January 17, 2014
I have been reading a lot lately, on some interesting issues – the failure of the classic party system, challenges facing democracy today, developments in metropolis’ powers, populism resurfacing. All of these are connected. Because all of them deal with the future. And with politics and the way people respond to politics today.
The history of the world is amazing. The evolution of how we organized ourselves, from cave to family, from family to group of families, to the village, the city, the city state, the republic, the empire – and then the fall – the breaking up of empires, kingdoms, feudal states, city states – then countries, empires, nations, federations and confederations. Seems like sort of a pattern doesn’t it?
We have not all amassed the same speed. Multiple layers of organization have coexisted and they still do. We still have nations and countries, different types of “empires” and what is increasingly relevant – new types of city states. On top of that there is a a new specter of feudalism popping up here and there – in Romania it is a common topic for example that heads of counties are considered “barons”, and the full meaning of the term applies.
As our understanding of governance and government has expanded, we see that the new way forward implies transferring decision making to lower administrative levels. Decentralization & regionalization are two main themes in what concerns the way a territory is administered. And this is a good thing. The relevant fact is that decision – making and finance administration is moving down on the scale of administrative levels.
This report by McKinsey&Company, entitled Urban World: Mapping the economic power of cities and this article in the Financial Times entitled Brics economist to chair commission on revival of UK cities sparked through content the idea that if cities are becoming engines of development, and if as Jim O’Neill predicts they will replace states as economic power then it is understandable that cities will become the new global stakeholders in terms of politics too.
Couple decentralization, with the might of the city, add to the mix the “Europe of Regions” and what we get is new city states. We are “going” back to Greece. A different, incredibly advanced, complex and dynamic new type of Greece.
This article from the Policy Network points in the same direction. It recognizes these new seats of power. And it also adds this new dimension to the city – a larger influenced area – a metropolitan or regional area that is controlled and defined by the ‘city state’ that is located there. Again those within the walls of the city, and those outside the wall of the city. Parallels are endless. But this article also talks about populism and the way classical parties fail to represent this new reality.
Every day, the scenario I discussed in my first post in this series, here, comes closer to reality.
The upcoming EP elections are bound to be the most watched and commented elections this continent has ever seen. Because there are incredibly high stakes pertaining to the direction the new EP is going to embrace – more Europe or less Europe. The online reaction to this, and it has already started is going to be huge – everybody will want to say something. Problem is, those that will say something, or want to say something, are a minority. Because in order to keep up with all the aspects concerning this election, you have to be connected. You have to read, interpret, assimilate and draw conclusions. The EU is 500 million strong. As such, there are a wealth of parties and agendas to watch. European political families can only do so much, because as we know, the allegiance is mostly to the local party rather than the european family.
So the question arises: which is more relevant – the european political family or the local party affiliation?
And there is no clear cut answer to that. But we are heading towards a 751 strong European Parliament. Rate of representation is 1 MEP to 673370 European Citizens. [ Calculated using Eurostat data for January 1st 2013 estimate EU28]. But is that a true rate? Probably not. With electoral systems different across the EU true rate of representation might be actually very different. And there are multiple cause for that, that are not the object of this article. It suffices to say that although in theory representative, this writer believes they are not at all so.
What this elections represent is the views and opinions of local voters. I did not say majority, because then we have to discuss electoral bodies, voter presence and so on and so forth.
And much of this inequality between the theoretical model and the actual outcome of elections is caused by lack of information.
The larger body of the EU populous is poorly informed about the EU in general, and the EP is even less represented than the Commission for example. It lacks visibility and it lacks a vehicle to carry the message from the MEP’s to the people. And it is an issue I have always championed – The EP should find a better way to communicate with the people, and more to the point, an unified electoral system is needed. As the EP will come into more powers this years it is vital that people understand what they vote. And I’m not to far from claiming that it should not be a matter of local parties designating their people for the EP.
The ‘City state’ idea therefore moves one step further. City administrations have always found more direct means of communicating with the people. By force of things we tend to be better informed about our immediate surroundings then what happens in Brussels (unless you live there of course). So it is safe to say that if the electoral system would change, and if it would allow the “city state” to become it’s main vector, then the choices that would result from this would be significantly more in tune with reality.
And getting back to the idea in the first article in this series, almost every city today in Europe has at least 1 webpage, a mobile app for something (transport, museums, taxis, etc, etc), local papers and news outlets. What that means in turn is that everybody can be informed directly about the stakes in the choices they will be making.
In turn that means the direct democracy previously outlined is very much becoming ever so possible.