On Monday, April 29th, the first official debate of the European elections took place in Maastricht, in the Netherlands. Organised by Politico with their usual partners, it featured five out of the six main groups running for the upcoming European Parliament elections, which are set to happen from May 23rd to 26th.
This debate was meant in every way to target young voters, for a number of good reasons. One of them being that young people are currently getting more and more involved in politics worldwide, be it through the Fridays for Future demonstrations or other “channels”. Therefore, the three main themes of this debate were picked accordingly: Digital Europe, Sustainable Europe, and the Future of Europe. Here are some observations pertaining to the content – but also the general atmosphere impression.
Stable Leader: Frans Timmermans (S&D)
Very honestly, Frans Timmermans was the most well-prepared candidate for this debate. He knew all the topics thoroughly, he was able to articulate specific proposal for each main question, and he did not wasted time on any unnecessary argument. However, it is easy to be in this position for someone who is currently dealing with all these topics as Vice-President of the European Commission. Slight advantage that he definitely seized. Showing leadership at every level, he called for Europeans to “vote Green”, reminding everyone that “there is no competition”. Indeed, the Dutch politician chose to be transparent about his intentions in case he was to become the next President of the European Commission: alliance with the Greens, the Left, and an open-door to negotiations with ALDE. Timmermans did not forget to build on the momentum created by the Spanish general elections on Sunday (28.04) evening – including regarding gender equality, which seems to be among the top priorities of all five candidates.
Ever since the EU was diagnosed with a so-called ‘democratic deficit’, it has attempted to close the gap between the European elite and its citizens. At first, its communication policies were directed at providing information and ‘educating’ the public about Europe. However, since the mid-2000s, the EU has committed itself (in theory at least) to the idea of a true European public sphere involving genuine dialogue with its citizens. Via its ‘Europe for Citizens Programme’ (EfCP), the EU now supports various external projects to stimulate this two-way relationship.
A case in point is ‘Debating Europe’, a website created by the organization Friends of Europe, which seeks to stimulate a direct conversation between European citizens and their supranational politicians by connecting them on their online platform. Several of its debates are funded by the EfCP and citizens can engage in these debates by sending in questions or posting comments. Debating Europe then takes these questions to certain ‘European leaders’ like MEPs, policy-makers, academic experts or NGOs to have them respond. However, does Debating Europe actually succeed in its objective of encouraging honest debate and bringing together European leaders and their citizens? How is the interactive process shaped by all these actors?
Although research on the European public sphere has come a long way since the original Habermasian understanding of the term, I argue that the interaction between all these different actors asks for an approach that integrates both bottom-up and top-down perspectives. Especially in current-day digital society, traditional media, political actors and citizens are all involved in the online “production, distribution, consumption and discussion of political content on issues of societal relevance.” By understanding the European public sphere as a network of online and offline meaning-making, it becomes possible to see the intersections between EU policies, transnational media discourses and citizens’ practices. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap between European Citizens & Brussels?”→
I believe Donald Trump will be president next year.
A rolling poll from key swing state Ohio has placed him ahead of his democratic rival Hillary Clinton for almost a week now; and broader polls show the candidates are neck and neck with less than 50 days to go until the November presidential election.
Of course polls can be wrong. And it’s easy to see why people assume Trump is too outlandish, too ridiculous, and unreal to be elected. One of his platform policies is to build a wall around America, paid for by the people he wants to shut out. His son recently compared the global refugee crisis with a bowl of skittles. He eats KFC with a knife and fork – surely there’s at least one state where that’s illegal. With every week that passes, he drops another clanging gaffe that reverberates, painfully, across international media: and the world says this could never happen. Continue reading “All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November”→
It is easy just to be proud when you realise how many people are willing to know about your home country. ‘Because it is France. It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’. An ideal that cannot ring true to everybody if one does not have the same rights.
On the 6th of May 2012, from a little city in Italy where I was studying at the time, my English partner and I witnessed the election of a new President for my home country: France. The Socialist candidate François Hollande won over his opponent – the outgoing Nicolas Sarkozy. Amongst the voters hoping for change was a majority of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual French community.
Indeed, Mr Hollande, unlike Mr Sarkozy had promised to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Since then, the process proved to be complicated and the past few months were rich in demonstrations, lobbying and public events supporting the President or trying to make him renounce.
Being away, it took me some time to realise the importance of the debate in France and how the question of giving homosexuals those rights was present almost everywhere: in the streets, on television, on the radio…This, however, only seemed to be a start and I imagined that, until the law was passed, the debate and involvement of people on both sides would keep on increasing. Or so I thought…
Glaring at the slow but steady process of allowing same-sex people to marry and adopt, some right-wing mayors declared that they would not marry same-sex couples and requested the right to refrain from performing ceremonial weddings between said couples, were the law to come into force. The debate would continue even after the implementation of the law: longer than I thought…
On the 10th of October, some 1248 mayors had already signed the petition.
Some of the political leaders of France, that democratic republic, were to reject the law and regulations that define a democracy. They would go against the –according to them, very French- rules of democracy because the decision to give equal rights to homosexuals did not include the French electorate directly and therefore lacked a democratic foundation. A brain teaser.
This argument falls short when one is reminded that in early November, 58% of the French population was in favour of same-sex marriage and 50%, in favour of/supported the right for same-sex couples to adopt. However, these figures have decreased since 2011 when they were 63% and 56% respectively. So what is to blame? Certainly, the overwhelming place of the debate and the constant arguments, for or against, repeated again and again. Faced with such a large spectrum of opinions, one thing is certain. Homosexuals and the rights of the homosexuals have never been of much interest for the right-wing politicians.
Another popular argument against the introduction of same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples is that it would create chaos. The Senator Serge Dassault explained this on the radio on the 7th of November: (…) “Look at history, in Greece, it is one of the reasons for its decadence. Utter decadence. It would compromise children’s development, it would mean the end of education, it would be an enormous danger for the nation as a whole. It would pose an unprecedented threat for the nation as a whole!” Total decadence, well of course. Apparently, being heterosexual helps keep the nation together.
Being French is always something that has helped me spark an interesting conversation with the different people I met as a student studying abroad. Whilst in Italy or in the United-Kingdom, people would speak about the food, the beautiful language, and the philosophers along with the clichés of the beautiful, arrogant, chauvinistic thin French man or woman who smokes too much, can be a bit dirty and who will not, under any circumstances, accept to learn a foreign language. Perhaps because I was speaking another language than French then, the discussions were always cheerful, enjoyable and showed a real interest. Further away, in India – where I am presently studying – the interest in my country is still there, and though some of the ideas about food or of what is ‘typically French’ are more vague; it is the same attraction – if not an enhanced one – that I encounter when I see people perking up at the mention of the French Revolution, Rousseau, Voltaire…
However, I knew that in the land where the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was written, the person who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen was beheaded and that Voltaire was describing homosexuality as ‘a despicable attack against nature’ whilst Rousseau saw it as ‘the odious example of a brutal depravation and of a charmless vice’.
This is what being French means. It means missing home and being proud of its ideals, its culture and of some parts of its history. It is also at times facing stubbornness, underlying racism and a somewhat quaint idea that our past and present would make the French people somewhat different. ‘Different’ often meaning ‘better’. Switching from pride to shame is a feeling most people feel when they think about their country, but because of its image and reputation, those two ends feel so far from another if you are French.
I might have chosen to study in different countries to avoid those ups and downs. It is easy, not being informed of what is happening ‘there’, to just be proud when you realise how many people know about your home country, your mother tongue and be even more proud when so many more people tell you about their will to know. ‘Because it is France.’ It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’, not a French motto, but a goal and an ideal shared by everybody everywhere in the world. An ideal that cannot ring true to the homosexual community as long as they do not have the same rights.
The project of allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt in France has been approved by the Council of Ministers on the 7th of November and should be discussed in Parliament in January 2013.