In the middle June the delegation of our Ukrainian MP’s Club “Parliament” took part in the sitting of the Bureau of the European Association of former Members of Parliament of the member states of the Council of Europe or the European Union (FP-AP). It was the first FP-AP sitting where Ukraine took part as full member. Ukrainian MP’s Club “Parliament” joined the FP-AP in March 2008, on the sitting of the General Assembly of the Association.
We became the first MP’s Association from post-Soviet country who started to work in the European Association of former Members of Parliament of the member states of the Council of Europe or the European Union.
During the bureau sitting the text of the Athens Declaration was discussed. This declaration, Presented by Mr Jacques Chaumont from France, will be approved at the European Colloquy which takes place on 18 October 2008 in Athens. The document analyses representative and participatory democracy in Europe. Here are a couple of quotations from its provisional draft:
The concept of participatory democracy has developed in recent years as the crisis of representative democracy has become full-blown. The malaise of representative democracy reflects a twofold frustration. First, that of the elected representatives who feel increasingly stripped of their prerogatives owing to the predominance of governments and their experts, and also to transfers of sovereignty in the wake of the European Treaties, the growing influence on the economy of globalised multinationals escaping all control, and the predominant role of the media in conveying the political discourse. The other frustration and not the lesser is that of citizens themselves. They feel that elected representatives have less and less influence which explains the high abstention rates at elections and they no longer accept the confiscation of their power which would result from a lack of any consultation in the interim between elections.
This gap between public opinion and elected representatives is also worrisome at European level as the citizens of the European Union are not sufficiently informed of the positions and votes of MEPs. This situation is worsened by television channels which tend to nationalise problems to the detriment of the European debate. A common information area, the indispensable prelude to the emergence of a genuine European public opinion, is therefore struggling to get established.
In the new context of the multiplication of information and communication channels: media, opinion polls, blogosphere, etc..., the classical representative system can no longer, alone, channel the demands and aspirations of public opinion. A permanent opinion-based democracy is gaining ground, alongside traditional representative democracy and is tending to compete with it supported by the media power. However this opinion-based or even emotion-based democracy does not have the legitimacy conferred by universal suffrage which expresses the general will. The influence of the opinion-based democracy should not be underestimated because, following an overhyped trivial event, legislation may be amended as a matter of urgency.
All these changes must now take account of the Web revolution which is creating a new interactive area where everyone can express themselves all the time and on all topics, which is not without danger for the protection of personal data. The digital revolution, in other words the convergence of data processing, of radio and television, and of telecommunications, and the new notion of collective intelligence pose fearsome problems. However, neither politicians nor economic decision-takers have yet set in place a genuine strategy to assess the consequences of this deep, uncontrolled transformation on democracy and its impact in emerging countries.
If there is a recurrent topic of criticism against the European institutions, it is indeed that of the democratic deficit. European citizens too often feel that decisions are taken in Brussels by anonymous authorities, whence the need in particular to strictly apply the subsidiarity principle so as to clearly establish what is a matter for the Community level and what should be decided nationally or regionally. What is challenged is the absence of a clear image of the Union, the insufficient communication of governments on their European policy and often even the practice they adopt of condemning at the national level the application of Community directives which they themselves supported at the Council of Ministers in Brussels. The very high abstention rate at European elections is therefore no surprise.
Main proposals of the Association of former Members of Parliament of the member states of the Council of Europe or the European Union:
1. Permanent forums be set in place in which would participate citizens, associations, universities with the support of the European Parliament, national parliaments, Associations of former Members of Parliament, and Economic and social councils.
2. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly should organise a major political and ethical debate on the consequences of the digital revolution on the exercise of democracy, in the spirit of its 1995 Symposium on electronic democracy.
3. National parliaments should start to consider together the elaboration of codes of good practice of local participatory democracy guaranteeing in particular the rights of citizens to the broadest and most objective information.
. The debates of the European Union Council of Ministers should be public when they concern a draft piece of legislation as has been the case at the European Parliament since its creation and at a time when the Council is considered as the second Chamber of the European Union.
5. The European Parliament should deepen the idea of implementing the referendum procedure at European Union level.
6. The strengthening of democracy within the Union must be facilitated by extending the powers of the European Parliament as regards the legislative initiative over which the Commission has a monopoly.
7. The Association of former Members of Parliament encourages Ukraine's efforts to intensify its economic, social and cultural relations with other European countries, especially with Poland and Germany, in order to accelerate its development.