Few criticisms of the state of the European Union are more pervasive than the democratic deficit of the European institutions. If so many voters feel there’s a deficit, politicians will have to work hard to improve things or be cast aside, writes Reinhard Bütikofer.
This op-ed by EGP co-chair Reinhard Bütikofer appeared on EurActiv, on 16 May 2013.
Reinhard Bütikofer is a German MEP affiliated to the Greens/EFA poltiical group in the European Parliament. He is also co-chair of the European Green Party.E
Quite a few people in the corridors of the European Parliament fear the possibility of dwindling participation in next year’s European election. If participation in this election drops below the 43% of voters who turned out in 2009, it will undercut the credibility of the European Parliament a great deal. The Parliament represents European citizens, but if they turn their backs on their representatives, how much legitimacy will remain?
Because of this, Europe’s transnational democracy faces a huge challenge in next year’s electoral cycle. Few criticisms of the state of the European Union are more pervasive than the democratic deficit of the European institutions. That members of the European Parliament feel misunderstood and unjustifiably criticised is largely irrelevant. If so many voters feel there’s a deficit, politicians will have to work hard to improve things or be cast aside.
We in the European Green Party have come up with an ambitious solution to this major challenge. We want to raise the stakes and raise people’s interests in the election by personalising it in a strong way.
We’re not alone – all the political families will do so, to some extent. But we don’t want to only do that – we want to allow interested citizens (even non-party members and young people above the age 16) to have a say in the selection of a leading European tandem candidates. We will organise an open, pan-EU online primary of Green party members and sympathisers. Our two candidates will be the heart and face of the Green family in debates and discussions with our political competitors at a European level.
Ten years ago, the Greens were proud to be the first political family to organise an EU-wide common electoral campaign for the European Parliament elections. For 2014, we want to demonstrate that politics can be different once again. Who said that a European election must be dull and unsexy? Our message to the citizens is clear and simple: this is about you. We want to empower you, we want you to actively take part in your own affairs.
We believe running a primary will help reduce alienation between political institutions and the average citizen. Increasing direct citizen involvement can make politics more responsive. At the same time, we want to take steps towards creating a common European political space. We don’t want to use the primary to mobilise Germans or Greeks or Maltese or Latvians separately. We want to appeal to all of them, together, as participants in one common European effort.
To be eligible to run in the primary race, contenders will need the support of at least five of our member parties. Once the two leading candidates have been decided upon, they will tour through Europe and make all possible effort to strengthen and support the Green European election campaign in each member state. In this way, the primary will allow us to stimulate discussions about the important European issues at an early stage of the election campaign.
Of course, it’s a bold experiment. No one else has done it before. But the initial reactions to the idea have been very positive indeed. NGOs that are active in furthering participatory, direct democracy have expressed a lot of interest in the plan. Many young people have expressed huge enthusiasm for it. And, I share their emotions.
At first glance, it’s just another way to organise an election. But it’s also highly symbolic. It says: let’s move forward in new ways! Citizens must have a direct say! We must act as Europeans – together! This is an important and positive political step, towards building additional interest in a democratic process that has traditionally been very much hidden from the public eye.