A couple of days ago, I took part in the recording of the podcast Chasing Brussels. We were asked what we thought the highlights of 2009 were and what those of 2010 may be.
2009 has been a year of great renewal for me. For the first time, I got very involved in a European elections campaign, which was a fascinating experience. We have seen the premises of true European political campaigning at the Party of European Socialists. However the campaign in-country remained nationally focused, which was a great disappointment for European activists. In the end, the European Parliament is even more right-wing than before, and Barroso will be at the head of the European Commission for 5 more years. This status quo is quite depressing. On a more positive note, 2009 was also the year where I started to blog, tweet, and more generally use all kinds of social media tools avidly. I got involved in exciting projects such as bloggingportal.eu -the EU blog aggregator- and the Gender Balanced Commission Campaign. I’ve had the chance to meet many Eurobloggers in person or virtually on skype, chats, and Google Wave.
I don’t know if 2010 will be interesting in terms of European politics. There is no highest point in political life than the elections. After that, it’s more or less business as usual. Don’t get me wrong, lots of interesting stuff is happening in European policy-making all the time but I’m afraid it’s mostly ignored by mainstream media. Let’s see if in the 4 years to come our growing community of Eurobloggers can change this dynamic!
For now, if you have a little time, I invite you to follow the hearings of the European Commissioners-designate by the members of the European Parliament. They will take place from the 11th to the 19th of January. You can find the agenda here and view the hearings in live streaming here. I’ll be live-tweeting about it here.
If you take a look at the European Parliament’s page on political groups, it seems that four months after the European elections, the Tory-led European Conservatives and Reformists Group still does not have a website, and neither does the even more Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group.
Yet if you search on Google for “European Conservatives and Reformists Group” you will see that THERE IS a temporary website for the group called ecrg.info. The page provides an email address where you can contact the ECR group. In a recent blogpost, the social-democrat blogger Jon Worth reveals that he is the owner of the ecrg.info domain name. He has received all sorts of queries regarding the ECR group through the contact email address, and has replied “informing them that they are victims of cybersquatting and asking the valid question: how can any political organisation that has gone three months without a web presence be taken at all seriously?” Very good question, indeed.
Click to read the full story on Jon Worth’s website.
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.
This week, I felt there was actually much ado about nothing.
It all started with the results of the European elections on June, 7th . We had been campaigning for months. There was a huge window of opportunity for the left within the context of neo-liberal crisis. All that for… a conservative-eurosceptic-liberal grand coalition at the European Parliament. Business, as usual. All is for the best in the best of all worlds.
Shortly after, the 27 heads of state of the European Union unanimously nominated Barroso as their intended candidate to head the European Commission, despite the wide majority of commentators -journalists and bloggers alike- saying that Barroso should leave. The contrast was striking.
Anyone But Barroso campaign
In the beginning of September, Barroso presented his political guidelines for the five years to come to the European Parliament: a 50-page long document, which is 95% copy-paste of proposals or programmes that already exist. To make it clear: if Barroso were a student and had written a paper for school, the teachers would have accused him of plagiarism, and then, at worst, he would have been expelled from university, or at best, given a chance to rewrite his paper. But here again, despite the commentators’ criticisms, he got away with it.
On September, 16th, Barroso was reelected as President of the European Commission by an absolute majority of the Members of the European Parliament. There is nothing to complain about: Council unanimity, Parliament majority, his reelection is democratic, and unquestionable.
So business, as usual, will be ruling for five more years. Obviously, there is something wrong about all this. Does this mean trying to change things is worthless?
I have found on the FEPS think-tank’s website an analysis of the European elections that I think is quite relevant, relatively comprehensive, and remarkably synthetic, which is always a plus point. Click here to access the FEPS analysis.
Let’s see why the 2009 European elections remind me so much of the bitter memory of the 2002 French presidential election:
Today 18 EU countries are voting to elect their representatives at the European Parliament. Tonight at 10, we will get the results from all 27 EU countries, and finally know what the European Parliament will look like for the next 5 years.
Today is the third day of the European elections.
Citizens of Cyprus, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Slovakia are to cast their votes.
Good luck to all PES parties!