Democratic participation in the 2019 European Parliament elections

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“Democratic participation in the upcoming 2019 European Parliament elections”

 

Too often Europe-wide elections have been reduced to nothing more than the sum of multiple national campaigns. European voter turnout has seen a substantial decrease since the first European elections in 1979. European democracy deserves much better.

 

Many crises have shaken our Union over the last few years, including mounting Euroscepticism, growing populism, the austerity crisis, migration challenges, terrorist threats, as well as the insecurities resulting from Brexit. However there seems to be a growing realisation that working together is indispensable, in order to tackle Europe’s common challenges. But there is still a long way to go to persuade citizens that Europe is working for them. We need to do better!

 

Every citizen has the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. In the run-up to the European election of 2019, we need to improve the democratic legitimacy of the EU. Firstly we need to ensure that the principle of the Spitzenkandidaten, that the election of the President of the European Commission is nominated as a lead candidate by one of the European political parties, will be repeated. This process strengthens the EU’s democratic dimension and contributes to transparency in the decision making process, since people get to a choice of candidates prior to the European elections. We also support the idea of having pan-European lists of candidates in European elections. We need to examine ways to introduce these lists, which could use at least some of the seats left vacant when the UK leaves the EU.

 

We need to reinforce the democratic and transnational dimension of the European elections and the democratic legitimacy of the EU decision-making process. Indeed, the 2019 European Parliament elections will be transformative for European democracy.

 

The S&D Group demands a democratic agenda to strengthen the democratic participation of our citizens:

 

We support the principle of the Spitzenkandidaten process as it fosters the political awareness of European citizens and reinforces the political legitimacy of both Parliament and the Commission, by connecting their respective elections more directly to the choice of the voters.

In this respect, we also support the proposal of electing a number of Members of the new European Parliament through pan-European lists of candidates, put forth by the various European political parties, led by the candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission.

The Spitzenkandidaten-process should rely to the largest extent possible on participative procedures within the national parties such as primaries. This should be done in cooperation with national parties. European events surrounding these primaries can have a strong impact on the legitimacy and credibility of the European project. Therefore, national, as well as regional and local media involvement, especially television networks, is a must!

Progressive national and European leaders should seize the opportunity of the European elections to present a European agenda which clearly differentiates them from the other political forces. This will help regain trust and present citizens with clear choices for the future of the European project. Consequently, European elections should occupy an important place on the agenda of progressive leaders, being an opportunity to reconnect citizens to the European project.

We must do better in connecting with people so that, in return, people would want to participate. They must truly feel that the EU is there for them. They must truly feel political ownership of the European project.  It is not enough for voting to be easy; people have to want to take part. For people to want to participate in the political process, they must be convinced that their participation actually does matter —it must have a tangible impact on policy decisions, and improve people’s lives across Europe. To achieve this, we must make extensive use of the opportunities offered by social media. We need to find ways to shape our progressive narrative so that it makes Europe personally relevant to all of us. We need to engage with citizens on how to deliver better and more empowering reforms that will increase trust in our Union.

 

The Bruges Together Declaration “Democratic participation in the 2019 European Parliament elections” was adopted in Bruges on February 22, 2018, at the Together event.

Thanks to all of you for your inspiring ideas and constructive contributions! 

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Debate



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!”

If you are young in Europe today, I imagine that the future can seem uncertain. You may have a short-term contract at work. You may feel that you have no real prospect of joining the housing market. And I bet you feel frustrated at the seeming lack of action by European politicians on major issues, like combatting climate change, fighting tax havens and ensuring fair and proper working conditions. All issues that impact heavily on your future. So, come, 2019 and another European election. Why should you care? Well, to me at least, being part of the EU means basically two things: 1) that we share a set of fundamental values, and 2) that we face a host of common challenges together. But how we translate those values into actual policies and what solutions we decide upon are not a given. They are a political decision, made by a majority. In the last European elections, young people as a demographic had a low turnout. However, when asked, a majority had a favourable opinion of the EU. The opposite was, broadly speaking, true of those above the age of 55, a pattern repeated in the Brexit-vote. So, make sure important decisions aren’t taken without making your voice and your vote count! Obviously, the ballot box is not the only way to gain influence in a democracy. You can engage in grassroots movements; debate your friends and family; write your local MEP a letter – you name it! But the fact remains that power is in numbers. Elected officials represent their constituency and, all being said, vote accordingly. I think this shows quite clearly both in the composition and the voting patterns of the current European Parliament. The young people of Europe deserve and need a stronger voice! If you’re a young person living in the EU today, it is crucial that you make your voice heard at the next election. At the same time, I’m sure that we, the elected members of the European Parliament, aren’t without our faults and blind spots. So, let’s use the power of this platform to pinpoint the issues and the solutions, that should be at the centre of European politics, but aren’t at the moment. Let’s show exactly what a progressive majority can achieve for Europe. If you feel there’s a topic we aren’t addressing properly, by all means, let us know! And let’s work together, to make sure, that we as a political family can make your voice heard in the 2019 European elections!

For more than 150 years, socialists and democrats in Europe have been fighting for democracy, freedom, equality, peace and justice. We are a big movement with millions of members and a proud history. With the S&D Group, we have a strong, active voice in the European Parliament. Among many other victories, we have been able to win the fight for a European youth guarantee and more sustainable investments in the EU. With its new sustainable development strategy, the Group is giving fresh impetus to the development of innovative progressive policies that strive to turn globalisation into an engine of social, economic, and environmental progress. Engaging with our constituents as part of the Progressive Society initiative is a key strand of our work in this respect. With FEPS we have an innovative think tank with a valuable network all over Europe. It enables us to discuss and develop our common vision for a stronger and more social Europe by collecting and building on the knowledge of social democratic researchers and think tanks all over Europe. We are lucky to have such a unique organization in our family. The PES is a major political force in Europe and defines and adopts common policies for all member parties. It shapes progressive European policies and makes Europe work for its people. Our daily work would not be possible without the PES. We have to further strengthen it. Many members of the national parties are committed Europeans who wait for an opportunity to become more active on a European level. The PES should think about becoming actual members party that gives all its activists the opportunity to take part in its political work. Introducing double-memberships in the PES and the PES member parties could be a way to achieve this goal.

Every five years, there is an european debate on how to increase turnout in european elections, which have historically low participation. A lot has been done, many students in europe learn about the EU in school which is vital for them to understand this organization and know how to participate; also the spitzenkandidaten process gives more transparency to the whole election process. However there is a lot to be done; european elections still have a low participation, european citizens feel distant and national politicians continue to neglect these elections. One of the errors in adressing this problem is exactly the overfocus on the european elections. Make no mistake, participation in the european election is vital for our institutions, but we can’t expect a high turnout if we have only the debate about democratic participation from 5 to 5 years. Democracy shoulnd’t be a quinquennial voting event. European institutions should make na effort to promote democratic participation in the dailylife of european citizens. If so, the interest about european matters will increase, european election turnout will be higher! The idea of citizen’s conventions is interesting. I think it would be important to bring together national policy makers, european leaders to discuss the future of Europe with ordinary citizens. Some fear that these public debates will give euroscpetics a platform to preach the gospel against an United Europe. That’s indeed a risk. But if it’s there is a need to discuss why the european union makes sense it is better to do so in these popular conventions than let fake news accounts in social media to the job. Another important idea would be EU participatory budgets – A process in which citizens decide where to spend part of the public budget. This would make civil society discuss and engage much more with the EU. In my city, Lisbon, participatory budgets were such sucess in terms of civic engagement that the national government is doing 2 nationwide participatory budgets, one just for young people and other for everyone. A special attention needs to be paid to disenfranchised and marginalized communities like city suburbs or rural areas. These communities normally don’t vote in european elections and if they do that, they vote for candidates that blame the EU for state of their lives. The EU needs to work with national governments to improve it’s presence and representation in these areas. Social media ads are very important but it’s more effective to contact directly with ordinary people, make them know about the advantages of the EU and why they should participate in the european democracy. If it’s done, i have no doubt people would be more willing to turnout and participate in the european decision making.

I believe the European Union is one of the greatest political and social achievement in the recent history of Europe. It ensures democracy, the respect of freedom and human rights and also increases equality. However, it has some structural issues that have to be fix in order to strength European integration, such as the lack of transparency and citizens participation. It is necessary that the EU needs to be more accessible to citizens, and that citizens need to be better educated on the functionality of the EU. In order to do so, the EU needs to things: 1- “The Citizen House” an EU institution where citizens can directly participate in the decision-making. Communities’ leaders from different countries/regions/cities debate on issues that concern them. They would make a report and send it to the EU parliament to be discussed. 2- EU members should inform their citizens about how the EU works. Children should learn in schools about their local/regional/national/European political systems. During European elections, TV channels should host debates (with experts about the EU and debates between candidates). Also, it should be explained to European how the EU affects their lives, and how their countries implement (or not) EU policies. 3- Work on mechanisms that facilitates the debate between national and EU parliaments, and that allow them to work directly together (especially on economic and social issues).

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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