be asked to provide language support in the national language. The e-Parliament Secretariat itself will be able to provide support in English, French and Spanish.

Future plans

The e-Parliament will evolve over time, and its future will be decided by its members.

In the nearer term, we will work to:

  • Build up participation of legislators, organizations, citizens and journalists.
  • Launch issue networks on a growing number of major global challenges.
  • Place staff in different national parliaments to support the participation of legislators and others from that country.
  • Develop the capacity to support simple online discussion groups of legislators on any issue they might have in common.
  • Build up the content in the Ideas section of the website to make the e-Parliament a valuable resource centre on a wide range of issues.
  • Organize an online election to choose democratically the members of the international Council that oversees the e-Parliament's work.

In time, as communications technology develops and spreads, we may be able to organize live, large-scale, multi-media online events.

In the longer term, it is the hope of those initiating the e-Parliament that it will develop in a way analogous to the evolution of the European Parliament over the last half-century. Just 34 years after the bloodshed of World War II came to a close, the first directly elected European Parliament met in Strasbourg. In the President's chair, presiding over the elected representatives of the formerly warring tribes of Europe, was a woman - Simone Veil - who had spent part of her childhood in Auschwitz concentration camp. Miracles do happen.

Whether the world will ever need to elect a separate world parliament is a matter for debate. But like it or not, the world is steadily developing a system of global governance, with key decisions being taken in many different international agencies. Today, our system of global governance suffers from a serious 'democratic deficit'. Perhaps the e-Parliament can lay the foundations for a more democratic decision-making system for the planet, in which the decision-makers are accountable to the people of the world, and governance depends on the consent of the governed.

WHO?

Which legislators have initiated the project, who is supporting it, and who is participating?

The Council and Secretariat

The e-Parliament has been incorporated as a non-profit organization in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The governing body is a Council made up mainly of members of parliament from around the world. In due course the Council will be elected by participating legislators in an online poll.

The membership of the Council is being built up steadily to represent all parts of the globe and all parts of the political spectrum. The first members are:

  • CHAIRMAN Anders Wijkman MEP, Swedish Christian Democrat, European Parliament, President, GLOBE EU, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.

  • VICE-CHAIR Senator Silvia Hernández, former Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Minister of Tourism in a previous PRI government of Mexico, former President of Parliamentarians for Global Action, and of Women Parliamentarians for Peace.

  • VICE-CHAIR Suresh Prabhu MP, Shiv Sena, served in the previous government of India as Minister for Industry, Environment and Forests, Chemicals and Fertilizers, and Power.

  • Dr. Kwame Ampofo MP, Ghana, Opposition Member of the Committee on Energy and Mines.

  • Dr. Axel Berg MdB, Social Democrat, Germany, member of the Industry and Technology Committee of the Bundestag, and a co-author of Germany’s landmark renewable energy law.

  • Dora Byamukama MP, Uganda, member of the East African Legislative Assembly and former Chair of the Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Ugandan Parliament.

  • David Chaytor MP, Labour, UK, Chair of the All-Party Group on Energy Intelligence, Chair of the e-Parliament Climate and Energy Network.

  • Milind Deora MP, Congress, India,member of Defence Committee, and a leader in efforts to promote computer literacy in schools.

  • Ana Gomes MEP, Portuguese Socialist, Vice-Chair, Subcommittee on Security and Defense of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, former Portuguese diplomat.

  • Anne Grete Holmsgaard MF, Denmark, Vice-Chair of the Energy Policy Committee of the Danish Folketing, formerly Director of the Technical University of Denmark.

  • Robert Johansen, Professor of International Relations, University of Notre Dame, and a leading thinker on global governance issues.

  • Norbert Mao, Leader of Gulu Council in Northern Uganda, former Leader of the Opposition in the Ugandan Parliament.

  • Congressman Jim McDermott, Democrat, USA, Chair, Subcommittee on Income Security, House Ways and Means Committee, Co-Chair of the Congressional Task Force on International HIV/AIDS and of the Africa Trade and Investment Caucus.

  • Ghassan Moukheiber MP, Lebanon, a leading human rights lawyer and advocate of democracy in the Lebanese Parliament.

  • George Nangale MP, Tanzania, Member of the East African Legislative Assembly.

  • Congressman Thomas Petri, Republican, USA, member of Committee on Education and Labour and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Ranking Republican on Aviation Subcommittee.

  • Kono Taro, Liberal Democrat, Japan, member of the House of Representatives and former Minister responsible for e-Government.

  • William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes and other well-known books on negotiation, Director, Global Negotiation Project, Harvard University.

  • Graham Watson MEP, European Parliament, Leader of the European Liberal Group, the third largest political group in the European Parliament.

  • Derek Wyatt MP, Labour, UK, Chairman of the All-Party Group on the Internet, co-founder of the Oxford Internet Institute.

A small international Secretariat is headed by:

  • Nicholas Dunlop, Secretary-General, former Executive Director of EarthAction and Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action.

  • Jesper Grolin, Executive Director, previously a lecturer at Copenhagen Business School and Political Adviser on biodiversity to Greenpeace International.

Pro bono contributors

The e-Parliament wishes to thank the following for their much appreciated pro bono contribution of time and skills:

Booz|Allen|Hamilton, USA for their contribution of excellent design and technical skills to design this website.

Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP, Massachusetts, USA for their legal services.

Cognizant, New Jersey, USA and Chennai, India for their contribution of superb technical skills to build this website and provide ongoing support.

EarthAction, for providing organizational and administrative support in the early stages.

Global Negotiation Project, Harvard Law School, USA for their assistance in research and design.

Open: a design studio, New York, USA for their assistance with graphic design

Volunteers, Brian Coughlan and Shey Cobley for the many hours of help they have given us, collecting data for the e-Parliament database.

Donors

Profound thanks go to the small group of individuals, foundations and donor agencies whose willingness to back a good idea has made the e-Parliament possible. They include:

Mrs. Marnie Clark

Secure World Foundation

Fondazione Rispetto e Paritá

Friends of the Wuppertal Institute

GTZ- German agency for development cooperation

Humanitarian Group for Social Development

Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Rockefeller Foundation

Joseph L. and Marjorie S. Steiner Foundation

Sternberg Charitable Foundation

Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Government of Taiwan

Mr. Jakob von Uexkull

Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation

together with other kind individual donors.

Who can participate?

Citizens, organizations or journalists may participate from any country.

One goal of the e-Parliament is to promote democracy. Among parliamentarians, therefore, voting is limited to legislators from democratic countries. Today, they number about 25,000 members of parliament, from over 120 countries. A majority, about 55%, are from developing countries.

Legislators are invited to participate as voting members in the e-Parliament if in their country:

  • Any citizen may run for parliament or congress, and there are generally multiple candidates for each seat.
  • Votes in elections are generally counted fairly.
  • A candidate or member of parliament may express his or her views without fear of imprisonment, torture or death.

Organizations, journalists or individual citizens living under authoritarian regimes are urged to consider whether they might be running a risk of retribution from their governments should their email communications with the e-Parliament be traced by the national authorities. This will vary from country to country.

If you are a citizen of a democratic country, please encourage your own national Parliamentary or Congressional representatives to participate in the e-Parliament -- thus representing you at the global level as well as the national.



Click here for the Time Magazine article about e-Parliament
Click here for a 2-page summary of the e-Parliament (PDF)
About e-Parliament
WHY?
A democracy gap
A problem-solving gap
Design process
HOW?
The e-Parliament's role
The policy-making process
Ideas
Communicate
Vote
Act
Languages
Future plans
WHO?
The Council and Secretariat
Pro bono contributors
Donors
Who can participate?