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A new consensus for the post-Covid19 world: All hands on deck – Towards an inclusive multilateralism

At the Paris Peace Forum on November 12 last year, French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders launched a global discussion on forging a new consensus for the post-Covid-19 world. This discussion is continuing through an ongoing debate, with contributions from leaders and experts from around the world. Below, explore the contribution of Thomas Paulsen, member of the executive board of Körber-Stiftung.

All Hands on Deck: Towards an Inclusive Multilateralism

Keeping the channels of communication open, no matter the disagreements. Talking to one another rather than about each other. These objectives are at the very heart of diplomacy and international cooperation. In a world marked by increasing geopolitical tension, ever-growing global challenges affecting everyone’s daily life and multiple threats to a rules-based international order, they are also the first step towards the achievement of an inclusive multilateralism. But what does “inclusive” actually mean? Why does multilateralism need to be inclusive at all? The answer is simple and complex at the same time: One of the defining features of the international system of our time is the diffusion of power away from states to a much wider spectrum of actors: businesses, civil society, cities, local authorities. Think of global business juggernauts like Google or Apple, NGOs like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation with annual grants in the billions or mega cities like Tokyo or Guangzhou/Shenzhen with a population of more than 40 million. Hence, to be fit for purpose, the multilateral system of the 21st century can no longer be state-centred but must include a variety of actors. As if we needed another reminder, the Covid-19 crisis has made it very clear: to tackle a problem of global proportion, which literally knows no borders, we need “all hands on deck”.

Initiatives like the Paris Peace Forum, which was initiated by President Macron in 2018, acknowledge that most global governance challenges – climate change, cyber threats, vaccine distribution, and others – cannot be solved by states alone. Therefore they create a platform for non-state actors to gather, shape and complement the policy process alongside states. Each year, all actors of the international scene can discuss and design multi-stakeholder initiatives for the common good.

In order to rethink global governance beyond the institutionalized framework of the United Nations, the international community can draw on multiple ideas and recommendations from non-governmental organizations, research institutions, corporate representatives and citizen networks such as the Coalition for the UN We Need. The history of global governance is also full of examples in which states and non-state actors cooperated on creating norms and implementing policy, from the Forest Stewardship Council and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace. Involving actors operating on the ground and incorporating their knowledge and capacities into the international community’s policymaking is the only way to deal with the world’s most pressing challenges.

Of course, states have not become irrelevant. To the contrary, they will remain the central actors of multilateral cooperation and will have an active role to play in the development of an inclusive multilateral system. Their unique convening power and their networks enable them to promote dialogue and facilitate the emergence of issue-based coalitions of like-minded partners, on which their foreign policy will increasingly rely in the years to come. The Franco-German initiative of an Alliance for Multilateralism, which Foreign Ministers Maas and Le Drian presented at the Paris Peace Forum 2019, is a case in point.

The lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic must be leveraged to address the multi-faceted crisis of multilateralism. The above-mentioned initiatives helped create a momentum for the for the renewal of the multilateral system. Let us keep working towards a truly inclusive multilateral decision-making and its benefits for the people. For inclusiveness is an indispensable prerequisite to strengthen the legitimacy of the international system and effectively address the current global challenges with the citizens’ support. The multilateralism of the post-Covid-19 world will have to be inclusive. Or it will not be at all.

Thomas Paulsen, member of the executive board of Körber-Stiftung, one of the Paris Peace Forum founding members