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Why the Commission’s proposal is nipping the citizen’s initiative in the bud
Apr 4th, 2010

I’ve never been a great fan of the concept of the European citizen’s initiative. Having to mobilise 1.000.000 people to submit an idea for review by the Commission without the Commission having any obligation to actually act on it, I’ve always thought it could potentially produce great deception, rather than foster enthusiasm for European issues. On the other hand, in times where barely half of the citizens bother to vote to elect their political representatives, I think that any initiative that aims at fostering more citizen participation is good to take, especially when the initiative is meant to promote pan-European debates as it is the case here.

So I read carefully the Commission’s proposal for the citizen’s initiative, and as many commentators (see here, here, here, and here), I was disappointed. The general feeling is that the initial spirit of the citizen’s initiative will be nipped in the bud by unnecessary administrative requirements.

  1. The main problem to me is to require petition signatories to give their ID number. Honestly, who would give their ID number to petition organisers? I wouldn’t, and I’m not even a very wary person. First name, last name, city of residence, email or phone number should be more than enough.
  2. Petition organisers would only get 12 months after they officially register their petition to get 1.000.000 signatories in 1/3rd of member states. Surely that will favour large organisations that have established networks and permanent staff, and will not give enough time for individual citizens to set up campaigns from scratch during their free time. The citizen’s initiative is meant to get citizens actively involved in the political process, not large organisations.
  3. A citizen’s initiative would be checked for admissibility after 300.000 signatures have been collected. In my opinion, that should be done right at the beginning, or not at all. Is there really a need to have it checked anyway? Does it really matter if the initiative doesn’t fall in the competences of the Commission and/or the EU? These are not carved in marble after all.
  4. The proposal also requires that online petitions should have adequate security features. What does that mean exactly? Does it mean that petition organisers would have to purchase expensive security software to get their petition approved? Again, that would favour large organisations, and kill many grass-root campaigns from emerging.
  5. Finally, it would apparently be up to each member state to verify the validity of signatures. So a petition organiser would have to submit its support forms to 9 member states at least. More red-tape again. Less room for citizen-led initiatives.

If ever one petition manages to fulfil all the requirements, it’s not even sure the Commission would make a proposal according to the petition’s request, and the proposal would have to get the European Parliament’s and the Council’s approval anyway. So I can’t help but wonder… is there really a need for that many security safeguards -admissibility check, security software, signatories’ ID numbers and address, authentication of statements of support by member states, etc?

Both the European Parliament and the Council will have to examine the proposal now. Maybe it’s time for some citizen lobbying? Davygee on Twitter the other day suggested to set up a social media campaign to improve the Commission’s proposal. Who’s up for it?

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It took us one week to get a gender-balanced Commission
Nov 26th, 2009

When we launched the on-line campaign for a gender balanced Commission, there were only 4 female nominees to the European Commission. In just a week time, we got 5 more. Did we have an impact? I hope so. One thing is for sure, there was great enthusiasm with this campaign. None of us got paid to work on it. We all did it during our free time, simply trying to make the most out of our skills and networks. And it worked.

GBC1Within only one week, we got about 800 people to sign our petition for a European Commission with at least one third of women, and 2.000 fans on our Facebook page. We managed to get press articles in European VoiceEl Mundothe Guardian and New Europe. Many bloggers and twitterers, along with the European Women’s Lobby and New Europe, agreed to be public supporters of our campaign. Although PES Women President Zita Gurmai mentioned our campaign on her blog, no politician formally agreed to publicly appear as a supporter of our campaign. I wonder why. Is it that they didn’t feel comfortable with supporting a campaign promoting candidates from various political parties? Or is it that they were simply waiting for our campaign to be big enough so that they couldn’t possibly ignore it anymore?

Anyway, I was very happy to be involved in this campaign, which conveyed the tremendous power of social media, and I look forward to next one! Any idea what it should be on?

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And now, introducing… the all women’s European Commission!
Nov 16th, 2009

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.

commissioner-squaresEU 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:

  1. Sign the petition for a gender-balanced Commission
  2. Politician, blogger or twitterer? Appear as a supporter on the campaign web site by sending us an email
  3. Become of a fan of our page on Facebook
  4. Follow us on Twitter
  5. Are you much more motivated than this? Then find out about all the other ways you can help us
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Woman @ EU top: let’s enter the 21st century now!
Nov 1st, 2009

Since I wrote the blogpost “One of the 3 top EU jobs must be held by a woman” early October, I’ve been delighted to see that the idea of a woman at one of the top EU jobs has gained momentum, both in social media and mainstream media, both among women and men.

Get you own Twibbon!

Get a Twibbon!

Just a week ago, after a few EU geek girls met in Brussels, linotherhino launched a clever campaign on Twitter to raise support for the nomination of a woman at one of the top EU jobs. The concept is simple and efficient, you add a pink “twibbon” -a Twitter ribbon- with the motto “Woman @ EU top” to your profile picture on Twitter (you can do it here). The initiative was a dazzling success: my twitter page turned all pink in just one day. And I was very pleased to see that many men adopted the pink twibbon as well, and so did a few MEPs. Join the Woman @ EU top campaign now!

The European Women’s Lobby said earlier this year that “it is hardly acceptable in the 21st century that all kinds of criteria are used for high-level nominations, including nationality, political affiliation, even country size, but never including gender!” This is exactly what is happening at the moment for the EU top jobs selection process. Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström -who has been at the lead of the campaign for a woman at one of the EU top jobs- recently said that the President of the European Council should be a woman. Commenting on the fact that most names mentioned for the job so far have been men, she said that “From a democratic point of view it reduces that 52.6 percent of women to a minority…and I don’t think this is acceptable in the European Union of 2009.” It is a good thing that some top EU women react to this injustice. However, as blogger Julien Frisch wisely told me on Twitter: “Women don’t need more women to support them, they need more men”, which is why I was happy to see Jerzy Buzek, the European Parliament President -holder of the fourth top EU job- say regarding the European Council President post: “I would prefer if we could find a chairwoman because we need gender equality”. European Voice reports: ”He said that after appointing someone from a central and east European country as head of one of the EU institutions, “we should make another step to have a woman as president of the Council”.”

Compared to the list of potential women candidates I compiled in my last blogpost, where do we stand? Angela Merkel was reelected German chancellor, so she’s obviously out. Mary Robinson managed to raise incredible support from online campaigners but she ruled herself out. The name of Tarja Halonen -President of Finland, Social-democrat- has gained more echo for the European Council President job, and so has Ursula Plassnik’s -former Austrian foreign minister, Christian-democrat- for the job of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Meanwhile, new female names have been mentioned. For the President job: Vaira Vike-Freiberga -former President of Latvia, independent- for whom a new Facebook group has just been created. It is difficult to put other names forward as this post is designed for a former head of state or government, and extremely few women have reached this level of responsibility in Europe. For the High Representative job, there are more female names on the line as the experience needed for the job is that of minister of foreign affairs or European affairs, which more women have held. Two new female names have popped up: Elisabeth Guigou -former French minister for European affairs, centre-left- and Dora Bakoyannis -former Greek minister of foreign affairs, centre-right.

As a socialist, my first instinct would obviously be to support Tarja Halonen and Elisabeth Guigou. But here is where it gets a little more complicated. Two-thirds of the heads of government sitting at the European Council are right-wing. So why the heck would the socialists want one of theirs as head of the European Council? In my opinion, that would be a political suicide for our family. This is why the European socialists are pushing to get the High Representative job. French socialist Elisabeth Guigou is a fantastic candidate for this job. However, she’d have to be nominated by the French, and considering the French government is currently right-wing, there is very little chance they would accept their only Commission member to be a socialist. So I believe that given the current state of the race, if a woman is to get one of the two top EU jobs left, it would be that of President of the European Council, and it would be Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Bets are on! Feel free, as usual, to comment and suggest other female names for these jobs.

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The best of the web: the Conservatives are victims of cybersquatting
Oct 5th, 2009

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.

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PES activists: join our Wiki page for the Prague Congress!
Oct 1st, 2009
© Chourka Glogowski
© Chourka Glogowski

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!

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2009: a PES odyssey
Jun 1st, 2009

Since I couldn’t help but notice the gap between the campaign as I know it from the inside, and as it is portrayed by the media  -see previous posts here and there- I decided to try and find a new equilibrium -if only a little- by relating the campaign through the eyes of a eurosocialist activist.

The Party of European Socialists has been preparing these elections for almost two years. Two years of consultation, debate and action. Two years trying to catch the attention of 27 national presses, in vain. Two years of hard work only to realise -at the end of the race- that the national media are just starting to show interest in these elections, only two weeks before the vote. This is a deeply upsetting situation for activists.

The PES manifesto is the fruit of an unprecedented approach in Europe. This manifesto is the result of a democratic bottom-up process, and not top-down as it is still done in other European parties.

For almost a year -from October 2007 to July 2008- the PES ran an open and transparent consultation of activists, NGOs, and trade unions over four key topics that were to become the PES campaign axes for the 2009 European elections. Gathered in their local branches, the PES activists debated for months in order to write contributions to the upcoming PES manifesto. The Your Space website was also an innovation in the field of political debate.  Internet users – either PES activists or not-  were invited to post articles or comments on the topics of the consultation. I took part in all of this. The result? For the first time, a common programme for all Socialist, Social-democrat, and Labour parties of Europe -a manifesto for the Party of European Socialists that states our values, describes six common axes for our future actions, and develops 71 concrete proposals for a new direction to Europe.

An ambitious manifesto, an unprecedented approach, transnational and democratic. Something that had never been seen before.

In December 2008, this manifesto was adopted unanimously by member parties at the PES council in Madrid (watch video). I was there too. This moment gave me the shivers. Along with the hundreds of activists that were there, I shared the feeling that the adoption of this manifesto was the emotional symbol of what we were building together: a Paneuropean political force that manages to elaborate and promote a common project, beyond the boundaries of language and culture, thanks to the enthusiasm of its activists. All together, united. Definitely moving. 

When I came back home, I was very disappointed by the French media coverage of the event. What was a major event, an unprecedented attempt at politicising the decisions made in Europe, was only reported through the participation of the freshly-elected head of the French PS, Martine Aubry. It is true that Martine Aubry was applauded warmly, but she was only one party leader among the 27 that attended the event.  What mattered was not her attendance or the way it was received. What mattered was the adoption of a common manifesto to all centre-left parties in Europe, and the way we managed to get there. Unfortunately, this was -according to the media- not a big story.

What was also innovating enough to be worth pointing out is the fact that the French PS has fully adopted the PES campaign: manifesto, mottos, visual identity, and logos alike. The PS chose to launch its campaign at the same time as the PES campaign was launched in April in Toulouse. On that occasion, all PES heads of list from the 27 EU member states gathered at a bilingual event. It was fantastic to see the audience – whose diversity was shown by the variety of flags being waved- so enthusiastic. This event was covered by the media -well, a little. Just a little since, once again, facts were covered through a national lens: it was reported as the PS campaign launch, rather than the PES’s. In fact, it was the opposite.

May, the final sprint. Every Saturday, there was a European day of action, for which PES party members organised events all around Europe, on the same date, and on the same topic: the 9th Social Europe, the 16th climate change, the 23rd relaunching the economy, the 30th our manifesto. When I read the live twitter comments that our activists posted on the events they took part in, when I looked at the pictures of these actions on flickr, and felt the sense of unity they shown, I couldn’t help but think that there was something truly innovating and unique in the 2009 PES campaign. A common manifesto for 27 countries, democratically elaborated, the enthusiastic mobilisation of activists all over Europe, and the use of the latest Internet tools as a means of overcoming distance, are some of the PES campaign features that should have triggered the interest of the media and other commentators. 

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© Eurosocialiste 2010. Everything posted on this blog is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer or its clients. The content of this blog has been revised by Fabtrad (fabtrad @ gmail.com)