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Europe: a Union without citizens!

by régis Jamin
29/06/2004

Europe has entered into electoral dissent, there is no doubt about it. The big winner of these European elections in 2004 was the abstentionist party with 56% of non-voters, or 232 million citizens among the 352 million voters called to the polls.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the figure we predicted in our article published in February 2004: Is European citizenship a utopia?

We then described the five symptoms that heralded this democratic rout:

– An unequal electoral system:
– the basic principle of “one man, one vote” could not be respected due to the lack of a single electoral list and double votes were recorded;
– the rules for participation were unequal, so some countries such as Greece, Belgium, Cyprus or Luxembourg that had introduced compulsory voting did not reflect overall participation;
– From one country to another, the voting rules varied from regional or national list ballots to preferential ballots with or without a representation threshold;
– the age limit for being a candidate was different, 18 or 21 in most countries, 23 in France or even 25 in Italy;
– finally, the voting date and duration were not the same for all.

– An election campaign focused solely on national issues:
– abstention was highest in countries where populist lists achieved the highest scores;
– almost a majority of the governments in power were strongly sanctioned by a protest vote, with most of the major national parties demonstrating their inability to establish a real debate on European issues;
– this meeting of the parties with the European citizens showed the gap that has widened between the political offer and the citizen’s demand for real European projects.

– A vote that seemed unnecessary and ineffective to the elector:
– the large number of lists was synonymous only with great confusion for the European citizen, with an average of 18 lists per country for a total of 452 lists throughout the Union, including more than 40 in France or Great Britain, it was impossible to identify as many projects for Europe;
– the adoption of the Constitution for the Council excluded the voter from the debate, again the citizen’s meeting was missed since, in all democratic logic, a referendum on the Constitution should have preceded the election of the new Parliament, so they wanted citizens to vote “blindly” on the new powers granted to their elected representatives.

– A total lack of information and publicity:
– on the eve of Euro 2004 and the tremendous mobilization that this sport has generated, there was much to build a real marketing plan highlighting a strong and dynamic image of a united Europe instead of the endless displays calling for a vote, all as costly as they are daunting;
– the opportunity could also have been taken to introduce new rules for communication and campaign financing because the task was difficult for media already with little incentive to subsidise information that did not bring in customers, to ensure that the balance of speaking time was respected in the plethora of regional or national lists.

– An archaic system for collecting votes:
– with 50% of citizens having access to the Internet, the old system could have been supplemented by allowing the use of Internet voting, which, if it did not solve the problems mentioned above, would have made it easier to vote by extending its duration and allowing all “walkers” on a Sunday in June to vote from home or from their workplace during the week, thus allowing the 35% of abstentionists identified as ready to vote to be “recovered” but not at the expense of their Sunday rest.

The effects were therefore predictable and the consequences are there to prove it.

This catastrophic result has widened the gap between the European institutions and the people they are supposed to administer, while it is not paradoxical to note that the majority of Europeans declare themselves to be pro-European in the polls. The message from these 232 million voters is therefore clear: “Europeans Yes !

This democratic deficit left the way open for “extremist” or “sovereignist” parties, which had no need to propose any political programme whatsoever, since all they had to do to win votes was denounce the excessive authority and small “arrangements” of European elected officials and bureaucrats. With more than 70 seats in the European Parliament (as many as France or the United Kingdom), they will now be able to benefit from a system they have denounced throughout their campaign.

The abstention rate of new entrants was even more terrifying. While the citizens of the 15 thought they were showing a great spirit of openness by accepting the arrival of the 10 “new” ones, thus opening the door to European subsidies, the “new” ones simply boycotted their first European elections. With only 20.7% of Poles, 17% of Slovaks, 28.3% of Slovenians or 26.7% of Estonians participating, they may also have wanted to show us that after leaving the Soviet Pact 10-15 years ago, they may not want to support a new Brussels or Strasbourg bureaucracy that paid the blood money for their recent freedom.

The crisis is therefore real, the institutions are not or no longer legitimized by the votes, we must reform. The Council must accept a deep analytical work and each government must start a real work of explanation and information with its citizens, otherwise the forthcoming referendums on the adoption of the Constitution are likely to be very disappointing.

To restore this lost legitimacy, we must give meaning to the European feeling, we must give an image to Europe following the adoption of its first Constitution, an essential preamble to the creation of a true European democracy with a government of the people, by the people and for the people, whose sovereignty belongs to the people who exercise it through their representatives elected by direct or indirect suffrage but always universal and equal. Its representatives must initiate this permanent debate, explain, convince and be accountable for the results of a particular treaty or policy.

In the absence of a democratic guarantee, the Union will remain this group of “Gallic villages” whose economic and political weight, too fragmented, will not be able to balance the powerful American federation or the major countries of the Asian continent at the dawn of this 21st century.

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