Iniziativa cittadina: la democrazia come Kindergarten?

Mercoledì 18 marzo al centro Mundo B di Bruxelles si è svolto un seminario-brainstorming informale organizzato da Barbara Spinelli e Carsten Berg (coordinatore generale di ECI Campaign) sul tema “The Crises of Europe: What Role for the European Citizens’ Initiative?”.

Hanno partecipato al seminario:

Barbara Spinelli (Altra Europa con Tsipras), Carsten Berg (The Citizens Initiative), Pier Virgilio Dastoli (Movimento Europeo Internazionale), Alessandro Manghisi (Ufficio Barbara Spinelli), Sophie von Hatzfeldt (Democracy International), Norbert Hagemann (Ufficio Helmut Scholz – Die Linke), Jan Willem Goudriaan (European Federation of Public Service Unions-EPSU), Elisa Bruno (European Citizens Action Service – ECAS), Raymond Van Ermen (European Partners for Environment – EPE), Rafael Torres (Close the Gap), Carmen Alvarez Acero (Podemos), Laetitia Veritier (Europe +), Mattia Brazzale (Associazione Delle Agenzie Della Democrazia Locale – ALDA), Giovanni Melogli (Alliance International de journalistes – European media initiative).

Questo il testo dell’intervento di Barbara Spinelli

The ECI: Democracy as a Kindergarten?

We are here not only to discuss the technicalities of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI, based on article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty): if it has to be organised differently, if its online presence can be improved, if data protection is respected, if the time given for the collection of signatures (one year, for the collection of 1 million of signatures in 7 countries at least) is too short. These are important methodological questions, but not the essential ones. We know from Heidegger that the essence of technology is nothing technological, and is never neutral.

We are here because what was built in this continent after the war – the unification of Europe – is in great danger of dissolving. Large numbers of citizens no longer believe in this unity, nor in its capacity to overcome the divisions among its peoples and its States. The ECI was born almost ten years ago because of what was already called, during the Prodi Commission, a “democratic deficit”. Economic crisis – which began in the United States in 2007 and then spilled over to Europe – has brought democracy well beyond that “deficit”, pushing it to the brink of a precipice.

Nationalist resentment is back, deeply ingrained in the fabric of societies (Minister Yanis Varoufakis rightly points to «the toxic ‘blame game’ and the moralising finger-pointing which benefit only the enemies of Europe»). Democratic constitutions are constantly bypassed, at both national and European level: we discover constantly that this or that article of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and even of the Lisbon Treaty is simply forgotten or ignored. And the same happens with the Constitutions of Member States. Even elections are seen as possible obstacles by the bodies and oligarchies who to rule us, and this is a matter of major concern for us: whereas the ECIs, even the three successful ones, have no follow-up, we experience the same with referenda in single countries. I remind You that in 2011 the Greek government of Papandreou fell because the Prime minister wanted to consult his people in a referendum on the correctness and constitutionality of the economic measures imposed to his country, the notorious memorandum of understanding signed between the Greek government and the troika. He was not allowed to put it into question through democratic procedures.

Therefore, I think we must not let the Citizen Initiative tool die. According to some social scientists, and rather paradoxically, this tool was invented in order to domesticate citizens. There may be some truth in this assessment. Since the addressee of the citizens is the Commission, and the Commission has to decide whether the demands of the citizens come under its competence, it can always restrict its area of competence in order to reject such demands for initiative and action. It can always have its say on the question posed by the Initiative and reject it as non pertinent.

So the question brought up by millions of citizens remains in a sort of political and juridical no man’s land: unresolved, unanswered. As I said yesterday during a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Affairs, the fact that even the three successful ECIs got stuck, that the Commission had the impudence to ignore them, is an ominous event. It means that this tool is ever more often seen as a diversion, that democracy itself (elections, popular referenda, ECIs, verdicts of the Court of justice, etc) is treated as a sort of amusement or Kindergarten exercise. The pilot must not be disturbed (I’m referring to the “automatic pilot” analogy used by Mario Draghi in the wake of the Italian general election of February 2013), the governance must go on as efficiently and swiftly as possible.

Treated as children, citizens are left with only two options: screaming or shutting up. The result is a mass rejection of European unity, and a re-emergence of the nationalist resentment I mentioned before. Eventually, we fall into a language and into prejudices we thought overcome by the experience of the Community: Germany has to pay war reparations, Greece is an inferior, cheating country that doesn’t respect the pacts or the law. We are tragically sleepwalking into a climate which bears strong resemblances to the one which followed the First World War and prepared the dramatic recession and social unrest leading to the Second World War and to the totalitarian answers given to that vast explosion of reciprocal distrust and even hatred among citizens and nations.

So I invite You to discuss the technicalities, but also the democratic vacuum which lies behind and is looming on the horizon. I invite You to avoid labels which won’t help us break the impasse or understand what is really happening. I am thinking about pejorative terms such as populism, anti-politics and so on. Populism and anti-politics are symptoms of a deep discontent, and the big challenge is to give concrete answers to the present, very long winter of discontent. Even “governance is a pejorative word, since its recent usage refers to arrangements which are both free from the duties and unconstrained by the system of check and balances normally imposed on governments.

I would like to close my very tentative and imperfect remarks with the three options outlined by Albert Hirschman for the modern consumer-citizen. In a crisis like ours, as in many crises of the past, we can have three reactions: EXIT (from responsibility, from anguish, or from euro, which is today our issue); LOYALTY (expressed as “my country – my Europe – right or wrong“); and VOICE. VOICE means: we take the floor, we acknowledge the flaws of representative democracy and inject some elements of direct or participatory democracy. We express discontent and dissatisfaction, but we participate and give voice to our concern. We don’t escape. We voice dissent and alternative proposals in the economic field as well, where rational behaviour is wrongly presumed, and subsumed. The presumption is misplaced, as Hirschman rightly reminds us: even in economics, especially in economics, there are “repairable lapses” of its actors.

Today we will not reach a final conclusion. But we can begin an intellectual and political adventure. And what I propose is to face in this context what I think is the central question of sovereignty. We are being told that nation-state sovereignty is a thing of the past, that it’s not viable anymore. But constitutional democracy doesn’t always and exclusively have at its core state sovereignty. It has at its core the sovereignty of citizens. It has at its core their empowerment, which is today ignored and increasingly reduced. In our continent, citizens do not have one single identity: religious, cultural or national. We have many identities, our agora is national, European and global at the same time. Which means that our task is to ensure that present European and global oligarchies do not ignore and infringe this sovereignty.

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