by Luis de Sousa
Fri Aug 13th, 2010 at 06:24:13 AM EST
For the first time in my life I'm considering registering with a political party. Why? Because of an initiative that has the potential to completely change the way politics is made in Europe. Two PES activists are proposing a US-style primary system to find the PES candidate for Commission President, where registered party members elect directly their preferred leader. If it ever comes to be like this, both politics and elections in Europe will never be the same, Eurocrats will come closer to Eurocitizens and we'll stop having nomination-surprises like Van Rompuy or Barroso.
The beauty of it all, the sheer elegance, is that all this can be achieved without new treaties, new framework laws or endless Council negotiations, it's all coming from the Citizens themselves. This is how Europe must be built.
[UPDATE 14-08-2010] A good deal of broken english corrected.
This initiative is coming out of frustration inside the PES, after the party failed to produce a candidate for the 2009 elections. It's spearheaded by Desmond O'Toole from Ireland and José Reis Santos from Portugal (fairly unknown personality, never heard of him before) and according to them is finding great support. The EUObserver is reporting about it today:
"Even in the middle of August, we are pleasantly surprised at how this is growing," he [O'Toole] told EUobserver, adding that the idea will really take off in September when people return from their summer holidays.
The pair also argues that such a move will go a long way to counter the bloc's infamous "democratic deficit."
"There have long been questions about democracy within the EU and these are only increasing," Mr O'Toole said. "European Parliament elections do mater now more than in the past. But only the [centre-right] EPP put forward a candidate. The PES didn't and we clearly lost out as a consequence. The activists are unsatisfied."
José Reis Santos points to the present leader appointment system (that mimics the way the Commission itself is nominated) as a reason for the present democratic deficit in the EU:
Mr Santos, writing on the campaign's blog, said this partly explains the falling turnout for EU elections: "Regular citizens are not voting in European and national elections - they just can't feel represented by the politicians in the ballots, as some are chosen behind closed doors, in the clubs and alleys dominated by the party hierarchical system."
They say that a decision on the candidate by the PES Presidium, its executive, or even by its congress, does not go far enough to engage citizens.
"All these options represent old ways of doing politics, and I strongly believe that the European citizens, in particular progressive citizens, do expect more from us," said Mr Santos.
There's more to read in the original article.
I see a few obvious positive outcomes coming from something like this:
- Electors would become better familiarized with their candidates, knowing their personalities and political proposals beforehand.
- Media outlets, traditionally focused on state-level politics, would be forced to focus more on European politics. It would have a feedback effect by exposing even more the candidates to the general public.
- It would incite citizen involvement in politics, since to vote on primaries a registration with the party is needed. Fresh minds would flow to the party's bases and basic debate.
- And naturally it would force other parties to follow suit, otherwise their exposure to the public could end up being incomparably less. Even if not opting for US-style primary systems they'd still need to find ways to expose their candidates, also relegating the traditional regional politics in European elections.
On the negative side I fear the wide adoption of such system could lead to a US-style bi-polarized political landscape. This could happen if electors feel that without being registered with either PES or EPP their decision powers would be diminished. That would be extremely negative, bi-polarization can be a major impairment for Democracy, turning everything in one's life a political choice, as in my opinion happened in the US. Nonetheless, in Europe both Liberals and Scientific Socialists are well implanted in the electorate and represent objective philosophical perspectives, so the risk of bi-polarization may be low.
The Campaign for a PES Primary has a weblog where the initiative can be known in more detail. There's also a social network group where one can join the initiative and an instant message account to follow events as they happen.