Blogging here really caused a profound change in my views about Europe
The European Elections are finished. This column will expire as well. Before it does, I would like to share how my writing here really caused a profound change, both concerning my views about Europe and my own personal activities.
Writing from a more classical liberal perspective, there was, of course, an anti-EU bias to be recognized in my writing. Although Europe always was important for me, I widely considered the EU as an unnecessary evil. In informing myself more about it, my views changed. Although the European Union still is much too big, inefficient and inflexible, it seems to be a necessary evil. Not because of what it claims – like guaranteeing peace. More, because of what advantages it has forgotten to declare – setting into movement the powers of liberty in both economic and social spheres. Liberty is unpopular, especially for a bureaucratic machine in Brussels, this much is to be expected. However, to secure the future of the Union in the face of the rise of far right and leftist parties, this will be the only option – back to the principles which established a strong alliance in Europe.
The renewed interest in the EU caused different personal changes as well. This semester, I attended a seminar on decision-making processes in the European Union, and for the first time I really understood how it worked. If citizens would only understand the sophisticated procedures in place, most of the leftist and rightist propaganda would evaporate. Moreover, I am already keen to experience this in reality and have secured an internship this summer in Brussels, where I will gain some more really deep insights into the EU. Although I will work with a privately-funded think tank rather than an EU institution, this will be an excellent opportunity to learn more and experience the city myself instead of trusting others to tell us the story about Brussels and the bubble life there.
Also, my interest in international issues was awakened once more again. Just returning from a United Nations simulation exercise, I am reminded how important it is to solve international issues in cooperation with other nation states rather than individually. Although I am still critical about the introduction of a European Army, some issues should really be discussed more on an international cooperative basis, or at least on a European one.
For the remainder of this blog, I want to use an anecdote from Germany. Here, extremist parties had no real chance. The new eurosceptic party „Alternative for Germany“ gained 8%, but this is small in comparison with other European right-wing parties. More interesting are the many minor parties now coming into the European Parliament, among them the Party of Family, the Party of Animal Protection and unfortunately also the national socialists, who all gained one seat. One seat however also went to the satirist „The Party“, which convinced many young voters who could not identify with the boring campaigns and the missing content of the established parties. Now sending someone to Brussels, they have already gained much attention by their announcement to „milk“ the European Union dry.
The funny thing is: the only person to speak out against Sonneborn has been the Green MEP Sven Giegold. Sven Giegold really is the personified reason for the rise of extremist parties and a good example for the democratic deficit incorporated in many members. He claims that satire will cost the EU (and by extension, the tax payer) so much money – an argument that could certainly be applied to himself as well. With much less but far more efficient regulation and all these other things the costs for taxpayers could be highly reduced.
However, this is not the interest of Sven Giegold, who seems to be comfortable in his position in Brussels. Maybe, he should follow the example of the leader of the party he criticized, Martin Sonneborn – to make place for other people to enjoy the benefits of representing Europe in Brussels. That exactly, is what „The Party“ proposes – to abdicate every month to make it possible for as many of the members of their party to enjoy the benefits of the European bubble as they can. The author of these sentences will be happy to experience it as well before it bursts – which will certainly happen, unless a change of direction in thinking about European issues occurs.
What have we learned from the first proper European elections in Croatia?
by Marko Boko
These European Parliament elections were the first proper EP elections in Croatia, after Croatia’s accession to the European Union. In 2013 we elected 12 MEPs and following the referendum on Croatia’s accession to the EU, had our first real chance for Croatian citizens to participate in some political process of EU-wide importance. But, this turned out not to be so popular or even relevant for them.
Actually, that was expected and the final turnout (around 20%) was no big surprise. Basically, citizens are fed up with standard political discourse, so they did not want to legitimize someone’s ‘’7000+ € salary for doing nothing’’.
Some of the MEPs were more or less invisible in the EP. Some of them have not said anything relevant in a year, some spent all the time in Croatia campaigning for the 2014 EP elections etc. They have not offered us or the rest of the EU anything spectacular, which is not strange when you realise that they have had serious problems even orienting themselves through EP corridors.
So, the 2014 election crept up on us very quickly and the time came for the current MEPs to show what they have done and start campaigning. A fun fact is that some of them used the last ( extremely badly attended) plenary session in Strasbourg to talk a lot in order to pump up their talking statistics. Regarding the campaign in Croatia, I can with full authority say that it did not exist. What we have seen was average, bad and wrongly articulated everyday political discussion based on an exclusively national perspective and totally deprived of any European dimension. As a result, most citizens became uninterested in the campaign from its very start, especially with the domestic political crisis at its peak. It was clear from the start that the turnout would be no better than the last one was.
Besides being fed up with politicians and the failure of the political system in general, most citizens did not want to participate in the legitimization of the new mandate of ‘’European collapsing monster which can offer nothing to a small state such as Croatia’’ and they have honestly said that they would rather spend sunny Sunday hanging around with their friends and families.
So, mix up citizen’s ignorance (which is common at the EU level) and lack of interest and knowledge on EU affairs among candidates and as a result you get a total turnout of 25%. I do not even understand how it rose 5% compared to 2013.
Another interesting fact is that few debates among candidates were organized across Croatia and they were mostly initiated by civil society organizations. Civil society has played an important role in the 2013 and 2014 EP elections by informing citizens, fostering discussion among candidates, analyzing election manifestos etc. It is interesting to see that civil society (abundantly funded by EU institutions and foundations) has played an important role in the campaign all over Europe this way, which clearly shows how important it felt mobilizing citizens to vote was, as the interest in the EP elections is low all over the EU (90% turnout in some countries does not mean considerable interest, as voting in these countries is mandatory).
Having followed these debates and discussions in Croatia, I have really become aware of how only a few leading candidates offered an EU perspective on issues that were raised. The National Youth Council, where I am active, organized a debate on youth rights and youth policies, also on the future of Europe, and the audience were shocked by the answers that we heard. An interesting fact is that the two biggest parties did not bother to send their candidates, which is a clear indicator of how high young people are on their agenda.
Regarding the results, the EPP won 6 seats, the Party of Socialists and Democrats (to which the ruling party belongs) won 4 seats and the Greens won 1 seat. The governing party was clearly punished, which automatically goes in favor of conservatives, and the only positive surprise is that it seems that Croatia has finally got a relevant green party - for now - but let’s see them at the parliamentary elections next year (if the government has not collapsed by then).
At least we have not sent any of the extreme right wing and fascist parties to the EP, although most of preferential votes at the EPP list were won by a far right candidate, who has become relatively pacified with the MEP salary and claims that she is not Eurosceptic anymore. But, still she sits with the ECR group in the EP, so maybe the EPP should revise their membership, as Brussels was not happy with having an ECR candidate on the EPP list in Croatia. Regarding the S&D in Croatia, prime-minister Milanović has put the strongest candidate at the 5th place on their list in order to try to lower his popularity. But, that candidate has won most preferential votes, so the PM’s chair shakes even more than before as that candidate will most probably run for the party president. And about Greens – it is enough to say that that party was created after an internal fight within the S&D, so it is clear that S&D are the biggest loser of EP 2014 elections in Croatia.
When it comes to the results at the EU level, the only positive things were the facts that for the first time since the 1979, total turnout has not been lower than the previous one and that party groups have fielded their European Commission president candidates – a step closer to the real European elections where one is not limited to national candidates and can vote for candidates from any EU member state.
I do really hope that our vote will be respected in the end. Turnout percentage gets lower moving from the west of Europe to the east, which might be explained by the fact that central/eastern European democracies are still quite young, but also that these countries are quite new members of the EU with lack of trust in it and without strong identification with EU values/idea.
It is sad that for the first time we will have neo-Nazi and fascist parties in the EP, an institution that is a result of victory over Nazi-fascism, as well as the anti-EU ones. Right wing populist parties have always been popular in times of crisis, but I still find it strange to see neo-Nazis supported in this way, considering that we know what they have been historically capable of.
Great Britain and France have shown their anti-EU/anti-immigration side with victories by Front National and UKIP and I am amazed by the lack of critical comments about their victories. Just imagine an equivalent success of that type of party in central/eastern Europe – the whole of Europe would be much more disgusted, as we always have these double standards. Even western chauvinism is much more acceptable than central/eastern ones.
That is definitely a clear signal to European politicians and huge bureaucratic system that they have lost their vision of a social, united and strong Europe that cares about its citizens, includes them in important processes, listen their needs and respects their rights. That is the Europe that we need and that I would like to see in the future.
Europe is what we make of it and a good example to exercise its idea was this series of articles by young bloggers from all over the EU, gathered under the title ‘’Can Europe make it?’’ It was really interesting for me to participate in a process like this one, as it shows how different regional/national perspectives do matter for our common Europe, and how critical approach with concrete solutions can contribute to Europe’s rebuilding. I can say that I am lucky, as I have gotten a chance to work a lot at the EU level through my everyday activities within the youth sector, and that level provides you with the knowledge and experience of what Europe is and which shape of Europe one would like to see. Exchange of opinions and practices shows us what we do all have in common, what should be improved or replaced and that is how I have got my own vision of Europe – a Europe which is social, united, strong, solidary, antifascist and where no one is illegal. Move Europe forward, the struggle has just started!
Thank you, Eurosceptic parties! Now back to work ‘cause this time is different*
by Maria Antica
As the euro-elections are over, pro-Europeans are worried with the outcome and see the big gains anti-EU parties have made as a danger to the European project and its core values. On the other hand, those who voted for the ‘anti-establishment’ parties hope they can actually bring the change they want and have these representatives keep their word. No matter their narratives (irrational EU bureaucrats, incomprehensible and heavy laws, immigrants, lazy Southerners, criminal Eastern Europeans and gays) all votes given to far right/left parties and the higher number of seats they won do make room for larger debates that can reinforce or reshape the “European project” and help make it more euro-democratic (or less) and hopefully bring it closer to “regular” citizens.
Thinking of the euro-sceptic parties’ voters as somewhat irrational, irresponsible or against the illustrious European structure is, from the start, wrong. Within a democracy, people’s choices are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they simply represent their options at a given time, based on their level of information or understanding, involvement, political and economic context and beliefs. If a certain party managed to grasp their attention and get their votes, than that means the others didn’t do enough, over time, to gain people’s trust and make a strong case for their projects and values. As a consequence, the latest elections were, in fact, a test given to the European project and institutions as a whole and a penalty vote for those large parties that ‘didn’t make it through’ the economic crises.
After all, citizens who voted for parties such as UKIP or Front National simply ‘acted, reacted and impacted’ the electoral outcome and their votes are as valid as those where ‘anti-establishment’ parties weren’t that successful. If the number of those not understanding what EU does and what is the positive impact for their lives is now larger it means there are still things to be done and that an overly paternalistic attitude (‘we’ debate, decide and change, ‘we know better’) is detrimental to the European Parliament and Commission as it makes it harder to be accepted by a much larger number of people.
Europe’s legitimacy doesn’t come only from a higher turnout. ‘Regular citizens’ need to take part in those debates concerning major decisions, have a way to give them a voice that can be heard beyond and between the electoral campaigns so that such far rightist/leftist ‘earthquakes’ can be avoided. For that matter, the EU needs to reconsider its citizens’ oriented, direct democratic participation tools in an effort to make European citizens feel empowered, as voting is not the only way of keeping the European project either alive, representative or legitimate.
Such initiatives are already in place but their functionality still needs improving: petitioning the EP, complaining to the European Ombudsman or European Citizen’s Initiative system (ECI). As NACAB’s study, Active in Europe: Premises for a More Participatory European Civil Society suggests the three tools European citizens can access ‘are still confined to lack of information, lack of awareness and no significant media interest’, even though they can actually contribute to decreasing the growing gap between citizens and the EU-based decision-making process.
This contributes also to having a weak notion of EU citizenship in most member states and, consequently, to a low level of understanding of its functioning and benefits. Steps to changing this status quo don’t fall only under the EP or European institutions, national governments or the media but, as the study suggests, a strengthened connection with the Civil Society Organizations that can put more pressure on EU institutions in order to ask for more transparency, openness and can act as a binding agent between EU and the citizens.
There is no doubt that EU still has a lot to do to perfect itself and those supporters of the European project have reasons enough to worry about the current state of affairs, after the euro-elections. As with any other democratic system, it is an ongoing process, with ups and downs, depending on whose voice gets to be heard louder. This time, euro-sceptics managed to grasp people’s votes, no matter what the underlying reasons were.
However, what others have called a crisis is, in fact, a call to invest in more efforts to make the EU more appealing and, more than that, really democratic and close to the citizens. And even though a more direct democracy can’t satisfy everybody in the end as it still works on the majoritarian rule, the EU needs to be more inclusive and have more participatory tools, accessible and well known. This way, not only the state of legitimacy and citizen’s trust would be higher (easy to be counted by taking a look at the turnout level and the way direct democracy tools are used) but also the number of those who understand that not all problems come from the “others” (e.g. shifting the blame towards EU, immigrants or any other nationalistic topic).
As I see it, the rise in number of the Euro-sceptic parties makes room for more in depth debates that can actually reach a higher number of people (especially those who voted for them), increasing the burden for those who believe that the EU needs to remain united. However, even the latter need to be open to criticism and dialogue as not all requests coming from these people and parties are irrational and without legitimacy.
*Slogan used during European Parliament’s information campaign towards the 2014 Euro-elections.
Underestimating the European election results would be an error
The elections are over, and the results are plain to see. We have, inside the “You tell us!” project, at length discussed the elections themselves, about parties, intolerance, euroscepticism, and the EU’s future. It has been like a trip across Europe, its politics and society. “We are one” and we showed it, expressing different opinions on different issues coming from different places, but with a similar and common spirit.
And I’m happy to have been partly wrong about Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Stars Movement, M5S) in this post. I was sure that M5S would have gone beyond the 25% of preference votes, but actually it finished with 21%. This is not a bad result for a party which is not a party, without leaders (beside Grillo and Casaleggio), managers or a clear structure, but it is under the expectations that Grillo transmitted to his activists. The same Grillo said, during a TV interview, that according to his polls M5S was at 96%. He was clearly joking (never forget that he is actually a comedian) but the joke was meant to show M5S’s strength and to instill confidence into its activists.
For these reasons, M5S’s result was considered disappointing and some are now even thinking about reconsidering Grillo’s role in the movement, also because he flew to Brussels in order to meet Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader, and discuss a contingent partnership with him within the European Parliament (confirming my earlier worries). Grillo’s attempts to show that Farage and UKIP are not racist and that everything written about them is false, have not reconciled him to many voters or the activists of his heterogeneous party. Let’s wait to see if Grillo’s leadership will stagger or not.
Unexpected results did not stop at M5S’s “failure”: indeed, more than the 40% of the almost 59% of Italian voters who exercised their voting right (Italy’s turnout was one of the highest, and this says it all about how far we are from engendering any real interest around the EP elections) voted for the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party, PD) which comfortably became the first party in Italy, beating the M5S into second. Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia (FI) gained the 16%, Lega Nord (Northern League, LN) the 6%, while the Nuovo Centrodestra (New Centre-right, NCD) and L’Altra Europa con Tsipras (The new Europe with Tsipras, AET) had slightly more than the 4% and thus gained at least one of the 73 seats reserved to Italy. All the others parties did not overcome the 4% threshold, having no possibilities to have any MEP for this legislature. Greens and ALDE were in this latest group.
PD’s result is important, not only because it confers a sort of legitimacy on Matteo Renzi’s ploy to become Prime Minister, but above all because it shows that Italians are still in favour of the integration process of Europe, since PD, differently from PES (its reference European party), put in its programme the commitment for the development of a European Federation. It is true that, if 40% voted PD, at least 50% voted for more or less moderate eurosceptic parties (FI + NCD + M5S + LN + Fratelli d’Italia).
Anyway, because of the mediocre result of PES parties elsewhere, PD is now PES’s biggest party, thus it can have a great influence on the guidelines and programmes of the whole EP group. And this, considering that Italy is about to take over (from July 1) the presidency of the Council of the European Union, could be significant for the development of a federalist strategy, if it is true that that is a priority of PD.
In any case, this won’t be easy, for several reasons. One of them is that the EP elections awarded a considerable number of seats to eurosceptic parties, 129, with meaningful results for parties like the Front National in France and UKIP in United Kingdom. Even if they have different levels of euroscepticism or nationalism and therefore will animate different groups in the EP, they share the common goal of weakening the EU and any attempt towards further integration.
Underestimating this result would be an error: if people decided to give confidence to such parties with such programmes, it does and should mean something. If people understand the EU and/or integration as something to eradicate, it could be simply that they did not see any personal benefits coming from them. This must be taken into account if one wants to talk about a more integrated Europe.
Last but not least, a heavy blow to the accountability and credibility of the whole European-level democracy could be given by the alleged appointment of a president of the European Commission not coming from the pool of the candidates from the European Parties (with the EPP having won, it should be Jean-Claude Juncker). If this was actually the case, that is to have an outsider as President, it’d be very difficult to defend and promote a European level of politics: people have voted for them, for the candidates. And this should not happen: the future of Europeans in the Union are once again at stake.
Podemos: the machine is still under construction
As an analysis of the very recently by-gone European elections, and as a closure of this series of texts, we would like to provide some notes on the unquestionable success of Podemos in Spain. This electoral formation – let's not call it a party, in the traditional sense, prematurely – gained five seats in the European Parliament after a seemingly short period of four months of electoral work. As participants of social movements looking to produce a radically democratic regeneration or a constituent process, if you will, the situation urges us to ask ourselves one fundamental thing.
How does one create another formula of politics than that of representative parties?
In the battlefield of Spanish representative politics, Podemos has, in its first test of strength, already accomplished something great. It has contributed to breaking down the Spanish two-party-system rooted to the political culture of the transition from the Franco dictatorship. In the European elections of 2009 the bipartidism of Partido Popular and centre-left PSOE obtained 82% of the votes. This time they reached only to 49%.
Podemos has already shown itself capable of fulfilling one of the desires expressed within 15M - the end of the two-party-system -formulated as a chant: "¡PSOE y PP, la misma mierda es!", ("PSOE and PP are the same shit!"). It has been able to channel the indignation into votes capable of breaking this double act down for a mix of reasons, some more dubious than others.
Four months ago Podemos started to exist by launching a call to create "Circles", self-organized groups, in all cities and towns of Spain. These Circles were a promise of the continuity of horizontal self-organization and action on the grass-roots level, and we think it is a great mistake to underestimate the effect the Circles have as a form of asambleary (I.e. consensual methods of decision-making), horizontal, 15M-ish way of participation. On the subjective level the Circles are the key to Podemos' success.
The widespread, multiple participant base of the Circles is a mix of participation from leftist groups such as Izuierda Anticapitalista, and a heterogenous composition befitting a 99% type of class. The leftist approach and discourse of the visible heads of Podemos might well be a glass ceiling in achieving big majorities and changing the composition of the parliament. Podemos needs to disseminate its discourse, but not at the cost of more populism. It needs to, as well, diversify it by reducing the already looming personality cult around it's first MEP, Pablo Iglesias.
Not everyone who voted for Podemos participated in the Circles. A great deal depended on the TV, and the many minutes Podemos' newly-made MEP Pablo Iglesias has shown his face in various programmes, some of which are run by himself, others belonging to the traditional media. A strong mediatic plan and wise use of the possibilities offered to try to affect even hostile mass media companies such as La Sexta Noche are undoubtedly tools that can and should be found in the tool kit of any movement aiming for a constituent process with strategies of "mainstreaming" political contents elaborated in social movements and, obviously, keeping these same movements open for participation.
The TV dimension of Podemos is almost fully monopolized by Iglesias, which brings up another important issue: that of charismatic populism. Let's just say it is well worth comparing the use Iglesias has made of the possibilities of appearance in the TV with the one the spokesperson of La PAH Ada Colau has made of them. Where the latter has been always prudent enough with the logic of TV and leadership to advertise that she is just transmitting a message many share and desire to see realized, the former has done the opposite.
Charismatic leadership is probably the worst element that Podemos brings from the South American revolutions. That mixed with the implementation of what in South America is subversive nationalism turns into the very populist leftist patriotism brought to Spain, a country that, for those who need a reminder, colonized instead of being colonized.
As a friend said when the first rumours of coalition negotiations between Podemos and Izquierda Unida came through: a democratic front cannot be n parties agreeing upon presenting themselves together for the elections. If Podemos is to be a device in the constituent process announced by 15M, it needs two things. Firstly it needs an organizational structure that guarantees that the top management of Podemos – Iglesias, Monedero, Errejón, Bescansa – is in the service of the Circles, and not the other way around. Secondly, it needs political content beyond voting to be able to build a strategy that goes beyond the whims and personal aspirations of the top four. We reckon humbly that social syndicalism could be one possibility for the delivery system for such content.
What is at stake with Podemos is whether it will close down into the traditional party form, or if it can become a device for real democracy in the long electoral cycle that the Europeans opened in Spain, with two hot points in 2015: the municipal elections of the spring and the general legislative elections of the autumn. Given the high goal of "system change" that 15M set three years ago having put aside its insurrectionist dreams, hacking the electoral spaces – until the code can be changed – is what there is to work with.
The question is how to translate the power and organization of the constituent movements into a new constitutional structure, one that remains open to change and capable of supporting the agenda of the struggles of citizens towards a more democratic governance – towards selfgovernance. All possible doubts revised and counted, Podemos is in the place from where this could be done.
So let us work with what we have got. But it is not a game for a famous four, nor a game for a charismatic presidency a l'a Morales. The new institutions don't need to integrate the constituent demands to their representation, but to be in themselves constituent – constitute through their actions and organizational structures the autogovernance of the many.
We speak in the plural, because Podemos cannot be one. We need to see other radically democratic initiatives like Partido X recognising the constituent process that could be opened up with and through Podemos, each of these initiatives according to its particular competency: in the case of Partido X the role of an 'operating system' of the multiple particles wouldn't be bad at all. To this end, Podemos needs an organizational structure that permits heterogeneity and collaboration between different individuals, groups and institutions of the common and puts this collaboration and its results before the decisions of a few wise men.
As a destituent, as well as a constituent war machine, Podemos is still under construction.