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© Emmanuel TREPANT

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Democracy in Europe

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It takes more than you’d think to be Obama



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No constitutional miracle for Europe






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20 years of participatory democracy



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Europeans, more effort please


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Democracy in Europe

© Emmanuel TREPANT


editorial Born in Greece, raised in Westminster, let loose in the streets of Paris, Prague and Berlin… democracy is perhaps Europe’s most important contribution to the world. SHIFT Mag

EUROPE TALKS TO BRUSSELS Avenue de Tervueren 270 1150 Brussels – Belgium

Victor Fleurot SHIFT Mag Editor Brussels

Publisher: Juan ARCAS Editor: Victor FLEUROT • T. +32 2 235 56 21 Deputy Editor: David MARQUIE • T. +32 2 235 56 41 Contributors to this issue: Nick JACOBS (Brussels), Cécile GREBOVAL (Brussels), Paul HERMANT (Brussels), Nicolas LEVRAT (Geneva), Laurent VAN BRUSSELS (Brussels), Joëlle (New-York), Hugo (Brussels), Julia (Berlin), Frédéric (Lasne), Thibault DORSO (Paris) Frédéric DARMUZEY (Brussels), Lívia FIGUEIREDO CAMPOS ( Belo Horizonte), Jo LEINEN (Saarbrücken), Jorgo CHATZIMARKAKIS (Perl), Mary Lou MCDONALD (Dublin), Tamara EHS (Vienna), Gerd VALCHARS (Vienna) Illustrations: Roberto TRIOSCHI, Mi Ran COLLIN, François TACOEN, Emmanuel TREPANT, Brieuc HUBIN Photography: BELGA/AFP PHOTO/Stéphane DE SAKUTIN, European Parliament, Ivo GONÇALVES/PMPA, Cristine ROCHOL/PMPA Special thanks to Special thanks to: Guadalupe PEREZ-GARCIA, Francesca PESCE and Juliane GAU for editorial coordination, Aino PALOJÄRVI for linguistic coordination. Production & coordination: Brieuc HUBIN • Benoît GOOSSENS • Design & Graphics: Tipik Studio Printed by: Manufast-ABP, Brussels. Administration & subscription: Ricardo RIBEIRO • T. + To advertise in SHIFT Mag contact: Florence ORTMANS • • T.+32 2 235 56 46 Andres BELLEMANS • • T. +32 2 235 00 41 © SHIFT Mag • 2009

So why is today’s EU still desperately trying to add the D-word to its vocabulary? Modern life is no excuse. Less than a year ago, the whole world was gripped by the story of America’s presidential election. Record turnout, armies of volunteers, fierce online campaigning: it was not always pretty, but it sure was popular. The key word there was “story”. The EU needs its own modern narrative that will take it beyond the “united in diversity” motto. Otherwise old cracks will start reappearing behind the blue and yellow paper. Part of the paradox is that Europe’s existential crisis has deepened just when it makes most sense for European states to join forces – ask Iceland’s government or any British business that relies on imported goods… Yet too few Europeans know about this “all in the same boat” situation. National media and politicians still frame issues in narrow national terms, with the different languages acting as buffers to prevent pan-European debate. Is real political debate possible at the EU level? Yes, if politicians stop hiding the real distribution of power between regions, capitals and Brussels. Either people do not like the unfiltered truth, in which case the process can be stopped or reversed, or they will expect their politicians and media to follow suit. As good democrats, how about we let the people make their (informed) choice?

Tipik Communication – A SWORD Group Company. Avenue de Tervueren 270 – 1150 Brussels – Belgium. Free quarterly publication (cannot be sold). Published by Tipik Communication. Reproduction in any form is prohibited without prior consent. The views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SHIFT Mag.

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D emocracy in E urope

It takes more than you’d think to be Obama How do you run a campaign to spark public interest in something as abstract as the European elections? How do you inspire Obama-style mania for MEPs? How do you do it with a few volunteers, little time and no money? The answer is: you don't. Which is what was discovered by our “Vote09 Campaign” which ran out of legs before its time.

Whether these elections do inspire more public interest than previous poll showings -- 2004 saw a 40% turnout -- remains to be seen. But what we discovered is that the European Parliament is a difficult body to get excited about - or get other people excited about.

A face to pin the ideas to

The project sprang up among a loose group of young professionals in Brussels - trainees at the institutions, lobbyists, PR officers, journalists. What brought us together was an awareness of the imminent European Parliament

Our ultimate problem was lack of time or resources. We had solid foundations: a handful of committed volunteers in Brussels, and a 4,000-strong Facebook group of people supporting the campaign.

 e remained convinced that W interest in the EU is lurking somewhere in people's minds elections. And a bigger awareness that we only knew this because we work inside the Brussels bubble and are part of the new - but still miniscule cross-section of European youth with a background in EU studies. The big inspiration was Barack Obama's grass-roots campaign in the USA. Despite our non-partisan premise, the Vote09 campaign wanted to emulate the methods and achievements of a movement which got people debating politics in all corners of the United States. Europe, gripped by the same economic turmoil and cynicism about world affairs, would surely be ripe to shake off its own shackles of indifference and reclaim its politics?


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But plans to host a citizen forum-style event with Europeans sending in You Tube questions for MEPs proved too great an organisational mountain for our skeleton movement. So did the idea of constructing an interactive website with an independent and non-institutional voice, to rival the Parliament's own efforts. We turned our efforts outside of Belgium, where voting is mandatory. Working with national organisers in each EU country was the ultimate goal. But this brought a bigger challenge on the ideas front. Even if we had managed to assemble an army of committed national representatives, what could we tell them from our Brussels ideas-hub? How could we brand the elections to people outside

the Brussels bubble? Alerting people that the elections are coming up is one thing, but explaining why it is important to vote is another. We came to the stark realisation that politics without personalities is very abstract and inaccessible. The whole Obama phenomenon wasn't just the efforts of hard-working, technology-savvy campaigners. It was based on fascination with an individual, and a face to pin the ideas to. The European elections can never be made as personal. MEPs are elected for parties but the winning party does not form a government with its leader at the helm. When Obama's face was flashed up on TV during the US election campaign, a viewer could comfortably say: "That's the man who will close Guantanamo". But if an MEP's face popped up on the news (an unlikely event in itself ), no-one would be able to say: "That's the politician who pushed for the 20% CO2 reduction targets in the EU climate and energy package". Nor would they register the European party grouping of this MEP.

Neutrality? It is no wonder that political broadcasts in the run-up to the elections focus almost exclusively on domestic issues and the personality of the national party leader. Voters are asked to vote Conservative, Socialist, Liberal, Christian Democrat, Green or Nationalist, as an extension of their national votes – and not in relation to the positions taken by their MEPs on European Parliament issues. After hours of discussion, we came to the unfortunate conclusion that


But the Euroscepticism problem flagged up issues about our own supposed neutrality. Deep down we all wanted to promote Europe. Our experiences of the EU had been mostly positive – it had allowed us to study abroad through the Erasmus scheme, and had even provided most of us (directly or indirectly) with jobs! We were the walking definition of the Brussels bubble.

There must be a way to make MEPs sexier Trying to put aside these flaws, we came to the idea of singling out one basic thing the Parliament has done in each policy area. Pushing for the emissions targets, bringing down the costs of text messages, increasing development funding. This raised questions about how much detail was needed – these are issues the EU legislates on, and the Parliament undeniably plays a role. Should a campaign single out the role of MEPs, or raise awareness of the EU as a whole and avoid complex questions of institutional divisions of power?

Maybe the issues approach was also a red herring. Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing if people at least turned up for the European elections and voted as they would domestically, on the reasonable assumption that their party of choice would pursue similar priorities on European level. The role of the campaign would simply be to raise awareness about the date of the elections, and how to vote in each country.

importance of voting in the European elections is easier said than done! There must be a way to make MEPs sexier, without resorting to the Berlusconi solution and parachuting glamour models into the party lists. •••

> Nick Jacobs Brussels correspondent Brussels British

Even this idea petered away when we realised that a time and cash-poor movement like ours could not have any tangible impact on people's decisions to vote or not. We remained convinced that interest in the EU is lurking somewhere in people's minds. People are talking about politics all the time – the recession, food prices, the environment. And these are the kind of issues that the Parliament is dealing with. The huge American turnout showed that the majority of people do care who is running their country. In Europe the EU is running most of our countries, but as we discovered, drawing a link between this and the


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© Roberto TRIOSCHI

only the most anti-European MEPs had a specifically EU-related message which would be heard. The easiest conceivable way of sparking interest in the European elections would be to build on this well-developed public discourse (the British media being the biggest culprits) and feed people further examples of wasteful expenses, general inefficiency, and federalist leanings in the Parliament. Tempting though it was, we did not want to raise voter turnout at any cost. So we continued to search for a balanced message which would highlight the basic importance of the EU.



Gréboval SHIFT Mag: Your 50/50 Campaign promotes equal representation in all top European political posts which will be decided throughout 2009. Do you realistically expect to reach 50% representation of women in the Parliament and the new European Commission?

Women more than others are aware of the democratic deficit in Europe. On the eve of these European elections, European Women’s Lobby (EWL) has launched the “50/50 Campaign - No modern European democracy without gender equality” (http://5050campaign. This initiative, strongly supported by Margot Wallström, the European Commission Vice President, aims at promoting equal representation between women and men in top European political posts and gender equality in general. We asked Cécile Gréboval, the Policy Director at EWL about representation, quotas and democracy.

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EWL: We hope so. We cannot have lower expectations; women represent more than half of the population, so they should be represented accordingly. There are no excuses for the current underrepresentation of women in the EU institutions; there are a lot of competent women around. In order to achieve gender balance in the European Commission, we ask national governments to propose a woman and a man as nominee commissioners, giving the option to the President of the European Commission to choose between them. As for the European Parliament, apart from our current campaign to increase the representation of women in the political parties’ lists for the next elections, we will also focus on the election of key positions such as in the different committees or the role of President, which mainly depend on negotiations between the parties. SHIFT Mag: If you achieved the goal of your 50/50 Campaign: what would the EU look like? EWL: It’s difficult to say, but we should see neglected issues put on the table. A vote on the directive on maternity leave was just postponed in the European Parliament, as the political will is missing. I hope that a more balanced Parliament will have more political issues of interest for women on the agenda. In Sweden, for example, having an equal representation of women and men in Parliament and in government helped put the issue of prostitution on the agenda from a women’s rights perspective. SHIFT Mag: And if there were more women than men? Let’s say 70% of the members of the European Parliament and 66% of the Commissioners were women - the current rate of representation of men to women, just reversed?

5 EWL: That would in fact be against equality and would be forbidden with the parity system that we wish to have for Europe! For example, in those countries that currently apply such quota systems, women-only lists are not eligible. However, this scenario has never happened in the past, it would be interesting to see what would happen if men were underrepresented, but more interesting to see what would happen in a world where women and men were equally represented in politics. SHIFT Mag: What would you answer to those who consider that recruitment should relate to expertise and skills and not to gender? EWL: I do agree with them. Recruitment at all levels should be based on competences and skills. However, as evidence shows that the current level of education of women is at least as high as men’s, I cannot find any explanation for the current underrepresentation of women except that there are other disadvantages that need to be compensated for. The EWL fully supports quota systems. Parity legislation aims to make competition possible, where women have the same chances as men - which is not currently the case. Quotas are simply there to make it possible for competent women to be in politics! To achieve gender equality, women should have the same access to all kinds of resources as men - such as networks, money or symbolic resources, including in parallel fighting against stereotypes for example. When selecting candidates within political parties, the importance of all these resources and networks becomes obvious: candidates are often chosen behind closed doors. However, some parties do indeed hold transparent elections to nominate their candidates. SHIFT Mag: Do you receive any feedback on your campaign from Member States, commenting on major differences for example in the selection of future MEPs? Is it a question of culture? EWL: Our lobby represents approximately 2500 women’s organizations in all EU Member States and three candidate countries, so there are cultural differences, of course. There are also differences in legislation: some countries have different systems of quotas, for example. However, we have managed to successfully coordinate this Europeanwide campaign. We organized fifty events in all countries,

and more than 200 prominent women and men from all countries and political parties support the 50/50 Campaign! SHIFT Mag: How does your lobby contribute to solving the democratic deficit in the EU? EWL: Our lobby was founded in 1990 as a link and a new form of interaction between women’s organisations and the EU institutions, which apart from the European Parliament, are not directly elected by the citizens. We work to better represent women’s interests in the decision-making bodies and European policies. Women are more concerned than others by the democratic deficit.

It would be interesting to see what would happen in a world where women and men were equally represented in politics. SHIFT Mag: Only 36% of women indicate in a recent Eurobarometer poll that they understand how the EU works, compared to 49% of male Europeans. Is the EU gap even bigger for women? Why? EWL: Of course it’s something reciprocal: I think more women would be interested in the EU, if the EU showed more interest in them. Apart from that, the EU has very few female faces and we need to change the family picture. The EU has done a lot for gender equality, which needs to be more widely publicised, yet it needs to do even more and this is our goal. SHIFT Mag: Could we define the European Women’s Lobby as a feminist lobby? What does feminism mean in the 21st Century? EWL: Yes. I personally believe in equality between women and men, not only in rights and legislation, but also in real life: at work, in public areas, in politics and in our private lives, this is what feminism means for me. •••

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Building Europe without waiting for a constitutional miracle Asked in recent years to approve the choice of a roofing material for the top ridge of the European Union building, French, Dutch and Irish voters took the occasion to point out that they had not been consulted during the planning and that the foundation seemed to be laid at the wrong angle. Moreover, prior to approving the wall colours and roof architecture, they hoped to see a European construction with foundations more in line with their expectations. This major gap between the proposals of leaders and the will of a majority of the citizenry creates an opening for us to occupy.

Reinventing another political Europe Reinventing politics in the fallow land of a decomposing system is what we


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have been doing at Causes Communes (Common Causes) [1] since 1988. At that time, “Operation Romanian Villages“, was the project which resisted the systematisation plans of a sinister conducator, the Romanian leader. This was followed by “local democracy embassies”, which since 1992 have supported communities and cities in the Balkans where people wish to live and build without the national or ethnic labels that so often have amounted to calls for slaughter. At that time, a Europe from the bottom up was being constructed – cities and citizens (representing 5,000 districts in 14 countries) had to a great degree anticipated what was tumbling down in Europe and what would enlarge it tomorrow. We then turned toward the European Commission and after


D emocracy in E urope

negotiating a certain amount of support, heard ourselves reply, “You are Europe – raise your taxes”. We learned much from this half-joke: in effect, we raised taxes through a citizens’ emergency fund for refugees, which on numerous occasions allowed us to anticipate policies and programmes which would undoubtedly arrive, but which would come too late for the citizens’ emergency in our midst. Can we reinvent our relationship to politics today, taking as an inspiration what was done yesterday under different circumstances? The exercise is more difficult for two reasons. First, the malady is not found elsewhere – it is within us. It is easy to diagnose dysfunction in others, but in this case it is our own society that is stricken. Second, the decomposition

F or more information on this topic


Causes Communes’ website ( intentions/index.asp)

Europeans hold the right to vote for Europe, but do not have the right to directly contribute. This position infantilises us, making us “half-citizens”. And for this reason we say, “No representation without taxation“

is less brutal and spectacular than the destruction of Romanian or Bosnian villages. But the harm is the same, through the devastation of political communities, which leaves room for the worst excesses. The devastation is made even harder to recognise by the lack of certainty over whether a European political conscience exists. We must not allow a miscarriage of European political society. Yet we must write the political history of Europe with a new grammar and a new vocabulary.

Initiating now a European revival from the bottom up What is being sought is not a new institutional solution to the balancing of relations between European States. What is important is providing European citizens with the means of becoming actors in this critical political community. We do not believe that the urgency lies in finding a solution, rather, what is urgent is enabling everyone to participate in the search for a solution. And this is why we as European citizens, moved by a sense of democratic urgency, ask to contribute directly to a European tax. In fact, until now, European citizens have not paid European taxes directly. Each State participates in drawing up a community budget and contributes its share without citizens really knowing where the money comes from (i.e., VAT, excise taxes, Customs duties, etc.), nor what portion of their national taxes, if any, are in fact allocated. All too often, this way of doing business lets States allow pressure groups to

hold sway, pushing out the public good which is our common concern. Neither is this system terribly respectful of the citizenry or of the democratic practices connecting them. We all know the adage, “No taxation without representation”, i.e., no taxes without political representation. Well, indeed, with regard to European citizens, might one not be tempted to say that the opposite is occurring. Europeans hold the right to vote for Europe, but do not have the right to directly contribute. This position infantilises us, the citizens, making us “half-citizens”. And for this reason we say, No representation without taxation”. Yes, we wish to pay taxes, because not only is it useful to pay taxes, it is also of great value. As we are clearly not in a position to levy such a tax, we propose a temporary substitute, entitled a FUSE (FUnd for the Solidarity of Europe). We understand that we are mainly positioning ourselves in the realm of the symbolic. But what interests us is not so much the amount of the tax as the nature of the tax. Above all, what is crucial is establishing a link between citizens and policy at the European level through this contribution, which would bring with it representation. It is only sensible that alongside Member States there be Member Citizens persuading the Commission and other institutions to accord them the same level of attention as is normally reserved for governments. The FUSE, therefore, is not solely the anticipation of a necessary European tax, it is perhaps above all the materialisation of the potential for European politics.

… which calls for a European dimension in national campaigns If Europe becomes political, then in parallel with citizens taking on Europe as their own, politicians preparing a bid for their fellow citizens’ votes should also take note. Clearing Europe of debate is a morbid thought. For Europe, as for its constituent States, this would only exacerbate the harm. We are therefore bringing back Europe. We are formulating not a demand, but a concrete offer for Europe. A modest political/financial sum contributed by many via the FUSE would lead to Europe becoming a political challenge for the candidates. Be prepared, Madame or Mr. Future President, and let us know how you count on preparing your country for this. Do not believe that we will allow a solution discreetly decided in Berlin or Brussels to be imposed upon us as an afterthought. From now on, Europe must be negotiated in broad daylight, together with us. ••• This article was originally published in French in L'Autre campagne (ed. La Découverte).

> Paul Hermant Writer and journalist Brussels Belgian > Nicolas Levrat European Law teacher & European Institute director University of Geneva French/Swiss

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PostScript Laurent van Brussel Ever since I was a little boy I always believed that being a hostage could not happen to me. Hostages were these people we saw on TV in unreal situations far away from home or in the remote past. Hostages were these powerless political opponents, judges to silence, reckless journalists… Hostages were these unfortunate passengers of the wrong plane at the wrong time, or ill-advised tourists who chose unsafe places as vacation destinations. Now I realise that I was wrong. Hostages and hostage-takers are everybody, everywhere. They can be women and men in the street, in the factory or even right in the middle of the ocean. Captain Phillips is just a baseball fan, head of a household, with a passion for snowboard, an engaged citizen in his small village: a normal guy doing his job. Could he imagine that he was a target? But what is even more frightening in these troubled times is that the roles can be reversed. Like this funny colleague or this devoted employee who, feeling that the system is making him a prisoner, suddenly turns into a Somali pirate. Could he imagine that he was a potential danger to society? Because they don’t know it but they are alike: they are convinced that they are doing the right thing, they want to believe that they will succeed and they feel that they have nothing to lose. And are we really different from them? We want to escape a system which doesn’t suit us anymore. But at the same time, if it does come to a halt we will have to accept total uncertainty. We are both hostages and hostage-takers in this story.

© Roberto TRIOSCHI

So here comes the question: until when will we have the choice not to choose our side?

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D emocracy in E urope

CITIZENS' PAIN "Why we didn't vote" It seems they will secure the majority again: EU citizens who did not vote at the European elections. But some of them do feel strongly about it, as we find out listening to four EU abstentionnistes…

Joelle, New

York, Britis h


Geeks intere sted in elec tion trends political ap love to ana athy leads lyse how to lo w e lection turn about thos e bizarre cre out. But wh at atures who can’t? Simp crave to vo ly put, as a te b ut who British citiz outside the en living fo UK, I can’t v r to o long ote for a Bri enough. I w tish MEP. T orked in th hat’s bizarr e European e years, recru Parliament ited as a Bri fo r o v er six tish nation cooled whe al. The exa n I realised s p e ra tion I could slip my favorite in my ballo Belgian ME t to support P, as an “EU another EU citizen who Member Sta resides in te, Belgium New York C ”. I have no ity. My fate w moved to is sealed: o be strande n the 7th Ju d alone on ne 2009, I w Times Squa ill others vote re , w o n d d. The irony ering how th is that ever e - and even y vote reall more so wh y does count en particip because I s ation is low aw with my . And I do ca own eyes h re move moun ow one goo tains. In 20 d M E P can 09, is Europ being at th ean citizen e right plac s h ip all about e, at the rig ht time?


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, Sp a n ish ls e s s u r B H ug o,

r te he n I s ta l t t u B . e ot ee wa s t o v o o n s t a rte d t o f e ls u p im is s My f i rs t m y r igh t, a n d I s s e ls, I sh o u ld re g e u t io t o e xe rc is at r ié” h e re i n Br i n t h e l a s t e le c p n te As a n “e x le c t io n s . I did v o at re gis te r i ng c a e h n at io n a l k n o w f u l l we l l t le o f t im p u o c a I y ss s te p s, s o m y Em b a t hi n k i ng t h at, k l l a c o t d ed I a ls o t r ie ne . Th e n I s t a rt sp e n di ng s e ve ra o be u p t h e ph te li k e l y I wo u ld aus te d i n t h e f a h i i t wa s q u t ime t o v o te !! Ex yo u do n f i , y a h s c u o s wh how m t h t h o s e w h o h ave v o te d i w e e r g I do n’t a y w ro ng . Pe op le t c om p l a i n . Th o l c om p le te re f o re t h e y c a n n e a s, t h e re f o r id e t h e m , t h re pre s e n t s t h e i r n p o li t ic i a pre s e n te d!! e a re n o t r

rman g. erlin, Ge y: relaxin Julia, B in the a Sunda n o namely you ( o d U E y e ll a th m less e in nor ing plac candidates, the I would k t a ta h s c w ti o oli ld EP ns, I wil out the p tions of e electio rmed ab issing qualifica th fo f o in the work e y r a nm you a sults of te e e f r r o On the d o e e s are m th th , e is: th years ) and n-maker re in t il m c io n e le n is c b c u e o e o r r d C a in al the My p o bodies , the fin petences sion and ore com r me. In the EU ctions, those tw m Commis ated to vote. d e in le ga t fo le v t eviden e EP has nationa are moti pression t that th eople is still no nd contrary to c s. n fa o e ti istinct im kely to c th d le p e e A e it n . th P p a il t s E e c e e p e li n g D u e u for Euro d the Co omposition by th party ar many yo of the EP s still the EC an c t in Ger ucture of their ty friends" were u ir e b , th s ie in e ar us ntr l str in my ey not influenced ther cou are serio -called "p nationa l it is in o careers in the ere disliked, so spirit. So there w o h principa w kno uild ean s wh , I don't e Europ example o don't b Secondly politicians wh some striking ionate about th d ss se that tho Brussels. We ha usiastic and pa re doing. e a to th y or futur t n e e n e th e s be work the next d to b e n in u th fo f te o o ly v to sudden out the quality ore rage me b ld encou EP were given m ualified u o c doubts a t a q th e s ly e th b g a n if be cha suit The only elections would the cases of un power in the n re e en Europea ut honestly, giv prefer seeing th were to gain mo ualified q B I P . t ly s E a b r e e a th it w th it o u f p st adm the Council. I on of s u ti c m le I e , s s MEP icter and much str f the EC hands o re should be a nt. e e power, th t to the Parliam n e s le p peo

ke ave t o t a way. h I s p e t es ga o u t a l l t h wa s s lo w l y d y i n b a k n i h my u ls e e d to t i t i a l im p I wa n t t o v o te i n rat i ve n i is h t t if how m b a s s y h a lo t o f adm i n is E y m t a o ug s te r t o g o t hr i ng . d a h I . s y t o p ic k um on d s o n b o e c e m o t im , rs a i t i ng f o is t rat io n wo r k s n b e ve r y w f o d e r n s adm i go t t i me s b u t o w m y n at io n a l e r, a n d G o d k n o w u p. h ve is t k n o w i ng s t t r y i ng t o re g f o rt, I f i n a l l y g a f ju a l h o u rs his a n t ic i p ate d e h e y a re t s t k n t i l h l t a .I en ac e o f c om p l a i n o d y w h o re pre s o ’t n a c u o b n e n’t v o te y l t h e y h ave s om c o u ld b e b e c aus e ws e e sh o u ld fe e op le do n o t v o t p l a i n a s t h e i r v ie np om h e re a s o ve t h e r igh t t o c a re t h e y h

Frederic, Lasne, Belgian

Abstaining for me is an impulse. The past has shown that European elections and the MEPs represent more their own national interests than a unified European interest. I do not believe that MEPs think with a “European mind”. This for me should be their main interest. On the day of the European elections, I will do what I usually do on those occasions: go to a nice restaurant, meet up with some friends or even get something sorted out in my own life (like getting rid of a backlog of work), which helps me much more than the European Parliament. Of course I am a little interested in which fools get the votes from European citizens to rule that madhouse near Place du Luxembourg. I watch the news on TV every day and also read online newspapers when I have the time. I think that the pre-election campaigns should be a bit more informative, clearer and more easily accessible to European citizens, rather than having to dig deep down to actually have an idea of whether or not there is somebody worth voting for. I have other things to do.

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D emocracy in E urope

Europeans, more effort please, if you want to be citizens

It has now been 30 years since we, European citizens, have had the right to appoint our representatives to the European Parliament. 30 years during which this Assembly has gone from simple consultative body to veritable and “fully recognised co legislator”, using the words of its President Hans Gert Pöttering. Nevertheless, the growing power of the only directly-elected Community institution stands in marked contrast to the tumbling numbers of voters heading to the ballots. In 2004, with a record abstention of 55% on average, MEPs represented, if non-registered voters are taken into account, barely one third of European citizens! This abstention trend needs examining. First and foremost, because abstention is most prevalent among the under-30 age group. Secondly, because voter turnout is systematically about 20% less than the preceding national elections. The lack of interest is therefore specifically European. So what is the reason behind this? Ill intent on the part of national politicians who bring up Europe, only to then run it down? The stupidity of political machinery that uses the European Parliament as a place to set up shop for failed and disgraced politicians? The myth that there is no transparency in European institution


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operations? The 2007 Eurobarometer shows that more than one third of European citizens wrongly think that their MEPs are not elected directly. These reasons cannot be dismissed, although there remains some doubt as to whether or not they offer the definitive answer. With political debate basing itself on ideas, or in the worst case, personality conflicts, it has never been necessary to know all the ins and outs of how the institutions operate to express your opinion.

Why young people turn their back on the ballot boxes? In fact, to gauge a better understanding of the full reasons behind abstention at the European elections, two of the key driving forces behind taking part should be mentioned: identification of the electoral issues and prominence of the debates. Voting is an empathy matter, as regards both the candidates and the institutions. In democracies, the act of voting implies two necessary and complementary conditions: the possibility for citizens to identify the rival candidates and the belief that the decisions made by the institutions have a real impact on society. In other words, those who go out to appoint their representatives are those who are convinced that the democratic

institutions have a decisive influence on their daily lives and their future. So, if electors turn their backs on the ballot boxes, it is because they still don’t perceive the growing power of the European Parliament. One question remains: why young people more than any other group? - given that it is among them that attachment to Europe is most openly expressed. In a consultation organised in 2008 among 2500 youth from 32 countries, following an initiative of the European Youth Parliament (EYP), the young people surveyed were asked to spontaneously give one word to describe the European Union (EU). The two most common answers were “Freedom” and “Diversity”. There is a very simple explanation for this: for those under 30, the Union is first and foremost a place for moving about in. For young people, Europe is this foreign place familiar to us, a cultural beyond within reach. Europe is a territory we can easily move about in and not a public space we think about politically.

A relevant political player, not a vital one This does not mean that young people do not see Europe as a place ripe for making decisions. All studies show that the 15-25 age group is the first to


For those under 30, Europe is a territory we can easily move about in and not a public space we think about politically

consider that it is, in a globalised world, the arena best adapted for the political choices that get future generations on board. However, while the EU may be perceived as a relevant political player, much remains to be done before it is recognised as a vital political player. The non-existence of a common public space leaves us incapable of genuinely feeling the citizen community which we form throughout Europe. How can we even conceive that a community of citizens exists amidst shared political issues without a unified public space? How can we possibly express political choices at European level while the political parties systematically reduce European debates to national issues? By opening up parliamentary sessions in 1987 to all pupils and students, the EYP offers a civil and civic, nonpartisan and non-activist forum where

everyone can share their opinions on the European project. Every year, several thousand young people across Europe come together to organise simulations of parliamentary sessions in cooperation with schools and universities. The delegations prepare questions in advance, debate over several days in a lively atmosphere, then draft resolutions which they argue for in plenary sessions. And it works! Over these few days, European democracy actually happens and the sense of belonging materialises. The aim is simple but ambitious: to leave behind the sterile debates between Eurobeats and Eurosceptics and enter real European public debate.

We need to occupy the political space Europe is To those who, for different reasons, doubt the European elections are a real issue: the facts speak otherwise! In the areas of transport, jobs, energy and education and some forty other fields, MEPs have the last word on all bills voted on. In France, as in numerous other Member States, about two thirds of the laws tabled in the National Assembly transpose bills previously debated and voted on in the European Parliament. In environmental matters, on average 80% of the measures adopted nationally come straight

from European standards! The political spectrum of the European Parliament is therefore not simply incidental. It determines the meanings of the decisions made every day in Strasbourg and Brussels and significantly influences our futures. How much longer are we going to abandon the political space which generates the majority of the laws our legislation is based on? The fact of the matter is: independently of each person’s opinions on how the Union’s institutions operate, we urgently need to occupy the political space Europe is. To achieve this, mass voter turnout for the European elections must give the European Parliament the means for asserting this democratic legitimacy which is desperately needed for exercising its powers and strengthening them in the future. Without this, there is no doubt that the EU will forever remain this “Unidentified Political Object” guided by the alleged apolitical character of a few technicians and specialists in European matters. . •••

> Thibault d'Orso Public Relations Manager EYP-France Paris French

[ n° 10 ] > SHIFT mag



At a time when champions cheaters like Tom Boonen, Belgian cyclist, and Richard Gasquet, the everlasting French tennis hope or might-have-been, have both been tested positive for cocaine, MEPs also seem to be forced to donate their blood. Berlaymonster ( revealed the information: “It seems that the powers-in-charge are preparing for the bloodbath of the European elections by forcing all at the EP to donate a pint of the red stuff.”

Some bright MEPs have cleverly managed to withdraw, just like athletes omitting to reveal their agenda or their training venues in order not to be bothered by unexpected anti-doping tests: “Some hardliners have already opted out, including one notable MEP who said "I have an assistant for that kind of thing". The assistant in question is currently in convalescence.” Funny ain’t it?

But why do some MEPs give it a miss? Are they scared something in their blood will be found? Are they frightened to be tested positive for some kind of illegal substance and, thus, banned from running for European elections?


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Well… maybe if we believe what Berlaymonster reports: “Parliamentary claret has special properties, it seems. Doctor Hans von Mengl, the medic in charge of the operation, said "the blood collected during these sessions may be stored longer than normal samples, given its particularly high ethanol content".”

For all the people working at the EP, Mr Shift has a piece of advice: Don’t go drinking beers after work this evening! You might be obliged to donate a pint… of your blood tomorrow morning and risk being considered an alcoholic.

their work is valued the way it should be. Maybe it isn’t! But how would we know as most of us do not really understand what is done in the EP. A communication problem or a cultural problem?

The post says the following: “Our articles are full of draft reports, chairmen, plenary sessions, commissions, agreements… But we try to keep it short, I promise you! In fact, it’s not always easy to find a “citizen friendly angle” […] But it doesn’t interest people or journalists sometimes… [...] we

A fortnight before the European elections, you wouldn’t want to walk around with a t-shirt they forced you to wear that says: “There’s too much blood in my alcohol system”.

As for Mr Shift, he is like Brendan Behan: “a drinker with writing problems”. But this has nothing to do with the purpose of this note.

Pranks of MEPs: popular/ EP decisions: not so popular “Facts and figures vs. scandal: what are we working for?” is the title of a post on Writing for (y)EU ( Some people working at the EP wonder if

pay attention to the result of our work, and we’re defending the brand we stand for! But if - fortunately - we heard something about the European Parliament, it’s not about the decisions it took but about… the prank of a MEP, political divisions or spectacular events […] In August last year, the ceiling of the hemicycle in Strasbourg collapsed: huge topic for the mass media, which

Reservoir Blogs are waiting for spectacular and symbolic events. […] And what about the climate change package? The roaming directive? […] Their attendance in the media couldn’t be compared with their significance for the all-day life of the citizens…”

True, however scandal and spectacular events have always been more important to the media than political decisions that are significant for the lives of citizens. Why? Because the citizens themselves are more interested in hearing about scandals and disasters than about new policies they can benefit from.

So MEPs, Assistants of MEPs, EP secretaries, all EP workers don’t be too disappointed. At the end of the day the same thing occurs at national level. When a government tries to pass a law: Either people paralyse the whole country by demonstrating (France, if you read this, Mr Shift sends you his regards) or they just criticize the government, thinking this law is another trick to restrain their freedom and independence.

In the end it seems we all work for scandal, don’t you think? Nevertheless, we can all agree with Dale Carnegie: “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.”

And anyway, if some citizens happen to put their nose into a directive’s content, either they will find something to criticize or they will just not see the point of it as nothing it says could improve their lives!

© Brieuc HUBIN

Finding out the blood of an MEP contains more ethanol than the blood of another person is funnier and more fascinating than understanding what the roaming directive is about.

EP street marketing The blogger of Un Européen jamais content (A never happy European) (http://www. talks about the new European poster campaign, which he refers to as “street marketing”. This campaign aims at raising awareness amongst Europeans of important European issues, such as the aperture of borders in Europe (How open should our borders be?).

The post says: “Of course, these actions will not be sufficient […], they arrive too late and cannot, alone, solve a 30-year absence of European pedagogy and laxity of the general media. But for the first time the EU directly addresses the "average" European, the very man […] who does not read the pages on Europe of major newspapers or European blogs or forums. […]”

As we usually say in these occasions: better late than never! It’s as if it was a disgrace the EU finally noticed it needed to communicate more and better! Talking about people always criticizing… But hey! The name of this blog says it all… no need to bother arguing. “When arguing with a stone an egg is always wrong” (African proverb).

Thank you and see you next time!

Mr Shift

[ n° 10 ] > SHIFT mag


Democracy in Europe

20 years of participatory democracy in Porto Alegre If current trends are confirmed, Europe will soon be in dire need of political innovations to revive its democratic practice and citizens’ involvement. We could start by looking at democratic experiments in other parts of the world, for instance Brazil’s local participatory democracy. SHIFT Mag gives you an insider’s view into one of the world’s most vibrant and multicultural democracies. Have you ever heard of participatory budgeting? This new form of participatory democracy has enjoyed some significant success in Brazilian cities and is being increasingly used all over the world.

At first, the phrase “participatory democracy” itself may appear to be redundant: participation ought to be inherent to the concept of democracy – from the Greek word demokratia which means, literally, “rule by the people”. It is indeed popular participation that defines democracy and distinguishes it from totalitarian political systems. But theory and practice sometimes need to be reconciled through actions – and words.

The birth of a democratic innovation In Brazil, the first full participatory budgeting (PB) process was developed in the city of Porto Alegre in 1989, and has since spread to hundreds of Latin American cities – as well as dozens of cities in Europe, North America, Asia and Africa. To understand the PB experience, it is important to recognise the context of Brazilian political history, especially in the 80’s. Between 1964 and 1985, the country experienced its worse authoritarian period. Only a few years later, a new constitution was adopted in 1988, formally marking the return to democracy with regular elections since 1989. To understand democracy in Brazil, two elements are particularly relevant: the extremely inegalitarian distribution of “political-economic” power and the relatively high degree of autonomy that is granted to states and municipalities in Brazil (a very decentralised federation by international standards). It is in this background that the participatory budget in Porto Alegre was introduced. In short, the city of Porto Alegre was divided into regions,


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in which round discussions took place between citizens and representatives of municipal government to talk about proposals for public investment the following year. This original initiative then quickly spread throughout the country.

Getting citizens involved Obviously, participatory budgeting developed in varied ways in each city, but they share a common core: the public debating of a budget proposal before its legislative adoption, in an open process involving all citizens who want to participate. Those debates have standard rules, with decisions from the plenary meetings going through a higher stage of appeal (Council of the PB in Porto Alegre) that organises the demands, giving them their final shape before they reach the executive. Participatory budget has allowed the spread of democracy in Brazil by asserting popular control over the public administration, with public spending treated literally as such, “public”. All citizens can have a say in how their tax money is used. The initiative has led to the formation of a new decision-making power that has effectively democratised government policies at the local level. Perhaps more importantly, it has greatly increased citizens’ involvement in the public space, as a “nontraditional and empowering” exercise of political rights.

Transfer and evaluation: the twin challenges To properly evaluate the concrete results of participatory budgeting,



such as the Porto Alegre experience (pioneer in this subject), one fact should not be forgotten: the local environment. However, evaluations made so far have demonstrated the enormous difficulties to verify if the scheme’s ambitious goals are actually achieved – and transferable. In general, works on the issue have focused on Porto Alegre as a successful case study, leaving behind the theoretical framework that could help develop and analyse other experiences. The environment and structure of each region and the characteristics that make each city unique, including the culture, customs and history, are constantly forgotten. Yet it is essential to watch carefully not only the country in which the process is being developed, but also the main factor capable of influencing the outcome: what I would call “city-citizenship”. This basic but often ignored factor is central to the success of such local initiatives. Evaluating the results of participatory budgeting is therefore a complex task, made even more so by the delimitation of what ought to be in sight. The public debate intends to improve the

Participatory budget has allowed the spread of democracy in Brazil by asserting popular control over the public administration, with public spending treated literally as such, "public"

allocation of resources through the direct participation of society, but the impact depends on final outcomes through a number of filters (not least the initial make-up of the participatory panel). In any case, this political involvement creates a fertile ground for the enlargement and development of modern democracy; accompanied, of course, by greater transparency from the state and the formation of a new conception of citizenship. There can never be too much innovation in citizens’ involvement. Remember that the programme of participatory budget, already developed for 20 years in the south of Brazil, was selected by the UN as one of the 40 best practices in Urban Public Administration (among thousands of local initiatives around the world). There is no doubt that the PB stimulated the creation of new channels, and strengthened existing ones, for the community to decide on the evolution of public services. But we should always keep in mind that every experience will be singular in its final result. •••

> Lívia Figueiredo Campos Lawyer Belo Horizonte Brazilian

[ n° 10 ] > SHIFT mag



Mary Lou



For our issue on democracy, The Clash goes beyond its traditional duelling format for a ménage à trois. Our three challengers, MEPs from parties likely to challenge the conservative EPP majority, confront their views on European elections – past, present and future.

European manifestos are usually a rather vague common platform and it is up to member parties to select the topics for the national campaigns. Is it unfeasible to go further and develop a truly panEuropean campaign? Jo Leinen: PSE is striving to conduct a panEuropean campaign and is already very active in this field. Members are supporting campaign activities across Europe, providing information and material. With the statute on European political parties and foundations in the Leinen report, we have laid the basis for better pan-European campaigns in the future. I have proposed to establish European lists for the nomination of candidates, and that parties do not only nominate a national but as well a European top candidate. This would certainly increase the focus on the commonality of European issues. Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: Every member states has its own agenda and own policy traditions. Of course this has to be respected for the sake of being understandable in the respective home country. In the long run, of course, it would be great having a pan-European election campaign. The current EDLR programme is an important step in that direction. However, I still believe that Europe is far too diversified culturally and sociologically (and this is good!) to


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reach a higher level. Mary Lou McDonald: It is unfeasible. For a range of historical, linguistic and cultural reasons, as well as social, economic and political reasons, people will better relate to candidates in the context of their own country. They will better understand the arguments being put forward on issues which impact on their lives, in the place they live and work. However, there are points of agreement between parties from different countries so it makes sense for broadly like-minded MEPs to come together in political groups in the European Parliament.

In the last Eurobarometer, 53% of Europeans declared they are not interested in the next European elections. What should be done to stop voter apathy? JC: European politics is primarily a communication problem, and a key role in this context is played by the media. European politics is a rather “abstract“ issue, far away from its citizens – or so it seems. The media is reinforcing this because of some sort of “vicious circle“ effect: they believe the public is not interested in Europe, therefore they are not reporting extensively. As the media


Actively seeking to deny the democratic choices of people does not encourage them to engage with the political process

is framing people's perception of the world (as Niklas Luhmann once stated), they think Europe is not important. The same goes for the European elections. I think that the EP should increase efforts to place our policies and politics higher-up on the people´s agenda. This certainly could be done by means of classical PR. The EP Information's Offices are already doing a very good job, but they need more staff and resources. MLMD: The EU should listen to

Jorgo s i k a k r a m i Chatz ALDE

Jo Leinen PES German


National governments need to stop blaming the EU for all that goes wrong, while claiming any successes for themselves

people, reflect their real concerns, and develop strategies and policies to address those concerns. Actively seeking to deny the democratic choices of people (eg. ‘No’ votes on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland and on the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands) does not encourage people to engage with the political process. JL: A better information policy is the starting point for increasing the interest of

people. We must ensure that voters can make a difference when casting their vote – that they have a choice between different political concepts for the future of the EU, concepts with fundamentally different approaches and consequences, e.g. a social Europe or a neo-liberal Europe of unregulated markets. National governments also have a role to play – they need to stop blaming the EU for all that goes wrong, while claiming any successes for themselves.

Pat Cox once said “turnout across Europe (in 1999) was higher than in the last US presidential election, and I don’t hear people questioning the legitimacy of the presidency of the United States”. Turnout in the last presidential elections marked a noticeable increase, does the EU need a leader? MLMD: No. People need real political alternatives to the mainstream parties who all basically agree with the EU agenda of liberalisation and deregulation, undermining workers rights, centralisation of political power, and free and unfettered competition in the EU and in relations with other countries.

© Emmanuel TREPANT

However, I still believe that Europe is far too diverse culturally and sociologically for panEuropean campaigns

JL: Having a central figure representing the EU would certainly increase its visibility. The Lisbon Treaty provides for the establishment of a president of the European Council, thus for a European leader figure. However, a president alone will not suffice to increase voter turnout. We also need to present common European projects to the people. In the past these projects included peaceful European integration, the overcoming of nationalism and making borders in Europe irrelevant. A European approach to green energy and to climate change will be such a project. JC: The last US elections turnout was high because the things that were at stake were substantial (getting rid of the gloomy Bush years) for voters. Also, I would like to refer to the last question: If there was a better communication of the EP´s importance and role, then turnout would be higher. In my opinion a low turnout does not necessarily signify that people do not support democracy. It may also be a sign of being satisfied with the way things are going: This I why they do not bother to go voting. •••

[ n° 10 ] > SHIFT mag



D emocracy in E urope

voluntary and involuntary political abstinence

The forthcoming elections for the European Parliament are causing Europe a great deal of anxiety. Fewer and fewer Europeans who are eligible to vote actually intend to exercise their right to do so. The media, contrary to what it does before other elections, is concentrating not so much on candidates, but on voter apathy. Certainly, the authors of surveys and studies seem to want to undercut each other in the scramble to see who can predict the lowest voter turnout – which has been steadily decreasing with each previous election. The European Union’s democratic deficit today is being aggravated further by worsening abstentionism among its people. Yet while EU citizens seem so cavalier about foregoing their right to vote, many other Europeans – namely, third-country nationals who are permanently resident here – do not even have that right. Europe is not only a place of abstentionism, but also


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of pre-abstentionism. Those who are demanding greater legitimacy and democracy for the EU mostly have qualitative expansion in mind and cite direct democratic instruments, such as popular petitions and EUwide referenda, as possible solutions. However, most such democratic political considerations disregard quantitative elements, i.e. not the how of democratic participation, but the who.

“If you’re here, you’re European” “What concerns everyone should be endorsed by everyone,” says an old legal adage. Therefore, in accordance with the democratic ideal, all people who are themselves affected by political decision-making should also be able to contribute to the process. The decisive factor would then be neither citizenship or the accident of a person’s place of birth; nor would it be naturalisation criteria, which differ greatly from one country to the next. Instead, permanent

residence would be simply all that mattered. The maxim would be: “if you’re here, you’re European”. This very idea was mooted when Union citizenship was first deliberated back in the 1970s and 1980s: the European Parliament itself wanted European citizenship to be granted not just to nationals of EU member states, but also to permanently resident third-country nationals, who would then have had the applicable voting rights. As everyone knows, no such supranational citizenship status was ever enforced. There were even some Europeans – for example in Gibraltar – who had to fight first for their own right to vote. The member states alone decide who is regarded as one of their nationals “for Community purposes”, as stated in the Maastricht Treaty. So it was that Gibraltarians, despite quite obviously being British citizens and carrying


British passports, were only ranked as part-citizens of the Union until 1999. The peninsula’s residents first had to fight for their right to vote in European Parliament elections by taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights. Gibraltar’s residents, whom the UK Government was adverse to making European citizens, were allowed to vote for the first time at the last EP elections in 2004. The exclusion of the 28,000 residents of Gibraltar from voting in European elections could be regarded as an exception and sideshow. However, the equally arbitrary and highly inexplicable pre-abstentionism affecting a crucial proportion of Europe’s population remains: the European Union has some 18.5 million permanently resident thirdcountry nationals living in its member states.

An inclusive democracy? The European Union is not the only political community to refuse nonnaturalised migrants the right to vote. All around the world it is common practice to link voting entitlements with the possession of citizenship. Yet closer scrutiny reveals that there are also many important exceptions and that a right to vote without prior naturalisation is not utopian. Aside from the right of EU citizens to vote in local elections, 14 European states also let migrants vote at local level even if they are not the holders of a burgundy-red EU passport. Across the globe, 45 democracies even give non-nationals the right to vote in local, regional and even national elections. It would be befitting for a European Union, which espouses mobility and travel freedoms and also champions the cause of pluralism, to tread the same path or take on a pioneering role of its own. Ultimately Union citizenship, even in today’s modest form, has already had an effect on the national level and blurred the dividing line between nationals

If the EU operated a system of citizenship for which permanent residence counted rather than nationality, it would do justice to the complexity of people’s modern paths through life

und non-nationals in member states. The change was sparked by a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court on voting rights for foreigners in local elections. In 1990 the highest court in Germany, despite decreeing that the notion of the (enfranchised) “German people” was possibly implausible in democratic political terms, ultimately defended the status quo and accepted that giving foreigners the right to vote was incompatible with Germany’s Basic Law. Just a few years later, however, the introduction of Union citizenship made this self-same entitlement a reality, at least for Europeans from other EU countries. The EU’s independent and sovereign member states have now ceased to be the ones to decide who is a (part) citizen of their respective country and thus entitled to political, civil and economic rights. In fact, Union citizenship is forcing the member states to grant each other prerogatives and recognise nationals from partner countries as at least partcitizens of their own state – right of residence and freedom of movement, economic activity, social protection, and political participation at local level included.

Who are “the people”? The exclusion of an ever larger proportion – courtesy of migration – of Europe’s population already delegitimises society’s democratic basis. This is because fewer and fewer people are tied to just one place, and

instead are confronted by assorted political contacts and legal frameworks in the course of their lives. If the EU operated a system of citizenship for which permanent residence (“residential citizenship”) counted rather than substantial affiliation (i.e. nationality), it would have the opportunity to do justice to the complexity of people’s modern paths through life and smooth the way for an EU “people”. A post-national(istic) European citizenship, courtesy of doing rather than being, would emerge – a model for political solidity that, instead of building identity on the basis of cultural integration, did so through political inclusion. The story of voting eligibility shows us how open to interpretation the term “people” has been down the years: the awarding of the right to vote to various segments of the population, e.g. women, during the twentieth century fuels the hope that the European Union will overcome the nation-state custom of inclusivity in respect of obligations, but exclusivity in terms of rights. After all, permanently resident third-country nationals are expected to abide by the EU’s laws. So how come such nationals are expected to belong when asked to obey the law, but not when the law is made? Whether third-country nationals in the EU would actually head to the polling stations, compared to today’s Union citizens, is unclear and, as far as arguments about democratic theory are concerned, irrelevant – they should, however, be allowed the possibility. •••

> Tamara Ehs Lecturer & Research Fellow University of Vienna Austrian

> Gerd Valchars Lecturer (Department of Government) University of Vienna Austrian

[ n° 10 ] > SHIFT mag


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SHIFT mag [n°10] - Democracy in Europe  
SHIFT mag [n°10] - Democracy in Europe  

Born in Greece, raised in Westminster, let loose in the streets of Paris, Prague and Berlin… democracy is perhaps Europe’s most important co...