Let’s have a dream. Let’s dream of a fully female European Commission… Impossible, you may think? Try and think again. It’s actually so easy to do that just four random citizens came up with a list of at least one woman per country, in just 36 hours. Governments can’t be bothered to find female candidates, civil society decided to do it for them.
EU states are currently in the process of nominating their candidates for the European Commission. Each state can only nominate one person. So what happens? Not very surprisingly, most candidates nominated so far are men. This is very worrying as it seems that the 2009-2014 Commission will have even less women than in 2004-2009, a period of time when there were only 8 women out of 27 commissioners. This is not acceptable.
Over the past months, I’ve been promoting the idea of gender equality at top EU positions on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. Doing so, I was regularly confronted with comments asking the question whether or not any woman would be competent enough to take this level of responsibility. There are plenty of good, knowledgeable, competent women that can take over these jobs. We just never talk about them. Somehow men’s names always come up.
Now, there is no excuse anymore. We have found over 26 female names that hold all the qualities to become Commissioner. Let’s make it happen. Let’s have a genuinely gender-balanced European Commission this time. Would you like to make this come true? Then, follow these steps:
“Men cannot act in the best interest of women if we’re not there telling them what we need”
Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada
Although the Lisbon Treaty is still not fully ratified, there has already been a lot of speculation in the media about who would be suitable candidates for the 2 top EU jobs it creates along the -already taken- Commission President post: the President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Annoyed by the fact that most of the names that are currently put forward by the media are only men, some top European women have started to react: read here, here, and there. In an interview to TheParliament.com on Tuesday, Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström said “It is shameful that, so far, no women seem to have been put forward as possible candidates. All we hear about are people like Tony Blair and other men”. I agree with her. But I would go even further. It is actually more than shameful: I feel it is an insult to all women.
So why is Margot Wallström and many other Eurowomen so annoyed by this. Just take a look at the most recent European Council family picture I could find (here below). Let’s play a game: What’s wrong with this picture?
No it’s not the vibrant purple colour of Angela Merkel’s outfit (second raw, middle)… No it’s not the fact that Tarja Halonen, the female president of Finland (first raw, middle left), is not wearing a colourful outfit as top EU female politicians usually do… Try again. What is wrong is that apart from Angela Merkel, Tarja Halonen, and Mary McAleese -Irish President, not on the picture- there was no other female head of state (I’m not counting the queens) or government in the 27 European Union countries when this picture was taken (since then Dalia Grybauskaité was elected President of Lithuania). There’s roughly 98% of greyish/blackish suits on this family picture: that is what is wrong.
Here is a picture from a fellow French blogger that summarises the situation pretty well:
There are plenty of talented, charismatic, competent women that could take one of the 2 top EU jobs left. Here is a list of the names that “some” journalists have put forward:
That’s a short list. I’m sure there’s a lot more. Any idea? Feel free to contribute!
“Men approach their work with the same mindset they use in competitive sports. Competitive sports, war and the workplace are governed by a set of unwritten rules familiar to most men but unknown to most women. Unfamiliarity with these rules is the most significant and elusive factor trapping women below the glass ceiling.”
Adrienne Mendell, Rules of the “WORK” game, initially published on Womens Media, discovered on the excellent Blog Jump
PES activists had inspiring debates at their 2009 forum in Dublin. Desmond O’Toole -the Dublin PES activists coordinator- published a summary of these debates on a Wiki page, where PES activists are invited to contribute so we can present our own proposals to the PES congress held in Prague in December.
Come and join the debate on the future of the European left!
German Christian-Democrats and Portuguese Socialists are happy. They won the elections. It is true that in terms of percentage of votes, they did much better than their competitors. However I can’t help but think that the real winner of these elections is abstention. And if abstention is the big winner, then it means that democracy is the big looser.
Turnout rate at Sunday’s German elections: 70.8% (source Euronews), the lowest since 1949 thus confirming the clear trend towards a decline of turnout rates since the 1970s, where they peaked at 90%.
Evolution of the turnout rate at the German general elections (source International IDEA)
Abstention rate at Sunday’s Portuguese elections: 40% (source Euronews), ” an abolute record for legislative elections since the accession of Portugal to democracy in 1974″, reminds touteleurope.fr
Evolution of the turnout rate at the Portuguese elections (source International IDEA)
And the worst is that Germany and Portugal don’t have the exclusivity on this phenomenon. On the contrary, this is a pan-European trend, as shown by the steady decline in turnout rates at the European elections since the 1970s.
Evolution of turnout rates at the European elections (source: European Parliament)
The roof is on fire. Less and less citizens use their voting right. The legitimacy of our democracies is based on elections. Will our democracies still be legitimate when less than 50% of citizens vote? Will we be waiting until we reach this point to react? Looking at the smile on the winners’ face of Sunday’s elections and last June’s European elections, I am afraid so.
At the PES activist forum this afternoon, I attended a workshop entitled “Towards a fair society – Championing equality for all”. The session was refreshingly interactive, giving the audience the opportunity to interact directly with the speaker panel right from the beginning. No long speech, just discussion. The panel included Rhonda Donaghey (SIPTU, Ireland), Lisa Pelling (FEPS Research Group), Michael Leiblfinger (Rainbow Rose) and Niall Crowly (Former CEO Irish Equality Authority).
PES balloons floating over Trinity college
Niall said that in this time of economic difficulties, governments unfortunately tend to cut funding for equality programmes, which are too often considered as the kind of secondary policy you can only afford in more positive times. However, according to Niall, an “equality crisis” preceded and led the economic crisis we are going through. Studies show that not only do the most vulnerable groups benefit from equality policies, but the society also does, for a more equal society is a more peaceful, healthier, and happier one. Therefore we should focus on putting equality at the core of the public debate in Europe, and protect the infrastructure that is in place to implement it.
Addressing the issue of discrimination against immigrants, Lisa Pelling suggested we change the way we look at immigration. We need immigration as our societies are aging and our population is shrinking. Therefore immigration is a chance for us, and we should even be proud that so many people choose to migrate to Europe. Building up on Lisa’s ideas, a participant said we should reaffirm that any citizen has the right to find their freedom and well-being anywhere in the world. He added that we should also be very strong in stating that countries that do not respect LGTB rights are simply breaching human rights.
As for people with disabilities, Niall points out that we haven’t yet moved in a position where it is part of our common sense to accommodate difference. It should become common sense and only positive action will enable us to move towards more equal societies. Rhonda closed the workshop calling upon the participants to act daily against all kinds of discrimination so that in five years from now we can see a more diverse European Parliament, free of extreme-right parties.
On my way back from Barcelona, I stopped at the lovely coastal town of La Rochelle where the Parti socialiste summer university was held. The sun was shining, people were in a good mood, and optimism was in the air. Journalists felt it too as for once in a very long time they wrote positive articles on the PS. What has caused that sudden turnaround? Could they actually feel the activists’ enthusiasm? Have they been seduced by the reforms announced by PS leader Martine Aubry? Or is it simply that they have finally realised that their approach to the PS in the past years has been overly negative? The PS is by far not only about internal fights. The PS is not dead. The PS is an activist party. It is alive and kicking, lifted up by the dedication of its thousands of activists, who relentlessly and voluntarily give some of their free time to the pursuit of their ideals because they refuse fatality, and decided one day to take their destiny into their own hands. I am regularly dumbstruck when I notice the gap between the party’s life as I see it from inside, and the image that is given by the mainstream media. I feel betrayed and usurped. I am happy to see that finally there are signs of change in this regard.
This weekend at La Rochelle, the activists’ enthusiasm warmed up my heart. Among the reforms announced by Martine Aubry in her opening speech, especially two of them were greeted by thunderous applause, spiced up by bravos and hurrays: the first one was about putting an end to the very French habit of plurality of offices, and the second one was about following the American model and opting for open primaries for the presidential election in 2012. Besides these two groundbreaking reforms, Martine Aubry announced the upcoming launch of a social network dedicated to PS activists and sympathisers. This “socialist Facebook” will be called Coopol from “coopérative politique”, political cooperative in French. I am thrilled by these three announcements as they all go towards a greater openness of the Parti socialiste.
Openness to the diversity of society by putting an end to plurality of offices. In order to renew itself, the Parti socialiste needs to promote more women, young people, people of foreign origin, people from any social and economic backgrounds. Not only will it better reflect the diversity of French society, but it will also convey that diversity engenders creativity.
Openness to our sister parties on the left and to the participation of our sympathisers to the party’s life thanks to the presidential primaries. I am convinced that the left needs to unite. We are driven by the same values. What differs is our vision of what is needed to reach our common ideals. I believe that is something we can overcome. The primaries will also give our sympathisers the opportunity to play an important role in the campaign, thus certainly giving birth to new vocations.
Openness to new means of political activism thanks to Coopol. This new tool will allow activists who share common interests to gather and act together despite geographical distance. Opening up the tool to sympathisers will also show that our party is a common place for debate, as well as a laboratory for political innovation.
Openness is a left-wing concept, and so is participative democracy and transparency. It was high time we reasserted it.
As Al Green sings, “a change is gonna come”.
A week ago I published a post about Generation 2.0 that dealt with the cultural consequences of the digital revolution. Yesterday, I discovered on Twitter the term of Generation Y thanks to @boriswandoren. The statement “Generation Y” is used to qualify the generation roughly born since the end of the seventies, which is the first one to have massively integrated the use of digital technologies in their daily lives. Boris Wandoren, Jon Worth and I engaged in a Twitter debate about the necessity of Generation Y values to be represented more in politics, which led Jon Worth to write a blogpost disproving the generational argument, stating that the main issue in today’s politics is more the structural difficulty of political parties to integrate “risk takers, leaders, people with drive, people with ideology, and bind them into a party structure”. Julien Frisch picked up this post, partly agreeing with Jon while arguing at the same time that there is some truth in the generational issue.
I still believe it is a matter of generation. But don’t get me wrong, I do not mean it is simply a question of replacing elder politicians by younger ones. That would be too easy. To paraphrase Jon, “it’s more important than that”. The generation question is not only an age question; it is much more relevant as a cultural question. Many young people still think like older generations while some elder people embrace the cultural changes younger generations bring in. Take the example of the 1960s cultural protest movement. Back then, not all young people were culturally liberal hippies! Some were conservative. They were the same age though. Yet looking back in history, at that moment it’s the values of the young progressive hippies -joined by their open-minded elders- that won the cultural battle.
The relevance of the generation question is more culture than age-related. So what is the specific culture of Generation Y and how does it matter? According to the Wikipedia articles I could read on the topic in English and French, what characterises Generation Y -at least in Western countries- is the following:
This list is certainly not comprehensive, and more importantly not entirely relevant to all geographies, but it is still good food for thought. Although these Wikipedia articles give a good description of Generation Y’s culture, they do not relate it to political behaviours. And that’s where we get back to the point I wanted to make.
The emergence of this new culture will have a long-term impact on politics. My guess is that Obama’s election is the first visible sign of what the political legacy of Generation Y will be. I believe that the future of politics lies in Openness, Ethics and Humility:
There is a growing demand for a new way of doing politics. However, there is still not quite a satisfactory offer. Stay tuned: more posts coming up on Generation Y, the open society and what it means for politics.
Update on 11 July:
Boris Wandoren’s take on the topic: http://www.clermont-citygroup.eu/2009/07/11/is-it-more-important-than-the-generational-issue/comment-page-1/#comment-454
and the amazing article by Kevin Kelly on digital socialism: http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsocialism?currentPage=all
On Monday, Forum 311 -an association of young French professionals in Brussels- organised a debate on the theme “Communicating Europe: Mission Impossible?” I couldn’t go. Fortunately, other bloggers attended, and thanks to them I could read two reports of the debate. They are quite different in style and content. While communication professional, Michael Malherbe, makes a detailed presentation of the themes that were discussed, un Européen jamais content chose to report on the atmosphere of the debate. If you can read French, you should definitely visit those sites.
Although European institutions have made remarkable efforts this year to “communicate Europe” with a view to prepare the European elections, the turnout has been yet again lower than the previous vote. This is a depressing fact for the communicators of Europe, hence the title. One has to admit that they did do their best. Consequently, they can’t help but think it is a lost cause. It has been mission impossible. Willy Helin, Head of the European Commission representation in Belgium, went as far as calling it a “suicidal mission”. What if the problem actually laid in the very expression used to solve it? “Communicating Europe”: why not “communicating with Europe”, or even “communicating with (or between) Europeans”?
At the time of the debates on the French “non”, the Dutch “nee” and the Irish “no” to the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty, each time I was stroke by the reaction of Eurospecialists from all sides. The vast majority shared the same analysis: had Europeans been more informed, they would have voted “oui”, “ja”, “yes” in chorus. Maybe. Possibly. But as with this debate, the problem isn’t there.
What is needed is not to “communicate Europe” i.e. to spread the good word of the enlightened elite to the uneducated, but to communicate in Europe, between Europeans about Europe. The idea of “communicating Europe” is didactic. Institutions provide information on what they are, but it just works one way. They send information towards recipients – the European citizens – while they haven’t even asked for it. The idea of “communicating with Europe” or “between Europeans” is interactive. The point is to foster debate about Europe. I think the main problem of the European communication is that it is institutional, i.e. consensual, depoliticised, and as such, non polemical. Consequently, it is boring. The whole problem is here.
Although I am sorry about the result of the referendum on the European constitutional treaty in France, I still think something utterly positive happened during this campaign. For once, we talked about Europe! The French have been passionate about this campaign. Everybody talked about it. Why was that? Because there were opposite sides that confronted one another over comprehensible political choices, because there were lively debates, because for the first time, Europe got politicised. I am convinced that the solution to the problem of the gap between the European institutions and the Europeans is the politicisation of Europe. That’s what my political activism is driven by.
Alright, I can already hear you say “here is another mission impossible!” Because national parties (some) are against it, because national political cultures are too different one from the other (is that really so?), because Europe is too complicated (not more than national political systems), because people are not interested in Europe (self-fulfilling prophecy?), and so on, and so forth… Despite all that, I still believe in it. Dislocating these prejudices by building bridges between national politics and European politics is precisely the focus of this blog. For there is no such word as “can’t” – literally translated into my mother tongue as “impossible is not French”. I know a similar expression exists in Dutch: “Onmegelijk bestaat niet”, which means “Impossible doesn’t exist”. Do you have a similar expression in your own language? The floor is yours!
Photo Credits: European Parliament on Flickr