What is the GAP report?
The One World Trust’s Global Accountability Report examines the accountability of intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), providing scores for their performance in two aspects of accountability: member control of governance structures and access to information. The results show wide differences between them, clearly indicating leaders in the field and those that fall behind. (The report also examines other kinds of international organisations – non-governmental organisations and trans-national corporations – but they are not of such interest to this campaign.)
Why is this important? Three hundred IGOs help shape the world we live in. The decisions they make affect all of our lives in many different ways: from determining global financial standards to deciding the fate of the world’s refugees. Individuals and communities who are affected by these organisations’ actions should be able to hold them to account. However, few mechanisms have so far been established identified at the global level to enable citizens to exert such a right. The result is a growing sense of disenfranchisement as a result of this democratic deficit.
Intergovernmental organisations need to become more transparent and accountable to their stakeholders, both those internal and external to the organisation, to enable wider participation in decision-making. This will increase their legitimacy and lead to more effective decision-making.
The aim of the Federal Union campaign
The aim of the campaign is to highlight the importance of the accountability of global institutions and to encourage individual institutions to become more accountable. While the OWT report looks at organisations of all kinds, this campaign is focused on four intergovernmental organisations that were most heavily criticised in the report. Federal Union wants them to adopt democratic methods of decision-making in place of diplomatic ones.
Why does accountability matter?
The intergovernmental organisations that were examined are creatures of their time and place. The distribution of power among their member states reflects the distribution of power within the wider world.
In the case of international institutions that deal specifically with money, for example in the World Bank, the different financial contributions made are advanced as the reason for this distribution of power. There are other ways of sharing out the votes that are used in other organisations around the world: the reason here is not really economic or financial, it is political.
In other organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, where all member states are nominally equal, a separate, shadow decision-making system has come into being from which the world’s poorer countries are excluded. The so-called Green Room system has established a private club within the world’s trade rule-making body. Its pretensions to equality are undermined by such an approach.
In all these cases, the organisations concerned are considerably less accountable than their national equivalents. Federal Union argues that government power exercised at global level should be just as accountable and just as democratic as government power exercised at national level. If anything, given the greater distance from the system, the demands of accountability are greater at the global level.
As in the EU, democratic practices at the global level will come step by step. This campaign is one small part of that process.
Bank for International Settlements: A particular concern is way in which decisions of a small group of the most powerful BIS member countries – the G10 – influence the rest of banking world because of their accumulated financial power. The situation is made worse by the total secrecy in which the G10 operates. Minutes and agendas of meetings are never published, so there is no possibility for other stakeholders either to influence or even to know what is being done until after the decisions are taken.
World Bank: For example, the distribution of votes among the member states is grossly unequal. Eleven out of the 184 member states have more than 50 per cent of the votes between them. While they may have put up the most money for share capital, borrowers make a significant financial contribution too in the form of profits on borrowing but this is neglected altogether. As a result, the countries that are most affected by the decisions of the World Bank – those who borrow from it – have the least say in what those decisions should be. This is hardly correct. Other multilateral development banks, for example the Inter-American Development Bank, recognise more equally the interests of borrowers as well as lenders.
OECD: It is apparent that the OECD has not yet adjusted its working methods to recognise the substantial influence that it exercises around the world. Its decisions affect not only its 30 member states but also many non-member countries too. While it is welcome that those non-member states are sometimes invited to participate in discussions, they ought to be given more of a status within the organisation’s decision-making. In the end, they will find themselves expected to inherit the decisions of the OECD: more can and should be done to reflect their interest at an earlier stage in the process.
World Trade Organisation: Of particular concern is the Green Room system, whereby private meetings are held to deal with important issues. While in principle discussions of this sort do not replace formal sessions of the General Council, the nature of the decision-making in practice hands over considerable influence to these select groupings at the expense of the membership as a whole. Any deviation from the principle of equality among states undermines the authority of the WTO.
Based on a campaign briefing published in April 2003.