3, June, 2009
Want to know how to make sure how all your buddies get re-elected to the European Parliament? Want to learn how to eliminate and confuse any other political parties that have the audacity to oppose you? If your buddies are not happy with just a single vote, do you want to know where they can have ten votes?
All these and many more tips for cheating in the European elections can be found in a recent publication by whom? A secret Handbook by the Mafia? Not at all. The publication comes from the European Parliament itself.
Every time the Parliament goes to the ballot boxes the European Parliament publishes such a Handbook. Naturally it is not called How to cheat in the European Elections. That would give too much away. It is published with a boring cover and given a long and boring title. Its title is The European Elections; EU Legislation, National Provisions and Civic Participation. It is a ‘Study’. It is published by the Directorate-General for Internal Policies. The Department C of this directorate is curiously called ‘Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs.’
Citizens’ rights is a bit rich. It is more about running roughshod over their rights. The Handbook also cheats the reader. Being a Handbook on cheating, it does not give all the tricks on cheating. The earnest seeker for democracy will have to search the web and the blogs for other examples.
Far from criticizing it further, I would like to commend the honest attempt of the author for exposing some facts and abuses. However, a major effort should be made in presenting them to the public. Reform would be even better.
Honestly enough, the publication starts with the treaty provisions from the European Community Treaty.
The European Parliament shall draw up a proposal for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States or in accordance with principles common to all Member States. The Council shall, acting unanimously after obtaining the assent of the European Parliament, which shall act by a majority of its component Members, lay down the appropriate provisions, which it shall recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.
Parliament made a few lukewarm attempts to implement this. The Council refused. Then the Council tried to change the treaties to make it even more biased, without much success. That is basically too dishonest. The only people who benefit from any distortion or blockage of the original legal duty are the political parties, of which the governments are the prime representation.
Let’s go back to the Founding Fathers. They had a good idea, which showed commendable honesty and fairness. How would it work? To put it another way: what do citizens expect from a uniform, fair and open electoral system? This is not new territory. The battle for democracy in every country has developed the list of requirements. The system must include:
· The right of any mature citizen to vote.
· The right of any citizen to create a party, peaceful movement or interest group.
· No restrictions based on of educational level, religion, financial standing
· One person, one vote.
· No discrimination by age, gender or race
· No artificial barriers, such as financial requirements, property-ownership.
· No restriction by requiring signed agreement of existing government parties.
The right to vote. Governments, not citizens, say who votes. Some countries limit voters to those over 18 years; others over 16. One area of Europe was not allowed to vote at all. That was because the powers-that-be did not want to have one MEP elected from this small area, close to another Member State. The voters appealed to the Courts against this discrimination and won. The judgement was given, not in the EU’s Court in Luxembourg, but in the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. What a failure of European governments! Of course this situation would not have arisen at all if the governments had obeyed their obligations in the treaties and allowed citizens to create equal rights for all citizens.
The right to have multiple votes. Here’s how to bias the European Parliament to gain extra influence. Voters are allowed to vote anywhere they have residence. But the votes are not equal. The same voter of a big State can move to a small country and increase the weight of his or her vote by a factor of ten. Thus the same national has either one vote or ten votes depending on where the ballot box is. Of course privileged people having the right to ten votes and thus influencing the political colour of the MEPs in Parliament was of no particular concern while de Gaulle and others had ‘chloroformed’ Parliament’s power and the Council totally ignored its Opinions. But now when the Parliament has a serious voice in a multi-billion euro budget, the voters should be asking to clean-up the patently unfair system. Should the small countries be worried that will losing their over-representation with a one citizen, one vote system? Hardly. The small countries such as Luxemborg have always had a big advantage and they will retain it. The small States are usually the most impartial and most European. They demand fair play among the bullying politics of the big States. In any free vote in a pan-European election, it is inevitable that if the small States continue to emphasize honesty and fairness, and a European common good (rather than national bias), their candidates will always get high representation in Parliament.
Right to stand as a candidate. Governments will tell you who can stand. Some countries say the candidates should be at least 18 and others 21. Some say only 23 year-olds can stand. A good technique to cut out idealistic youths or some rumbustious rebels.
Costs. States can make it a tough struggle to stand as a candidate. Some States require no deposit. Why don’t they all? Others require candidates to find a deposit amounting to 5000 euros or more. If they get enough votes against the stiff, privileged entrenched governmental party competition, they might get the money back. The media is not likely to give them much space to expose their views as it might upset the biggest advertiser, the government. If they don’t win a minimum of votes (also set by governments) and they keep trying they will be penalized each time they do until they learn to stop. They will be stuck with debts. One country has created the astounding wheeze to dissuade candidates by saying that candidates must pay 3600 euros to the State for the cost of printing ballot papers! This is a great tactic to make sure that no candidates from the poor sections of society can stand.
Signature Restrictions. States require candidates to publish names of supporters before they can be recognized as a movement. Such a movement may have to deal with linguistic discrimination resulting in major political problems with governing parties. One Member State says that to stand as candidate only one signature is required. Of course that is not a normal citizen’s signature. It is that of a deputy, that is, a member of the existing political élite. Is it equal for someone who wishes to point out their failings? If the candidate wants to oppose the standing political powers-that-be, he or she has to get a few more signatures. Not one but 250 signatures. Thus we have a measure of how the political parties who wrote the law consider ordinary citizens. One politician (who is responsible both for the benefits and the problems that citizens are experiencing) is worth 250 ordinary citizens.
The value of a Candidate. That sum of one politician= 250 ordinary voters is not worst devaluation of their fellow citizens by incumbent political parties. Other countries require 4000 signatures or even 10,000 signatures in a single constituency. Each time a list of signatures is required, it gives the governmental opponents the opportunity to dispute the validity of the actual signature count. In the worst case they can put pressure on signatories to change their minds.
The irresponsible List system. Some countries have completely done away with the voters right to pick candidates whom the public can hold responsible. They create a list system so that only the party machines can choose the names of the clique who will actually get into Parliament. Thus the party bosses, the big brothers or the big sisters, define who will be more equal than the others. This system was foisted on the public in some cases purely for internal party reasons, to cut out the people — ‘extremists’ — inside the party that the top leaders did not want to see succeed. The List system is fundamentally unfair for a representative democracy. No public protest, no discussion had any effect on this chicanery. The voters where treated with haughty disdain.
Voting NONE OF THE ABOVE is seldom an option. At a time when many voters are disenchanted with the behaviour of politicians, voters should be given the option that the system needs reform. Instead some countries impose fines on those who do not vote for what some voters consider a corrupt cartel. In economics the consumers’ last chance against a cartel is not to buy. A political cartel that does not offer this last option of signalling dissatification is reinforcing corruption. At the very least it builds up frustrations in honest protesters at the lack of choice. Computer voting systems that remove the non-vote option magnify their exasperation.
THE GREATEST LACK. The nationalist governments and their political parties have made great efforts to cut out the European dimension. The Parliament was designed from the beginning to be the house of the representatives of the European people. It would therefore encourage full dialogues and build solidarity. The people and especially the young people are far more European than these grey beards.
Over the course of revisions of the treaties, governments, that is ruling political parties, have made sure that their own political patch, ‘their State’ is protected against any European democrats. The idea of One citizen, One vote is annulled. They created geographical divisions based on retaining power. Each election they get an additional warning. Voter turnout declines. The smoke screen of political parties is having less and less effect on the public.
Why should a voter be restricted by geography in voting for a candidate or even worse for a list system in the place where he or she resides? Why can’t the voter choose the best candidate that responds to his or her interests and policy positions? Are the 27 European governments afraid that voters in all countries may discern an honest and impartial personality, whose reputation has spread across the border? Are they worried if the voters turn in mass to a candidate who has fearlessly fought corruption elsewhere?
Even on the basis of identifying a political choice closer to the voter’s own position, cross-border voting should be possible. After all Parliament is about dealing with cross-border issues. This identity of a non-native candidate in another Member State is quite possible nowadays with innovative web systems like www.euprofiler.eu .
A voter can find amongst all the European candidates the nearest to his own wishes and proclivities. If any voter does so, they might be in for a shock. The same policy and interest position are simultaneously touted by left-wing, center and right-wing parties but in different States. What is a ‘left-wing’ policy in one country is espoused as a right-wing one in another!
When the MEPs arrive in Parliament they will then vote in blocks in great left, center or right-wing coalitions. So the effect of the voter’s careful policy choice is often completely forgotten. Before each vote, the leader of each mega-grouping holds up his hand. With a thumb up or a thumb down, the group leaders act like a Roman emperor giving orders to the troops for the dispatch of a gladiator or Christian martyr.
How did the Founding Fathers design the system to maximize the political responsibility of each member? The members sat in alphabetical order so the unthinking voting in political blocks was impossible. The original democratic system encompassed in the treaties provides the citizen with probably the best system of democracy in the world — provided that the provisions for democracy in Parliament and for civil society representation are taken seriously.
In other words, the party political system is not only showing its age (it started with a political trick under William III of Orange). It is ripe for a realistic European replacement.
To find out how your own country cheats the voter and compare it with the other cheats, refer to the European Parliament’s Handbook below. It would be a good idea to ask the Parliament and Council to replace it by a single electoral system so there is no need for a new edition.David Heilbron Price
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