Tuesday 11 August 2009

Momentum lost: Will the EU democracy exist after the 2009 elections?

The European Parliament elections 2009 were a massive communication event, involving the European Parliament, the Commission, the Europarties, national administrations, parties, and non-governmental actors - but after this summer break the democratic momentum will have been lost.

Now that the summer is slowly approaching its end, now that EU politicians and officials will start to think again about papers and positions, schedules and sessions, the routine will reconquer the Union.

If there has ever been a momentum - and the serious observer of these elections might hesitate to even use this word - I don't see any reasons why the Brussels bubble should be interested in keeping it alive.

All the communicative efforts that peaked during the 2-3 weeks before the elections were nothing but a flash in the pan. All the money was wasted to create the image of a lively democracy in which the parliament has an important role to play.

But even those in the European Parliament, new or old MEPs and their assistants, will go back to business as usual. Most of them will reduce their presence in social networks and on other public fora in favour of closed-down, self-referential work behind the doors of meeting rooms. They will talk to themselves, listen to themselves, decide about themselves.

The Europarties will forget that they could play a role in bringing European politics closer to European citizens. The best example: Does anyone remember the Party of European Socialists' (PES) election manifesto consulations? Could anyone image something like this happen for non-electoral purposes? Just go to the party websites of the PES, the EPP, ELDR, the Greens, the Left, and you won't find anything that raises the interest of any citizen.

Zero. Nada. Nothing.

And what "highlights" will there be over the rest of the year: The Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland, and the ratification of Lisbon by Germany and the Czech Republic. Afterwards, we might have a short but lively debate over the top posts.

That's all.

Apart from that, the EU democracy won't exist, because the post-election EU is nothing but a soufflé that has collapsed as soon as the heat was switched off. For now it looks as if this was just the summer break, but there is not much to come afterwards either. The soufflé never had the right ingredients, and the interest is low in changing this.

Or does anyone see any serious actor who could bring change to Brussels, to the bubble politics, the paper democracy, anyone who would have the courage and strength and ability to change the direction of this huge tanker?

I don't see anyone, and the pre-election facade is crumbling. Without this communicative facade - and the DG Communication will never have enough money to keep this facade without serious cracks - the EU remains what we Europhiles hate about her:

The ignorant self-referential and inward-looking network of administrators in different functions who need to take decisions for 500 million citizens to keep themselves and especially everyone else busy - not the EU that stands for the European values and hopes and ideals.

Only if the Union and its political actors had the courage to leave their Brussels reservation, if they took real risks, and if they put themselves in the frontlines of the European political game by exposing their opinions, their thoughts, their criticism, there would be a chance for the democratic Union to be more than a pre-electoral hope that becomes an invisible phantom afterwards.

I want MEPs and Commissioners, top-level diplomats and high-level officials to stand up, to criticise openly what is going wrong while making constructive proposals how to change the routine, how to break out of the cage, how to end the deadlocked system. This should be done in a way that hurts, that leaves others wounded or that risks a fight between institutions and responsible persons.

Democracy is the peaceful and public fight for the truth - but without actors ready to fight peacefully and in public, there is no democracy.

Yet, this is not going to happen because nobody in Brussels wants to take the risk to lose - and anyone telling the opposite knows that this is just part of the facade, part of the game they play and in which the only winners are those earning money and peer group prestige with the status quo.


Ralf Grahn said...

Why am I reminded of young d'Artagnan arriving in Paris in the 17th century?

Even the institutional mess is comparable to the pre-democratic European Union (Brussels).

Finn said...

Again, thanks for your comment Julien.. I think you are raising several points, but I will stick to the communications side of it.

Lets focus on the Parliament, as that is easier to approach, as communications in the Council is still stuck in the 80ies at best - with the Swedish Presidency as an honorable exception.

One of the things I have seen here in Brussels, is that all documents are available through informal channels, but not for the general public. Again, pushing for increased transparency would help, so that the EP would publish more of its document online, in order to create a public debate when the issues actually are discussed in the EP.

Another, more rebel, option would be to create an EU-wikileaks, where people can post their EU documents. If enough people would do that, then it could create a landslide of openness, as there would always be a party that would benefit from openness on an issue. The potential negative consequence could however be that the EP would restrict access to documents, but I don't really see them doing that. One could also imagine that such a site could break the Council need to control and restrict every single document. With 27 member states, there will always be someone who will benefit from the openness of the documents and a public debate can arise when the issues are actually discussed...