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European Democracy enters a new Dimension

, by FM Arouet, Le Bureau national des Jeunes Européens - France

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

Yesterday at 19:00 CET, European citizens were presented with an exercise unprecedented in our continent: a debate bringing together all candidates for President of the European Commission (with the exception of Alexis Tsipras, candidate for the extreme-left). Brought together by Euronews, Martin Schulz (PES), Ska Keller (Greens), Guy Verhofstadt (ADLE) and Jean-Claude Juncker (EPP) debated during 90 minutes.

A democratic success

Despite a few uncertainties, this debate was an important democratic success. Euronews skilfully overcame the linguistic hurdle, by proposing a simultaneous translation of high quality in 13 languages of the Union. This allowed for an important rate of citizen participation, notably through Internet. The hash tag #EUdebate2014 was one of the most popular ones on Twitter, as no less than 10,000 tweets/minute were published by Internet users! These tweets came from across Europe, although with a clear majority from Southern Europe.

This debate was perhaps the founding act of European democracy. Indeed, not a single candidate envisaged the possibility that the Council of the European Union (which brings together Heads of Nation-States), disregarding citizens’ vote, could propose a non-candidate for President of the European Commission. This is only a first step, which is non-negligible, to transform the European Commission into a government that is responsible before the European Parliament.

We do lament the fact that candidates had so little time to express their views and show the differences that exist between party programmes. However, this debate will have allowed putting names and faces to political parties which are unfortunately only the aggregation of national parties. Candidates were able to display their personality and determination to build a genuine project for the future of Europe.

The exchange of views focused on three key topics, each discussed during half an hour: the economy, Euroskepticism and foreign policy. Although all candidates agreed with each other on Euroskepticism, the priorities and orientations offered for the European Union were distinct. The debate on how to deal with Russia in the Ukrainian crisis distinguished two clear positions, one in favour of dialogue and the other in favour of targeted sanctions. All agreed on the necessity for Europe to be strong and united in order to remain influential in international relations. On the Transatlantic Free-Trade Agreement (TAFTA) currently being negotiated, opinions were more clearly split, between a strong refusal (Ska Keller), a more measured opposition (Martin Schulz, Guy Verhostadt) or merely recognising the lack of trust arising from the NSA-spying scandal in late 2013 (Jean-Claude Juncker).

The debate took time to find its rhythm, with initially very little time left for candidates to answer questions, but remained interesting until the very end without losing intensity, a notable achievement. Internet users’ reactions in particular provided this sensation that for the first time we were living a genuinely European moment, and just for that it was a clear success.

Time for public broadcasting channels to wake up?

Despite all this, no broadcasting on public TV was programmed. In France, public channel France 2 already provided a clear idea of where they stand by cancelling a debate with Martin Schulz following a specific demand by extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen – who argued the debate needed to be 100% French. In the end, it is the Eurovision that will be displayed on May 10th rather than the main European Commission candidates’ debate on May 15th.

Whilst we are experiencing an unprecedented confidence crisis; whilst for the first time political parties accepted to play the democratic game; whilst European citizens display a clear interest for the European debate, the French broadcasting channel (but also that of other countries such as the United Kingdom) refuses to display the next debate.

The success of yesterday’s debate should convince our broadcasting channels to provide citizens with the debate they need in order to choose knowledgeably their candidate in the upcoming elections.

See online : Crédit photographique: EusprYng

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  • On 30 April 2014 at 11:53, by Richard Replying to: European Democracy enters a new Dimension

    I have serious doubts about this “European Democracy”.

    First, let us look at the candidates; in a vibrant and healthy democracy anyone can stand to be a representative and one may expect a broad range of policies and views, often deeply opposing ones. By contrast, the candidates for Commission President are pre-selected by the European Parliament; admittedly, composed of elected representatives, but still for the most part what I will term “euro-enthusiasts” in deep contrast to the electorate. In essence the Presidential candidates are selected by a Parliment that is at the end of it’s term and quite likely to look very different after the elections which are due shortly. Thus, one can hardly describe the Presidential candidates as reflective of the electorate; the essence of true democracy.

    It is hence hardly surprising that the candidates mirror the Parliament; they are all distinguished by the policy of “more Europe”. Watching the debate, it was noticable that whilst candidates attempted to present themselves as having differing policies - what we in the UK call “clear blue water” - the basic and repeated theme was “more Europe”, “more Europe” or...“more Europe”.

    So the electorate is hardly presented with choice - even if they could actually vote for the President, which of course they can’t anyway.

    This is one reason, I think, why there is an increasing detachment with the institutions and the people. The institutions are viewed as arcane, unrepresentative and undemocratic.

    It is hardly helpful to present the Commission Presidential “Campaign” as such, only for the electorate to find that it becomes a choice between a selection of federalists who are hand-picked by the arcane processes of the European Parliament (in itself increasingly also viewed with a mix of indifference at best and hostility at worst) and for whom they are unable to cast a vote anyway.

    The average voter who happened to watch the debates immediately questions:

    How any why were these people chosen? Why are they all euro-federalists - where is the choice here? What’s the point when I can’t vote for them anyway? Why is such a fuss being made when the Commission President is in effect a civil servant?

    It is also hardly helpful that one of the candidates was President of the European Parliament - a process whereby the EPP and PES alternate in the position, depending on whose “turn” it is.

    I would also add that whilst the candidates are obviously sincere, have many admirable qualities and genuinely believe what they say - far from eurosceptics fearing someone “euro enthusiast” as President, they would positively welcome it. It would only serve to inflame scepticism across Europe by appearing to confirm the worst fears - an “unelected” figure, detached from the electorate, who does nothing but propose “more Europe” when it is evident that the public mood is for anything but “more Europe”. A gift to the eurosceptic cause, in fact.

  • On 2 May 2014 at 13:16, by Alexander Peters Replying to: European Democracy enters a new Dimension

    EUROPE´S GREATEST DANGER: SUBSIDIARITY SURREALISM

    Richard is right in observing that a horror of “more Europe” is now felt by a substantial part of the electorate. Many voters would approve a statement such as the following:

    “Europe nowadays decides on matters, that national governments would deal with much better”.

    This approval is worrying, given the ample lessons to the contrary Europeans have had in recent months.

    We have NATIONAL data protection, which means NO protection: Europeans just helplessy watch as their civic rights are infringed by NSA, Google or Facebook. - We have NATIONAL energy supply strategy, which means NO strategy - due to the nations´ uncoordinated approach, Europeans are now threatened by the Gazprom threat of a - literally - “cold” war with Russia. - We have NATIONAL Defence, which means NO defence - the bunch of 27 tiny, badly equipped armies is no deterrent against the Russian military; thus Europeans, despite their expensive armed forces are still 100% dependent on US protection (and accordingly vulnerable to US pressure). - We have NATIONAL foreign policy - which means NO voice in international affairs: while a squabbling Europe is paralysed, Russia and the US redraw the map of Eastern Europe - “Fuck the EU!”.

    Europe prevents nations from making valuable contributions?! - No, the opposite is true: Nations now govern numerous areas, where their contribution is utterly worthless, thus endangering the future well-being and liberty of Europeans. EUROPEAN data protection, EUROPEAN defence, EUROPEAN energy planning and EUROPEAN foreign policy are as vital to us as is the oxygen to breathe!

    The subsidiarity surrealism of the Europhopes, which strive to constrain a EU even further, which already is not sufficiently equipped to deal with the challenges ahead, is the greatest political threat of our time. European politicians OUGHT to fight this threat with all their energy - OUGHT to fight against the hold the “Less Europe”-Propaganda has got on the electorate. Instead people such as Martin Schulz nowadays waste a lot of precious campaign time appeasing the Brussels-Paranoia of voters - “Europe needs not to regulate everything”. Does it make any sense to dwell on the virtues of local management at a time, when our world is falling apart around us - NSA, Ukraine - due to the local mismanagement of matters only Europe is fit to handle? Pro-European candidates feed the Anti-European prejudice and deception which they ought to starve.

    We need “more Europe”, we need an electorate that wants “more Europe” and we need democratic majorities that solidly vote for “more Europe”. - Appeasement towards the Europhobic drive to destroy our future is no option.

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