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Real democracy: economic empowerment, understanding and effective participation

Real democracy goes much further than just voting every now and then. It needs citizens to believe in the public project and to engage in shaping it. Instead of making some democratic participation patches for the upcoming 2019 EP elections, we need to engage in profound reforms. Here are my proposals:

In order to believe in an institution, you need to understand what its purpose and mission are. The European Union bears a challenge there, and it is the complexity of the project. I’ve been studying EU affairs at the College of Europe since September 2017, and there are still a lot of initiatives that escape me. One cannot but guess what transcends to ordinary citizens about the EU: austerity measures, the migration crisis, revolving doors issues… Yes, media focuses on the negative. So the first thing that needs to be done in order to bring attention to the EU project is to bring it closer to the citizens of Europe. Small tip there: make Council discussions transparent, especially from the COREPER. That way national governments will not be able to manipulate the public, blaming the EU for all the negative outcomes and taking credit for all the positive ones.

Secondly, once you believe in something, you need to feel ownership of it. My experience as a grassroots organizer tells me that people invest in what they can change. Therefore, we need to open up decision making to citizens. One of the reasons why even active citizens don’t engage with the EU is because Brussels is seen as being too far away, too technocratic, too difficult to influence. Article 11 of the Treaty allows the EU to foster citizens participation in decision making processes. We need to engage in a profound discussion on how to meaningfully engage cities and regions so that we bring the EU closer to people. The subsidiarity principle, or the mandate to handle matters as close as possible to the citizens, ought to be redefined: instead of leaving all interactions with citizens to the Member States, let the EU also engage at the local level in application of the subsidiarity principle.

Finally, real freedom requires material resources. In the Ancient Greece, the people that engaged in the democratic process were the owners, those that had enough material resources to spend the necessary time for reflection and deliberation. In today’s world, a great amount of the population is worried about their family’s wellbeing. Precarious jobs, long hours, working poor, multiple jobs, unemployment… these are situations that prevent citizens from informing themselves and contributing to building democracy. We need to set the population free, we need a complete revamping of our social security schemes across Europe. We need to engage in a fruitful discussion on how to deliver empowering reforms that will increase citizens’ trust in the EU. Some potential reforms could be a shorter working week (although some Member States already have one) and an unconditional basic income.

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People need to have enough material resources to be able to dedicate time to democratic participation, they need to understand what the institution they are engaging with does, and they need to perceive that their participation serves a purpose.

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Other posts in Democratic participation in the 2019 European Parliament elections

As a Member of European Parliament and VP of Socialists and Democrats, responsible for Communication, I strongly believe that our engagement with the citizens is of crucial importance. We need to communicate Europe better, change our rigid Brussels language, make our policies more tangible and make our citizens believe that what we do is changing their life for the better. And we can only do that if we actively engage with them. We have to start to listen to one another. Brussels is too often percieved as a closed circle of political elites and business lobbyists. We need to break with these practices where ever they exists in order to improve the image of “weak European policies and distant European parliamentarians”. I believe I belong to a generation of progressive, modern politicians that are close to young and “revolutionary” voices, but I also have respect for criticism and experience of those who have lived through crisis, poverty and despair. As a former journalist, I often say that politicans and journalists have something in common. People in both professions need to be experts on how to communicate with the public. They also need to have the knowledge and be able to deliver the content. So my question is: How to engage our citizens more actively in the European project and how to increase the participation in the election processes? First of all, by being someone that our people can trust. I don’t want to live in a Slovenia where I do not have any decent opportunities for an education or a job. I don’t want to live in a Europe where I have to be afraid of nationalism, intolerance, hate speech or xenophobia. I want a Europe for the people. Current discussions about the Spitzenkandidat and the transnational lists are important for engaging all Europeans in the discussions about the future of Europe. We find ourselves at the crossroad of what kind of integration we want. It is crucial we discuss this together. Perhaps it has never been as important as today that our citizens voice their opinion. For an alternative Europe, for a Europe that brings back trust and strength to our citizens. Chosing the Spitzenkandidat can be one of the tools to create a single European electorat which strengthens our European identity. The decision on transnational lists will demand more fine tuning, but it can also be a step in the right direction to give our citizens a truly European choice. Though one can not be so naïve that the election proceedures themselves will bring a greater number of voters to the polls. I believe that confidence is what really matters. The confidence that our chosen leaders will work with the people for the people’s interests and put citizens back in the heart of their politics. This is what I stand for. As someone who strongly believes that we need each other, I think we need to share and promote ideas that create a better life for everyone, a decent and dignified life with equal rights and equal opportunities, for a just and social Europe that promotes peace, stability, tolerance and openess. For a modern and strong European Union in which each and everyone will feel safe and be proud to say: ”I am a European!”

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