Guest contribution by Colin Bex, WR President
On Tuesday (16th June) I attended ‘The European Citizens’ Initiative and the Promise (sic) of Democracy’, a conference in Brussels sponsored jointly by the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) campaign, the Latvian Presidency, and the Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.
This was a significantly high-level affair of contemporary relevance to citizens of all European Member States, with ECI stakeholders leading a review into 20 campaigns mounted during the two years since the launch of what is declaimed ‘the first tool for transnational participatory and digital democracy in world history’ (see this publication).
For example, two speakers were delegated from the administrative headquarters of the European Commission – the Charlemagne Building – one from the private office of First Vice-President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans; the other the Head of Unit for the Commission Work Programme, Stakeholder Consultation and the European Citizens’ Initiative. The conference itself was hosted in the Press Room of the Justus Lipsius building – the Kafkaesque, 24km-corridor headquarters of the Council of the European Union across the road.
It was notable that of four moderators two were female, whilst of 13 speakers eight were female – all lucid and convincingly informed on their subjects – and most were young, some in their second or third decade. As to age, the same was true of the audience – those of us in our eighth decade vastly out-numbered by young of every sex and gender – most impressive.
Latvia’s Zanda Kalnina-Lukasevica opened by welcoming the members of the EU Commission and Parliament and called upon them to live up to their promises of three years to implement ideas which have attracted support from one million signatories. She called for adequate public visibility and online connectivity as existed in Latvia and she called on EU organisations, the public and the conference to work together to initiate the necessary changes to legislation to ensure this happens.
Co-ordinator and founder Carsten Berg pointed to the origin of the ECI campaign ten years ago and its mission to interconnect institutions and citizens. Since then, he said, many people in Europe feel it has lost its way. For example, provisions for facilitating the initiative had been included within the Lisbon Treaty but it took two years before implementation in 2012. “ECI procedure must be clear,” he said, “It must encourage participatory democracy, and it must be reviewed every three years.” He presented a graph of participatory progress which demonstrated a consistent increase until its peak toward the end of 2013 after which it plummeted and, he concluded, “We are here to-day to discuss how it may regain its strength for example by means of the online dimension of digital democracy.”
Bernd Martenczuk from Timmermans’ private office reported that the EU is going through challenging times but to rectify democratic illegitimacy, Jean-Claude Juncker has made democratic change a prime concern. Three years on since the ECI regulation, there have been 50 initiatives. Three each received one million signatures of which one led to rights-to-water legislation and one to anti-vivisection laws.
When called to speak, I introduced the WRs as a campaign fighting for a proportionally representative majority democratic parliamentary system for the Wessex region which is a model we regard should be adopted not only within Britain, but also throughout Europe – if it is to survive. I confirmed I had stood in the General Election against Cameron who was elected again despite 63% of the British electorate, and many more disenfranchised, opposing or not supporting him. On account of shenanigans being orchestrated in the Security Council by America and Britain and in Russia by Putin, I suggested that after 70 years of unarmed conflict, with the exception of the break-up of Yugoslavia, now Europe is being driven toward the risk of a third civil war and therefore in order to prevent it, the ECI would require a means of acquiring signatures on a timescale considerably less protracted than 12 months – such as Avaaz and change.org provide.
In addition to distributing the 2015 election addresses among a hundred or so delegates, and leaving more on display-stands including a number on Press Office desks, also I mounted and displayed the WRs banner made for General Election publicity for purposes photographic, advertising and to aid discussion. This was mounted briefly in the chamber for a photo-op and afterwards at the post-conference reception for refreshments and networking – and later outside the EC building (left).
Here I had positive conversations for more than an hour with a number of delegates across the age-range, amongst them a highly supportive conversation with a senior Polish delegate, Benon Gazinski (Jean Monnet Professor of Social Sciences and Art at the University of Warmia and Mazury, Olsztyn, central north Poland), and with Carsten Berg himself who, armed with a degree in political science from Potsdam and a masters in education in Bonn, has lectured and campaigned for participatory and direct democracy at regional, national and transnational levels. He provided his card, and if acceptable to the ECI I intend to join the movement either with group membership for the WRs if by majority agreement or, if not, on my own account.
This is to provide but a flavour of the event. If / when time and circumstances allow, I plan to write up my notes but in the meantime, anyone interested can visit the ECIwebsite where I am told a report of the meetings is due to be posted.