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A proposal for a people’s Europe

A proposal for a people’s Europe 16 septembre, 2017

Do you really think that only one person among Tajani, Pittella or Verhofstadt has the right answer? Or perhaps that "who is right" may lie in the thought of a minority? A proposal to build a more democratic European Union, based on participatory politics.

Proportionality is the way

Democracy, this now-thorny issue is entering one of the most debated topics on a daily basis; and a response has become urgent. Therefore, it has been debated in a panel discussion. And soon enough we encounter the first difficulty: should issues be decided in a panel discussion with three experts, watched by fans of who cover almost the entire national sentiment, or in an enlarged round table, inclusive, that listen to the positions of everyone? Because it is clear to everyone that a response is needed.

Why do I start with proportionality? Well, in my mind proportionality is the only electoral system that reaches two fundamental pillars of democracy: the highest representation possible and the equal weight for each vote. However, the highest possible representation implies that elected representatives commit themselves with all their power to establish governmental alliances in order to reach an absolute majority that can guarantee the necessary governmental stability. A commitment and an effort that sometimes generates majority compositions, or at times, weak or clumsy ones, which does not coincide around a precise program may happen at times.

How do you do then? At this point, a clarification is needed: it is also possible to promulgate the best electoral law and the best parliamentary regulation. But if our representatives are not up to their task, the malfunction and loss of democracy will  come about; and with “up to their task” I mean parliamentarians who, each are working in defence of their own political agenda, and have a greater regard for the common good than for the competition and power. They have to devote themselves to  this common good with great professionalism. To achieve this, parties need to return to civil society, welcoming it as a precious source of stimulus, instead of rejecting it; and we need people who are ready and willing to play this role as promoters but also controllers on the work of parliamentarians. It is no longer the time of the simple delegation through the vote; it is now through politics that we will open up the civil commitment of all of our citizens.

Let us, then, come back to the question: how do you do it? Forgive me if I refer to the Italian situation; but the usual way of doing in my country is to intervene in the electoral law to reduce representation (access thresholds are more or less high) or increase the weight of the winner (the majority prize). Both of these solutions are clearly diminishing the power of democracy and, above all, do not solve the underlying issue: building an absolute majority. What I want to propose today, however, is the ability to achieve good government stability without necessarily having to resort to an absolute majority: the Condorcet Method (CM). With the CM, the most favoured proposition wins, which may not be the first choice of some, but simply the second choice of many: in order that a proposal wins, it must win over all the other of the two-handed choices. To do so, the relative majority is sufficient. Thus, enormous energies, both personal and temporal, can be freed,  which are currently used only to keep the absolute majority; forces that will become more productive for the country to legislate. The CM, indeed, melds well with each party’s coherence; when, on the other hand, it becomes accustomed of seeing it’s own power as not absolute and also having to work with other parties. This would bring the possibility to have more choices, according to their own preferences, and would allow, as I have just said, the union between the absence of mandate and party’s coherence.

The CM, therefore, is far more effective and efficient than the current choice between the approval and refusal; effective because it needs a relative majority – provided that it’s possible; in a Parliament divided almost equally between a dozen parties, all of them extremely identitarian, furthermore even the major ones do not reach 15% and the minor ones are more than 7%, I fear that the only possibility is to return to the vote… It would be efficient because it allows the most welcome proposal to emerge.

How does it work? We start with parliamentary appointments. Today, at least in Italy, we are faced with quarrels just to reach the necessary quorum (I am referring to the appointment of the President of the Republic) in order to succeed with non-plebiscite forces to elect his candidate. With the Condorcet Method, on the other hand, one vote is enough to reach a majority. Oligarchy, you ask me? No, on the contrary: the wise choice of the candidate so that he is representative of his own instances but with the stature of being acknowledged also by the opponents. And the parliamentary debate that preceded the vote with the Condorcet would be “naturally” deliberative, since it’s not only the party’s weight which is important, but also the appreciation of the other parties. Deliberative, in fact, in our thinking is that the methodology of discussions are aimed at the search for the common good, even in the affirmation of its ideological identity.

Participatory democracy

We also have another proposal: a real participatory democracy that completes the legislative parliamentary process that was just described. For a long time, there has been a debate about the crisis of democracy. The problem, however, is that such discussions are conducted in such way that it leads us to a further loss of democracy. We are proposing, in fact, solutions to difficulties encompassing problems of a government of technicians, the oligarchy paradigm, to populism, and a return to dictatorships. Both solutions are based on the alleged inferiority of the people. How can we then answer? Strongly asking for participation, knowing what commitment we are asking from people; but here we take  civic commitment to granted. There have been decades of direct democracy experimentation, and this notion has become overwhelmingly manifested in diverse forms of citizen participation in politics. Participatory democracy could come about.

They are, however, experimentations on local, or in small political dimensions.  Instead no, we no longer want to play, we want to participate. By paraphrasing a feminist slogan, let’s resume our democracy on a larger scale!

In our view, participatory democracy flanks and completes the representative one: we have temporarily called it the Temporal Chamber by Draw (TCD). It is accessed by draw, not by election; it is only once accessed in life; the duration of the TCD is a few days, a long weekend. It may give the possibility to any citizen with a right to vote. And for every law approved by Parliament corresponds a specially created TCD: therefore, the second opinion on the laws would come no longer by another elective chamber, more or less photocopy of the first, but by a chamber of these draws shaped on something that could now be defined as the « wisdom of the crowds ».

Andrea Surbone –


*This article is a partial transcript of the speech « Deliberative condorcism and participative democracy, proposals for a peoples’ Europe », made by Andrea Surbone during a workshop at the #CitizensProcess73 event at Louvain La Neuve last July.

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