Monday 4 May 2009

Guest post on "Th!nk About It" (1): Why there are no true Europe-wide election campaigns - and why I am I a little bit disappointed with TH!NK09

This week I am guest blogging on TH!NK ABOUT IT. I will publish the articles here, too, but I would like to kindly ask you to comment on TH!NK09.

The first questions I wanted to tackle are the following:
Why there are no true Europe-wide election campaigns - and why I am a little bit disappointed with TH!NK09 (so far).
The reason for the first part of the question - apart from the election system that foresees national lists - is very simple:

The national parties would need to construct completely new stories to run a true European election campaign on the national level. They would need to develop new arguments, inform themselves about what is going on on the European level, get in touch with their MEPs and discuss about goals and possibilities, something they haven't done for years.

But national political parties don't care for what is going on in Brussels and Strasbourg, they are centred in their little world of local, regional, and national self-content.

Yet, European politics demand particular involvement, because news about what is going on usually doesn't leave the halls and offices of the EU institutions, apart from a small number of highly mediatised issues. And what parties don't find in the media is not relevant for their national party functionaries (if you exclude a limited number of individuals dealing with European matters on a more regular basis).

But for a true European campaign, the national parties would not only have to construct a new story, but they would need to explain this story to voters who are used to be confronted with national argumentations only.

So a European campaign would involve double work for national parties: First, they would have to spend time to build their new story line, with good ideological arguments and practical examples, and then they would need to invest much more time and effort than for most other elections to make voters understand these new stories. That is a lot of work...

Hence, running a national campaign for the European elections is the easiest solution for national parties.

It is pure laziness, unwillingness to make new things and to face inconvenient questions that could reveal that, in fact, almost nobody within the national political parties cared about the European Parliament's activities for the last five years. And if not even the political parties cared - how can you expect citizens to care?!

Sure, some of the competitors will still manage to project their political goals and ideologies to the European level, promising peace, prosperity, solidarity and freedom all over Europe. The European parties are helping by creating European manifestos and slogans which can be used as guidelines to hide the national character of the campaign.

Nevertheless, when you look behind the facades, you'll easily discover that the argument remains national, even though the language becomes Europeanised. Because as I said above, this is the easiest solution for lazy political actors, which mostly also want to use the playing field of the EP elections to gain political points in their national arena.

This is weak. Boring. Mostly irrelevant for what is actually going on in Brussels and Strasbourg.

But the human being is lazy.

And this brings me to TH!NK ABOUT IT and to my disappointment about the results it has brought over the last three months:

What I see is a certain laziness.

At the beginning, over the first weeks, I saw enthusiastic moves and posts and I was glad about the dynamics. But the day-to-day laziness won over the initial enthusiasm.

The average Th!nk-blogger has published 5 articles over the last 90 days, which means around one article every 2 1/2 weeks. And apart from a number of exceptions, the focus was on abstract European issues or on rather irrelevant national questions.

These issues replaced much more interesting national perspectives on European issues of the campaign or European perspectives on national issues connected to these elections.

With three bloggers from every EU country, this community was most appropriate for discussioning these things; yet so far, this opportunity has been missed.

There have still been a number of interesting articles - what comes up to my mind spontaneously are some posts by Lithuanian, Latvian and Slovenian th!nkers - and some of the bloggers have posted much more than the obligatory last-day-of-the-month post I could witness when my RSS-feed exploded on the 28th, 30th and 31st.

But tranquillised by the seemingly nothingness of a European campaign, many bloggers of this competition seemed to have resigned, maybe also discouraged by the fact that only few "outsiders" showed open interest in what was written.

In the end, the focus on apparently more important personal goals has suppressed the responsibility as a European citizen with a perfect platform to do what this European Union lacks, that is to foster true European debates, to care for what is really relevant, and to be ahead instead of lagging behind.

But why should TH!NK ABOUT IT be better than what we get for the European Parliament elections?

What we get before these European elections is a lack of enthusiasm, a lack of creativity, a lack of understanding for the important issues in Europe today. What we get is a lack of involvement of the public, that is neither from the side of most individual citizens nor from the civil society that represents them in parties or NGOS.

Still, one thing is sure: If the EU shall not just be an administration that takes over responsibilities from our national democracies without giving more room for European democracy, then we will have to show more impetus, more interest, more active involvement.

What I expect from you, TH!NKERS, for the last month of the European Parliament election campaign is that you create a true pan-European debate:

Criticise the national focus of the parties of your home countries by showing that what they talk about is mostly irrelevant for what is going on in the European Parliament! Take up European level discussions and perspectives and break them down to what they mean for your country!

Or, contribute to a real European discussion by debating all-European issues under an all-European perspective. Relate to each other, quote each other, ask questions, criticise! But no matter what you do: Do at least more than what you have done so far!

Be better than our lazy political parties, our old-fashioned politicians, or our careless media!

This is the only way how we - blogging citizens - can contribute to the future of the European Union:

By being better Europeans than those before and those around us!