“We have a democratic deficit”


It’s not working without them anymore. Many political decisions need to involve the citizen’s perspective to gain acceptance. The EU is also crediting this trend. But problems go deep, says MEP of the pirate party, Julia Reda.

(c) Greens/EFA / License: CC by
r. MEP Julia Reda (c) Greens/EFA / License: CC

SCC: “The internet opens up new possibilities for citizens’ direct participation in politics. Which options are provided by the EU for citizens to engage?”

Reda: “There are few institutional options provided by the EU to directly engage in a meaningful way. Of course there are some instruments for participation like petitions or the European Citizens’ Initiative and one can increasingly use these instruments online. But they lack a guarantied impact.

There was a lot of fuss, for example about the introduction of the European Citizens’ Initiative, where citizens can call upon the Commission to initiate a legislative procedure. But this instrument suffers from the fact that there is no automatism. The Commission is not obligated what so ever to present a legislative proposal even if the Citizens’ Initiative was successful.

This is what happened in practical experience then and of course a certain deterioration effect is the consequence. Especially regarding the European Citizen’s Initiative the number of new initiatives has decreased, because people think that this instrument does not really ensure participation.”

More participation means less control

SCC: “Many decisions nowadays cannot be made without citizens who say their opinion. Does the EU have any plans to satisfy this need?”

Reda: “Yes. Of course this criticism was passed on to the European Citizens’ Initiative and I support the expansion of this instrument in Parliament. However, every expansion of participation also means giving up control. Especially, regarding the European Commission which substantially holds the exclusive right of initiative. That is why there are also political oppositions.

Nonetheless, I think it is in the interest of politics to cultivate ways of participation on the long run, because people will otherwise get the intention that their voice is not decisive and will therefor turn back on politics.”

SCC: “Are EU-politicians afraid of their citizens?“

Reda: “Yes, that could be. There is for sure a certain fear of European skepticism. It could also turn itself against the EU as a project, if people are given too many ways to participate directly. Still, I think that the problem does not shrink, if one puts it off as long as possible. In the end, the sensation of politics being to far away led to this frustration. So one shouldn’t be discouraged by this and show people that they can reach immediate improvements for their daily lives through Europe.”

Citizen shouldn’t decide everything

SCC: “There are online platforms which are practicing participative decision making even more fundamental. There, it is not only about balloting on a given question, yes or no. Instead ideas and solutions are developed collectively from scratch. Would this be desirable on EU level?”

Reda: “Yes, absolutely. Many pirate parties are practicing this through liquid democracy. I think that this process of collective work contains much more chances than just voting via the internet. One cannot just dump decisions on the mass without generating ways to enable discussions.

The question of course is where meaningful cases of application lie. I think the acquirement of legislative initiatives would be such a meaningful case of application. At the moment this is an exclusive privilege of the European Commission. Even the European Parliament is not in the position to propose own legislative initiatives. There lies for sure a deficit of democracy. On the one hand the Parliament needs more power, on the other hand, also citizens should be given the possibility to at least start a legislative process.”

SCC: “Should citizens decide everything in the future?”

Reda: “Well, in a way he is already doing that. The question is, of course, how this is organized. In the end the idea behind democracy is that every decision can be led back to the people. Regarding this, we have for sure a big need for improvement in the European Union.

For sure not everything should be voted on on the internet. I think this being quite unrealistic because politics is a full time job after all. If everyone can participate everywhere and directly vote on everything the result would be that decisions are finally made by those who have a lot of time and money. Insofar representative democracy has it’s place. Still, we could do a lot more to make politics more understandable for citizens and provide them with options to influence EU politics.”

Communicating not only with people out there

SCC: “Which role do direct requests play in your everyday life?”

Reda: “Quite a big role, I would say. For the copy right report I wrote, I did not just meet interest groups apon, but also put the text up to discussion online on Discuto. What came out there paired with advices people send me via social media, is influencing my every day work. However, in the end it is not my biggest task to vote in the committee but a lot is discussing and convincing with my colleagues in Parliament. That is why I think that I’m doing people a favor, when I’m not just discussing with people outside but also with my colleagues in Parliament.”

Julia Reda is MEP the European Pirate Party. She is president of Young Pirates Europe and Vice-Chair of Greens/EP in the EU.

Foto Title: (c) Tobias M. Eckrich/ changes: size

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