Q. How can the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the world organisation of parliaments, reinforce the UN and the WTO?
R.F. May I begin by saying that the French have always set great store by their membership the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which is the oldest of the international political institutions, since it was established back in 1889. At the dawn of the 21st century, promoting peace and cooperation among peoples through parliamentary channels is more necessary than ever before.
In a world that is still ravaged by conflict and prey to savage economic competition, it is essential that cooperation between peoples be reinforced. Parliamentarians are very well placed to advocate such cooperation. Moreover, parliaments can provide the vital political support to the construction of a more peaceful and prosperous world.
I have no doubt that by promoting closer cooperation between parliaments, by proclaiming loud and clear the universal value of the fundamental human right to be represented by an elected person, and by alerting governments to the need to associate representative institutions with international cooperation, the Inter-Parliamentary Union is making a valuable contribution to greater understanding of the role of parliaments in bringing nations closer together.
I cherish the hope that the Conference of Presiding Officers of Nation Parliaments in New York from 30 August to 1 September will provide an opportunity for a forceful statement of the need to enshrine the voice of parliamentarians in the community of nations.
In today's globalizing world, if people are to manage their own societies and their own future, they must invent a political power that is commensurate with the economic power of global enterprises.
That political power already exists. The United Nations and its principle bodies, government delegates from throughout the world come together, was the first institution of its kind. It would be hard to exaggerate its achievement. The United Nations is often tasked with being powerless, which is profoundly unfair when we consider what it has achieved in maintaining peace between nations without really having the resources to fulfil its primary mission.
But this global political power only springs from the governments of various countries. If a more balanced and democratic global power is to emerge, this executive power will have to be balanced by a legislative entity that is analogous to our elected parliaments. This is all the more necessary since, without it, civil society will organise itself throughout the world, as it has already - commendably - begun to do, through a whole host of non-governmental organisations.
These NGOs express universal values and defend human rights, promote greater economic and social equity and strive to protect the environment. As I see it, their struggles are almost always legitimate.
The members of these NGOs are activists, particularly keen to fight for their cause. But membership of these NGOs is a matter of personal choice. They cannot claim the same representativity as democratically elected parliaments, which have a mission to speak on behalf of the entire people, and on every subject.
I am firmly convinced that civil society needs a channel for political expression and that only the elected representatives of various nations can fulfil that role. This is why I earnestly hope that the Inter-Parliamentary Union will be more closely associated with the United Nations system and other major intergovernmental organisations, especially the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
At the dawn of the new millennium, I am convinced of the need for a parliamentary assembly of the United Nations. International cooperation is increasingly inseparable from domestic politics and has an ever stronger bearing on the lives of our citizens. As such, it is everybody's business, and first and foremost that of parliamentarians.
The purpose of this new multilateral body would be to highlight the parliamentary dimension of international relations and to respond to the worldwide call for grater democracy, association and representation..
I think the time has come to supplement the world political body, which is still far from perfect - and in a world moving relentlessly towards economic globalisation, nobody questions its need - by establishing the second component, essential to true balance, which is to be closer to the needs of peoples.
Q. More specifically, how can parliaments provide a parliamentary dimension to the UN and the WTO?
R.F. Tighter bonds between parliaments and the world political system will call for the institution of some simple official procedures. The cooperation agreement concluded between IPU and the UN in 1996 is a first step, and a very positive one, to better associate parliaments with the United Nations. But we will have to go further than that in order to make the Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union into a genuine parliamentary assembly of the United Nations.
One might imagine, for example, that for all matters relating to economic and social development, respect for cultural diversity and the protection of human rights, the Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union would be granted the right to define goals and propose solutions but also to oversee the action taken. This could take the form of an annual report on all of these subjects to the United Nations General Assembly.
If you look at the United Nations Charter, it emerges that the justification for the United Nations and its true ambition lie in its wish to bring about an international legal order, and to ensure its respect. Today, we cannot but conclude that any such international legal order is at best very disorganised.
The international financial institutions established under the Bretton Woods agreements sometimes diverge from the principles laid down in the UN Charter. The globalization of the economy has given their activities an importance that the authors of the Charter never dreamed of. Moreover, the United Nations specialized agencies are increasingly rivalled by other regulatory and decision-making mechanisms, such as the G-8, the G-20, the P-5 and others. Other world inter-governmental organisations such as WTO are fully independent from the United Nations. The WTO dispute settlement system is a new component of the worldwide legal framework, and it is necessary to ensure that it tallies with the principles of the Charter and current international law.
Against this backdrop, the Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union could become the organ through which demands for a more coherent international order are expressed. It could systematically discuss all matters on the agenda of the G-8, either in its plenary assembly, or in specialized committees, and submit the outcome of its discussions along with possible proposals to the G-8 meetings. Our parliaments do not seek to compete with governments but they can contribute to warding off the risk of our States becoming less stable and our people more marginalised.
In the uncertainty, indeed the disarray which results from our traditional state political and social structures failing to adapt to the new patterns of our "global village", parliaments embody a collective ideal which aspires for democracy, peace and humanism.
Refusing to resign ourselves to the world as it is and striving to improve it by trying to introduce positive changes: this must be the international ambition of our parliaments.
I hope that the New York Conference will stand as the symbol of more balanced international cooperation within which our parliaments will finally find their true place.