Wednesday, April 22, 2009

European or National

“Nobody votes about the issues”, that was the basic complaint about the recalcitrant voters of those countries that voted 'No' in the Referenda. Giscard and Sarko, Cowan and al dismissed the votes pointing out that it was local issues (Anglo-Saxon capitalism, the Turks, and so on) not the European Constitution that was being voted on. Oh everybody pays lip-service to the concept of voting and participatory democracy. These are enlightened times, but they don't like letting the ignorant unwashed have their say. No, no, no, they say you vote for people who represent you. They are the people who should decide these things on your behalf.

And thus everybody loves the European Parliament. A paradigm of representative government. An amending chamber for rules and regulations that affect the world. The second largest democratic assembly on earth representing upwards of 450 million people, only the Lok Sabah in India is greater.

Here is the democratic representation of the European Demos. The Agora, the Tribune.

Well sort of. The problem is that nobody actually votes on European matters. If they did there would be no need of the constant taxpayer funded initiatives to create a European public space. Big posters abound “Europe my Country” they declare in some vague attempt to create a fellow feeling where none currently exists.

And what happens during the European elections. Except on the perhaps the green fringe people vote on national issues not on European Issues. Oh the well meaning manifestos of the political groups and European Political Parties, not to mention the European Political Foundations are completely meaaningless when it comes to electoral mathematics. Put it this way, who runs the election campaign? Is it a bunch of chaps and chappesses who spend their time flitting between Brussels and Strasbourg, or is it the hard nosed politicos back in the national capitals? Of course its the party bosses. And their calculus is nothing to do with the European Union.

It is not in the interests of any party that has aspiration, make that realistic aspiration to government, to highlight the importance of the European Union in making legislation. They would be cutting their own throats.

Think about it, what political party would go into a European Election campaign seriously highlighting the importance of the EU in the creation of legislation? After all only a year or so later the same people (MEPs often vanish during national elections – curious) are standing up infront of the same electorate trying to persuade them into voting again, but this time for national Government.
Vote for me” says important political type
Why?” says vaguely interested punter.
“Because I can change the world into a better place”
“No you can't” says punter.
“What do you mean?” says politico, clearly hurt and aggrieved, “vote for me and I will water into wine, or sand into sugar”
“Rubbish” laughs punter, “You said only in June 2009 that the EU is really important these days and that nigh on 85% of new laws and regulations are written there. You said that in reality these days if you want to change stuff you have to be involved at a European level. You said that all trade matters, all agricultural matters, almost all environmental matters, many training matters, well most policy is now run from Brussels that was why we had to vote for the European elections. So tell me what are you for Mr Prime Minister?”

You see the point. Elections are run by national parties, national parties have a vested interest not to highlight the European elections.

The only parties that d talk about European issues are oddly either the Greens, who despite broad Geographical spread have limited electoral impact, and the increasing crowds of more Eurosceptical parties. They of course talk about Europe, but almost (Libertas notwithstanding) from a national perspective

There is no real European public space, unless you count that bit next to the European Parliament near Place Luxembourg – but there again that's a wind tunnel.

Cross posted here (Thanks Joseph, I thought I had mucked them around too much).


french derek said...

Hi Gawain, Like your new (to me) blog.

I see you've found the reality of the relationship between national and EU politics - as it applies to governmental politicians. ie we need international institutions such as the EU BUT governmental leaders (whether Presidents or PMs) are not in the habit of admitting that they can't do their jobs without help from such institutions.

They also use the EU as a useful resource, by getting it to pass legislation they wouldn't dare to try-on themselves, alone, at home. But then, what would you expect of a politician?

Josef Litobarski said...


Do you think it's actually possible to create a "public space" across Europe? Or a shared identity? Geographic size isn't the barrier (there's certainly an American identity, for example) but perhaps language is?

And if it is possible... is it ethical? I've been speaking with one eurosceptic chap who argues it would be potentially racist (exclusionary). The days of nation-building are over, according to him.

Interested to hear your thoughts.


Eurocentric said...

Perhaps the best thing to do would be to separate national parties from European parties (though since the groups are federations of parties, new parties would need to be created). That, or both local party branches and central European group executives should have greater say in the selection of candidates and on campaigning.

In fact, it might be worth looking at separating/federalising(decentralising) national parties from those who run in local elections - if local elections are treated as referendums on the gov/opposition, then it means that local concils aren't under the scruntiny they should be under.

It wouldn't solve all the problems, but if councillers and MEPs had to sell themselves more without depending as much on national politicans (and national politicans didn't have to sell the same solutions at all levels), then the messages may be a bit clearer.

Eurocentric said...

I should point out that I don't mean that smaller/national parties should be banned from the EP or anything, just that perhaps there should be clearer dividing lines between the levels of the parties, or the option of separate EP-level parties.

Gawain Towler said...

Interesting points, I will respond later

Josef Litobarski said...

Just so people know:

Gawain is also guest-blogging on the TH!NK ABOUT IT competition website, and this particular post can be found here (with a different set of comments):

Sabine Froschmaier said...

there is an interesting attempt at helping a European public space along: They have main articles from European newspapers on a daily basis and you can get it in English, Frecnch and German. The full articles can be reached via a link in their original version.

And it does emerge, that really the themes they are concerned with are often verry similar, even if the approaches varry.