First-ever Ombudsman for the Future

Wednesday 9 July 2008, by Axel Gosseries, Benedek Jàvor

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

In Budapest, in the spring of 2000, the NGO “Protect the Future” came up with the idea of an institution that could act as a spokesperson for those who are the “most excluded of the excluded” from democratic representation: that is, future generations. Future generations will, of course, be able to express themselves in the future, however by then it may be too late.

It was Laszlo Solyom, then a member of “Protect the Future” and who has since become the president of Hungary, who drafted the law, which though proposed to the Hungarian Parliament in 2001 was only passed in 2007. And so it was that on 26 May of this year Sándor Fülöp a legal scholar - became the very first “ombudsman for future generations.”

This is a unique institution. A few constitutions in the world mention a concern for future generations, going as far in some of cases, such as Japan, Norway, and Bolivia, as granting them rights. Yet, with only half a dozen in existence, actual institutions specifically devoted to protecting the interests of future generations are very rare. For example, in 1993 the Finnish parliament set up a “committee for the future.” While the Israeli Knesset set up, in 2001, a parliamentary committee for future generations – which ceased its activities at the end of 2006.

What is striking about the Hungarian version is the relatively wide extent of the new ombudsman’s powers. For example, he is entitled to call upon private actors “to cease any activities that unlawfully harm the environment.” He can issue recommendations to public and private entities, whereupon the recipient has “to answer substantively in 30 days.” He may also “initiate supervisory procedures regarding decisions of public administrative bodies… initiate the suspension of execution, and may take part in court procedures.”

This is a promising institution that may induce emulation throughout the world as citizens are becoming increasingly concerned with their impact on future generations. The Hungarian model, however, faces several challenges. For instance, the ombudsman’s scope of duties will be very much left to his own discretion; this is not only because he will not be acting as a member of a commission – as was the Israeli case- but also because of the fact that he is unable to consult the very people he is supposed to be representing. Politicians know all too well how convenient it is to speak in the name of future generations- the latter are rarely born in time to contradict them. In the past, and indeed presently, some politicians have abused this political ploy. What some opportunists may see as a role that is perfect in its unaccountability becomes here a real challenge, for to do the job well will require someone of incredible prescience.

Since the ombudsman is unable to consult with future generations, only a comprehensive vision that is properly informed by a clear idea of what intergenerational justice requires, and how best to disperse it throughout the whole of Hungarian society, will be sufficient to guide the actions of Sándor Fülöp and those who will follow him in this role. Of course, they will have to imagine the world in which future generations live. On top of being a good futurologist, they will also have to specify not what future generations may wish to have received from us but, rather, what they will be entitled to have expected from us.

The other difficulty has to do with the substantive scope of the ombudsman’s powers. The law stresses environmental protection, thus the ombudsman will need to find out whether he has enough of a margin to develop a broader array of activities, extending beyond matters regarding the environment in order to provide a more comprehensive protection of Hungary’s future. It is clear that even if his mission were to be strictly limited to environmental matters, he will constantly have to keep in mind possible interactions with the other non-environmental dimensions of our intergenerational obligations. Here he may have to think about funding pensions, keeping the public debt at an appropriate level, or developing policies in the realm of health care and education.

As we can see, the ombudsman may end up finding himself both too lonely and with too narrow a mandate. If success is far from being guaranteed, the challenge still remains exciting.

Axel Gosseries is a political philosopher and legal scholar. He is a Permanent Research Fellow at the Fonds de la recherche scientifique (Belgium) and a lecturer at the universities of Louvain and St. Louis (Belgium) and Benedek Jàvor is a biologist and environmentalist. He is a lecturer at Peter Pazmany University (Budapest).

Vous avez aimé cet article?

  • Le Journal des Alternatives vit grâce au soutien de ses lectrices et lecteurs.

    Je donne

Partagez cet article sur :

  •        
Articles de la même rubrique

Vol.01 - No.03 - July 2008

From Leader to Reluctant Follower

Plus d'articles :  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Articles sur le même sujet

Europe

Wikileaks : Julian Assange échappe à l’extradition vers les USA, mais le verdict inquiète

Plus d'articles :  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Je m’abonne

Recevez le bulletin mensuel gratuitement par courriel !

Je soutiens

Votre soutien permet à Alternatives de réaliser des projets en appui aux mouvements sociaux à travers le monde et à construire de véritables démocraties participatives. L’autonomie financière et politique d’Alternatives repose sur la générosité de gens comme vous.

Je contribue

Vous pouvez :

  • Soumettre des articles ;
  • Venir à nos réunions mensuelles, où nous faisons la révision de la dernière édition et planifions la prochaine édition ;
  • Travailler comme rédacteur, correcteur, traducteur, bénévole.

514 982-6606
jda@alternatives.ca