Contribution to GTI Roundtable Party Time?

Andreas Bummel

Heikki Patomäki’s article on a world political party sparked an interesting and far-reaching debate. I, too, believe that his starting point is valid. There is a need for stronger transformative political agency that pushes for radically reforming existing global institutions and building new ones from a planetary perspective. As Paul Raskin points out in Journey to Earthland, today’s planetary civilization confronts twenty-first-century challenges hobbled by twentieth-century ideas and institutions. Overcoming the cultural lag between rapid technological development and slow sociopolitical adaptation is a key issue of our time.

Although he concedes that the challenges are profound, Patomäki argues that a WPP may be a key force to achieve a breakthrough. In my view, under certain assumptions, it is possible to imagine scenarios of this kind. However, his article raises many questions, and on some points more clarity is needed to continue the debate.

There is a distinction to be made between a political party, social movements, and civil society. It is not entirely clear what the WPP is supposed to be. Nevertheless, the definition of a political party is straightforward: an organized group of people who share common views and who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government.

If this is what a WPP is supposed to do, among other things, I doubt that it has the unifying potential that Patomäki is envisioning. As a partisan force, how exactly would it foster political coherence in civil society? One of the most successful recent efforts of civil society in the global realm that Patomäki mentions, the NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court, had no distinct partisan nature. Institutions, groups, individuals, and governments across the political spectrum endorsed the ICC, and a civil society initiative with a partisan connection would have had much less significance. Even if new parties such as DiEM25 may transcend traditional party lines as Patomäki claims, the reality remains that they compete with other existing parties.

This vision of an overarching party may not be required in the first place as long as it can achieve some critical mass. One of the most important developments over the last decades that Patomäki does not mention is the continuing rise of Green parties in the wake of the global environmental movement. It certainly is an achievement of Green politics and the overall ecological movement, that in many countries political parties across the traditional spectrum adopted Green policies. Green parties may not have come to power, but often they had a strong influence on their political competition. In a similar way, a WPP may help shift mainstream politics into the direction of planetary perspectives, and other political parties would adopt this outlook. Eventually, there may not be one world political party, but many of them. A key question that remains is what social movement will help in the rise of a WPP.

Whether or not DiEM25 is a promising embryo of a WPP is difficult to say at this point. As Patomäki rightfully points out, leading figures and groups in the alter-globalization movement, with some notable exceptions, for a long time did not offer any sophisticated concepts about global governance reforms. They also did not necessarily have a planetary worldview. Quite the contrary. It is unfortunate, given Patomäki’s expertise in this field, that he did not spell out what global governance reforms a WPP should pursue.

At this time, DiEM25’s manifesto is entirely focused on Europe and does not include any global vision. There’s no consideration of global institutions and reform in that document. The articles and speeches of Yanis Varoufakis, leader of DiEM25, and Bernie Sanders which they published to promote the establishment of their new Progressive International are delving into global matters and global policies. Unfortunately, however, they still seem to be stuck in a Westphalian mindset that takes the international system of nominally sovereign nation-states as a given that cannot be put into question. As far as I am concerned, I did not notice any proposals in terms of global institutional and systemic change. As I pointed out with my colleague Jo Leinen in our recent book A World Parliament, it is not sufficient to have the right policies. It is also a requirement to have the right political structures to implement them.

Insofar, Varoufakis and Sanders’s new organization does not distinguish itself from others. Ironically, others already seem to have developed much more sophisticated thoughts long ago.

A discussion of a WPP should acknowledge that there are several international party networks in addition to the Socialist International—for instance, the Liberal International, the Centrist Democrat International, the Global Greens, and the Pirate Parties International. As an alternative to the Socialist International, the Progressive Alliance was formed in 2013. These umbrella organizations of national and regional parties and party networks in my view are all embryos of world political parties. Some of them do have standing policies on global institutional reform. For instance, meetings of the Socialist International, the Liberal International, the Global Greens, and the Pirate Parties International have endorsed the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA).

In our book, Jo Leinen and I provide a detailed overview of how this idea of a democratically elected world body developed from the French Revolution to the present day. It certainly is no accident that existing party networks are in favor of a UNPA. As in the European Parliament, members of the UNPA would not be organized by national origin but in transnational groups organized around common political orientations. We need to insist on this point. So in all probability there would be a conservative, a socialist, liberal, green, left, and other groups. International party associations certainly would cooperate with their equivalent group in the UNPA. To date, their political influence is very small. But this would change through cooperation with affiliated political groups in a global parliamentary body. Eventually, as the parliamentary body develops over time, they may transform into actual global political parties that contest global elections.

Finally, I would like to offer a reflection on another question that was brought up, namely whether a party presupposes the existence of a parliament. Following the definition above, the goal of a political party is to gain political power. In a democratic system, in my view this does indeed imply the existence of a parliament and elections. If such do not exist, a party devoted to democracy should be expected to fight for them. Here is where we are coming across a true revolutionary potential. As far as a WPP is concerned, it will operate at different levels. In most nation-states it will already be able to participate in the political process and in more or less free and fair elections. At the global level, this is not the case. Here it will be difficult to maintain political focus and achieve meaningful impact. In this regard, it would be interesting to study in how far centrists, socialists, liberals, and others who hold power in nation-states coordinate their action in intergovernmental bodies such as the UN along party lines. My thesis is that they hardly do. At the end, national and geopolitical considerations win the day. Why would this be different with a WPP?

All in all, I believe a WPP only makes sense if it pursues as a key goal the establishment of a democratic global parliament so it can gain influence by winning global elections once this goal was achieved, something that Patomäki did not spell out. Otherwise, it will only be another international network based on a Westphalian mindset and not a global political party in the strict sense. It’s not a project for those who resist the idea of democratic global government in whatever shape or form (although it is possible to argue that an undemocratic transnational state apparatus based on a transnational capitalist class already exists).

Andreas Bummel
Andreas Bummel is co-founder and Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders and the co-author of A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21st Century.

Cite as Andreas Bummel, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Party Time?," Great Transition Initiative (February 2019),

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