Thursday, May 14, 2009

European Democracy: The Politicians are United but the Voters are Divided

Frank Schnittger, a blogger over at TH!NK ABOUT IT, is undertaking a truly interesting experiment. What he's attempting on his blog (here) is a relatively novel way of conducting an interview... yet it raises questions about the nature of EU democracy.

Frank will be interviewing Dick Roche, Ireland's Minister for European Affairs, and he has posted his questions online for the community to read. Furthermore, he is now asking for suggestions for more questions.

One of the amazing things about this is that Dick Roche (or, more likely, one of his aides) will also be able to read the questions Frank is going to ask him, and so will be better prepared for them.

Second round of the French presidential electi...Image via Wikipedia

In other words, it's almost an "open" interview, between Dick Roche and the TH!NK ABOUT IT community, with Frank as a mediator. Great stuff!

The problem is, a lot of the questions suggested by Frank are very specific to national, Irish politics. This makes sense: MEPs are elected by national voters and so they campaign on issues that will interest and affect specifically those same national voters.

As Frank points out:
"[Dick Roche] is not going to want to raise additional issues... [that] have the potential to lose him votes."
I agree with Frank. But I think this is a terrible way to conduct politics.

This is one of the reasons the public are so frustrated with European politics. Now is the only time that we - the European public/s - have any say over these issues. Now is the only time we can hold our politicians accountable.

Two years down the line, when these issues are actually being addressed, there will be no public accountability. It is only now that we can reward or punish our politicians for their future vision. So, Frank, please press him on at least some of these issues!

For example, I definitely want to know about the Barroso coronation. I want to vote for a political group that intends to put forward a candidate to run against Barroso. I do not want to do this because I dislike Barroso, but because I believe that competition is in the interests of democracy. After the elections, though, the power to push for this sort of thing will be out of our hands.

All across the EU, each individual voter will have their own set of key issues that they will be voting on. MEPs should clearly set out their positions on ALL of these issues, and then let the voters decide. But the system, as it stands today, encourages MEPs to campaign only at the national level on national issues for national votes. Given this is the case - what questions can I, a citizen of another EU member-state with only a cursory knowledge of Irish politics, possibly suggest for Frank to ask?

This is why I think we need some sort of European-wide accountability, represented by some part of the EU institutions being directly elected by all EU citizens voting together. At the moment, the politics are united, but the vote is fragmented. MEPs take European-wide decisions, but they campaign on national issues. I cannot vote for Irish MEPs, so Irish MEPs are not interested in my opinions, yet they help take big-picture decisions in my name.

Still, perhaps I am jumping the gun a bit.

I have no idea how Dick Roche will respond to these sorts of long-term questions. The fact that he is willing to be interviewed by a blogger at all is fantastic, and this should immediately win him respect.

But my appeal to Frank is this: don't ignore the long-term questions. June 2009 will be the only time (until the next set of elections) that we have any real power to influence what happens.
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Grahnlaw said...


I agree with the main message of your post, and I have posted some suggestions on Frank Schnittger's blog.

Dick Roche is not an ordinary MEP candidate, he is Minister for European Affairs.

If he has no perspectives on Europe, who has?

I have argued on my blog that the Barroso Commission has been weak(ened). Now we have a fresh EPIN working paper saying the same thing.

How is Ireland going to act with regard to the next Commission President?

The question is one of the crucial ones with regard to the member states' responsibility for the functioning of the union.

Frank Schnittger said...

Hi Josef and Grahnlaw,

Many thanks for this well argued post and for the suggested questions. I think I was allowing my self to be too intimidated by the fact that I was likely to have only c. 30 minutes or so to ask the questions and that I could waste a lot of time on questions he really wasn't going to answer.

We have an expression in Ireland "he could talk for Ireland" meaning that Dick Roche is a great talker and could easily spend 30 minutes talking about just one question. So I have to be pretty disciplined in the questions I ask if I want to get any sort of wide agenda covered..

However I will do my best!

Robin said...

One Irish MEP (was it Roche ?) berated the Czech president for his EUrosceptism and mentioned his family had been fighting the British for centuries. Do Irish polticians think the EU is a way to get at Britain by other means, I thought we`d moved on well beyond that ?

The Prudent Investor said...

nice blog. May I only suggest you change the colors as white script on dark backgrounds is tremendously eye-tiring (to the older geezers like me? Humans have got used to black on light backgrounds since Gutenberg.

Josef Litobarski said...

Hi, Toni

I did try playing around with the templates and colours, but I haven't found anything that works.

I will keep playing, and try to get a pale coloured box running down the centre of my blog, so that the text is better highlighted.

In the meantime, I've set up a "lite" version of my blog - not just for people with difficulty reading my blog, but also for those with slow internet connections.

It's not a perfect solution, but it might help until I can sort out a better colour scheme.



P.S. The text-only version of my blog is here:

Josef Litobarski said...

That should be

Josef Litobarski said...

You know, I've just thought: another thing that might help is using an RSS feed reader like Google Reader!