March 25, 2014
All around social media accounts of EU higher authorities, in all speeches, interventions and debates, everybody says “go out and vote for the upcoming EP elections!”. Which at first glance sounds fair. But it is not. Because as it is the case with me, in Romania, I feel that “Brussels” as an overall concept encompassing everybody that has something to do with EU top tier leadership, is forcing my hand.
They are telling me that the upcoming EP elections are very important, that we should all vote and make sure that our voice gets heard. But does it? I am forced to pick between lists of candidates that mean absolutely nothing to me. They only point out that while I have a choice to make, there is no actual choice. There is no voice to be heard. There is only the simple mathematics of putting my 1 very small opinion in this predetermined box or the other.
There is a lot of talk why EP elections tend to have low voter turn-out. Well, it is obvious isn’t it? On the one hand there is poor communication between the EP and the people, and on the other hand there is an overwhelming absence of actual choice. Let’s take them one by one.
1st off – Poor communication from the EP
Yup. It’s poor. There is an EP office in Romania, who, by all accounts, should primarily be concerned with spreading thew word on what goes on in the EP, communicate with the people, inform and educate. It should be a means to allow for dissemination of information concerning activities and legislative initiatives originating from the EP. But it does that in such an invisible manner, that I feel like saying, as a contributing tax payer to the EU budget ( even if my contribution is marginal), “close it down”. Stop wasting my money. I don’t need a couple of people being payed from my indirect contribution to do absolutely nothing (best case scenario) / siphon EU cash discreetly (worst case scenario). I have no evidence for the second, but plenty for the first. A couple of weeks ago I found out that the EP office in Bucharest organized an event that became public matter after it happened. Of course I am going to be told that just because I did not find out about it, it doesn’t mean it was not properly advertised. But I am an EU fan – I keep myself informed way above the median interest expressed by a statistically ordinary Romanian citizen. And I have friends with similar interests, doing the same thing as I do. And when all of us find ourselves perplexed to see photos from an event we never knew existed it worries me. The same way it worries me than only a select number of NGO’s and a discreet number of people seem to be working with the EP office. During an event a couple of weeks back organized by the European Ombudsman, dubbed #EUWishlist, there was an intervention from Twitter where somebody asked when is the Ombudsman going to look into misappropriation of funds by select NGO’s. He was not Romanian. So I’m guessing that there is more than one country where this kind of issues appear.
There is hardly any media presence on mainstream channels concerning activities within the EP. And when it happens it is usually because this or that MEP, having this or that reputation at home, did something there. It’s never about the overall activities of the EP, it’s always about one MEP. I am willing to bet huge bucks that most of the people in Romania have no idea who Martin Schultz is. Or what ALDE stands for. I am also willing to wager a bet that most people in Romania have no or little knowledge on how things work in the EP. Or how the EP works with the Council and Commission. In a recent debate on the future of the EU, organized by the Commission’s Romanian Office with Commissioner Dacian Cioloș as a guest, there was ample evidence that even some people involved with legislative procedures such as the Citizen Initiative don’t actually understand how the Commission and the EP work together. And if they, in the middle of the events, don’t get it, what chance is there for those that are not involved in any way.
The EP does not actually communicate with the people – it communicates with some people, in low yield events or activities that actually do absolutely nothing to enlighten an ordinary citizen.
2nd off – Absence of choice
There is a lot of debate on this matter, not just in Romania, but all across the EU. We need an unified electoral law concerning EP elections. It is by far the best thing the EP could do to improve it’s standing as a true European Parliament, by the people and for the people. And not just as a warm place with a hefty way above average pay grade where used up local politicians, their wives, mistresses, secretaries, could go for 5 years. And believe me, the vast majority of my countrymen look at this just this way. The official babble that the EP elections are a great challenge for the local parties in Romania has nothing to do with the EP – it is simply a trial run for the Presidential elections this autumn. It’s a perfect testing bed for establishing who holds which segments and what precent of population for better negotiating alliances for the upcoming elections. So there is no actual interest in the EP from party stance. There are of course a handful of independents, but half of them are interested in the same “warm” details shared above, and the other half are either no-chance candidates trying to do their best to fix this or that problem (very limited agendas, focusing on a very particular subject) or ambitious politicians that failed to get a eligible place on a party list. This whole eligible place on a party list may be difficult to understand, but when your party is credited with winning 5 seats in the EP and you are number 27 on the list (random data) it is obvious you will never get there.
Party lists are a closed environment that allows voters no pick. You can’t single out a candidate, you can’t rearrange the list, you can only vote for this or that party fully aware that who they are sending to the EP has no connection whatsoever with a choice you can make. So it is, without further ado, a shit-load of crap all dressed up to look as a democratic choice of the people. Which it is most certainly not.
But “Brussels” has done absolutely nothing to change that. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. Nimic. Of course there will be those saying that it is because there is party logic within the European Political Families (i’ve wrote about this in the past, they will never be parties for me, just families) and that there is the Council, where there are plenty of National Party leaders keen to keep things just the way they are. And I don’t care. I don’t care that there are a million reasons why a project for a unified electoral law all across the EU, in what concerns EP elections, would have not been a viable option up to this point. I care though that I saw no champion of this idea, that I did not see ample debate, that there was no scandal regarding this, that a fuss was not made. That I do care about. Although in recent months Mr. Barroso seems to have gained a more courageous voice in challenging the establishment as it is today, I have to take into account that he holds the highest position within the Commission, and we are nearing the end of his mandate. If he believes in these things, as he has managed to convince me lately, than why has he held silent for so long?
Bursting the bubble
I can’t express anything but opinions on other MSs, but when it comes to Romania, I can say it out loud with no problem – EP elections, May 2014, in Romania, have absolutely nothing to do with the voters choice. And they will continue to represent absolutely nothing as long as this is allowed to continue. Since I am well aware that local politicians will do absolutely nothing to change a system they like and protect, it is clear that change can only come from Brussels on this issue. So telling me to go vote, putting out inspiring speeches about how this vote is going to shape my future, is bullshit Brussels. And you know it.Horatiu Ferchiu