Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Representative Democracy?

By Julia Mason

Participatory democracy is the new trend. With the European parliament elections on the horizon, do citizens still have faith in representative democracy?

The Rise of Participatory Democracy

At a recent European Parliament event to celebrate the International Day of Democracy (18 September), statements proclaiming the merits of participatory democracy abounded. This might seem strange in the meeting rooms of one of the world’s biggest houses of political representatives, but participatory democracy is making waves in Brussels and beyond.
Citizens’ assemblies, participatory budgeting, public consultations…These are the buzz words that are bringing legitimacy to contemporary democracies. On the model of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, propelled to fame thanks to its role in bringing about the Article 8 referendum on abortion rights, citizens’ assemblies have begun to pop up across the continent.[1] The number of municipalities setting up participatory budgeting is on the rise,[2] with some cities, such as Paris, handing over as much as 5% of their resources to publically-decided projects.[3] And of course, high-profile citizen consultation processes have started across the EU, largely inspired by Emmanuel Macron’s consultations citoyennes.
In his recent article, Stephen Boucher even goes as far as to propose that, post-Brexit, the remaining forty-six British seats in the European Parliament be reassigned to “a contingent of ordinary citizens from around the EU to examine legislation from the long-term perspective.”[4] But isn’t this precisely the role of an MEP? What happened to the concept of electing a trusted figure to represent your views in parliament on your behalf? Continue reading “Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Representative Democracy?”

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Why the Idea of Europe Matters

By Nikhil Verma

What is Europe?
If you honestly think about it, could you pinpoint it out? If yes, where does Europe end or most importantly where does it start? Is Europe an ideology or does the idea of Europe ends with its dynamic borders?
Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden – these ‘Cantons’ laid down the foundation of the modern-day concept of ‘Culture’. You may wonder – How exactly has that evolved?

Well, ‘Cantons’ – the administrative division of states – make up nowadays’ confederation of ‘Switzerland. “Bundesbrief” – the oldest constitutional document of Switzerland documents the alliance of these three ‘Cantons’. In one of these ‘Cantons’, the birth of a prolific intellectual would take place – Jacob Burckhardt was born in the Canton of ‘Basel’ in 1818, he later wrote the 19th century’s masterpiece – ’The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy’. Published in 1860 and then revised in 1867, it was a sensational description of the Italian Renaissance.
Burckhardt’s vision that ‘Renaissance’ was the beginning of the modern world would later be expanded into modern politics, economics and aspects of modern society. His ideas encapsulated the idea of social, political, and cultural transformation in Europe. Burckhardt is thus known as the father of the notion of ‘Culture’ and its developments since the 19th century. Today, the stern look of his portrait on the Swiss franc is reminiscent of the path-breaking work for the cultural history of Europe and modernism. Continue reading “Why the Idea of Europe Matters”

1918-2018: Czechoslovakia, Between East & West

By Maeva Chargros

How odd coincidences are, sometimes! On Friday [26.10.18], the French President, Emmanuel Macron, declared that “there is no division between East and West in Europe”. I had just written the draft of this article dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the First Czechoslovak Republic – stating the complete opposite and calling for more efforts from the Western part of our continent.
Therefore, allow me to seize this opportunity to turn this article into an answer to a declaration I know is wrong.

Czechoslovakia” might not exist anymore, but the ideals of this state, as well as its struggles, are still very much alive. The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic was born in the Slovak part, when it was still called “Czechoslovakia”. Born in Bratislava; Prime Minister in Prague. Usually at this point, for the amusement of the readers, the writer tends to add a comparison that turns out to be a joke. However, there is no comparison to make here, even less as a joke: the Czech and Slovak common history was not made only of laughter and joy – it was also made of betrayal, loneliness, and struggle for the right to exist together, or separately. There happens to be only very few similar cases – please name a case of two different nations uniting under one flag, one state, one President, just to have the right to exist and try their luck at this. And when it fails the first time, they try again a second, a third, and a fourth time. Only after the fourth attempt, they agree on a peaceful separation, though not tearless.
If you’re from Western Europe, I might have lost you already at “Czechoslovakia”, at the very beginning of this paragraph: “where is it by the way?”. If you’re Czech or Slovak, I might have lost you with the “four times” – and you’re probably arguing about this number. See the division now, Mr Macron? Here it is.
To clear this point quickly with Czechs and Slovaks (and especially those born as Czechoslovaks): I include in the “attempts” not only the usual 1918, 1945 and 1990, but also the additional attempt with a more federal system during the Communist period. You may disagree, I’m not even sure I agree with myself here. Let’s not lose the focus of this article, though – the division, between East and West. Continue reading “1918-2018: Czechoslovakia, Between East & West”

Why the “I” in “India” Stands For “Identity”

By Nikhil Verma

The Hidden Indian ‘Apartheid’

In October 2015, two three-year-old kids were set on fire and torched inside a house along with eight adults of the same family in the Indian town of Ballabgarh, Haryana. [1]
Similarly, in 2010, a polio-stricken teenage girl was torched while she was sleeping, her elderly father who went to save her was also locked by an upper-caste mob until both of them were charred to death. The spokes of the rusty handicap tricycle which was meant to assist the polio-ridden condition of the obliterated girl laid darkened in the corner. These are not excerpts of stories from Auschwitz, these are everyday stories from Modern India – so-called progressive India.
These are narratives of caste-based violence and atrocities which occur without any fear of prosecution in India. In both stories, the perpetrators belonged to ‘Upper-Caste groups” i.e. the ‘Caste Elites of India’, whereas both the families on the receiving end belonged to the most socially stigmatised community of Indian society – “The Untouchables” which are now mostly recognized as “Dalits”. The word ‘Dalit’ means ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’ (recognized as Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes under the Indian Constitution).

In India, such heinous crimes against ‘Dalits’ are not an exception but rather a norm. Moreover, such crimes are committed with impunity which is made evident by the conviction rate which stands at 5.3%.[2] ‘Dalits’ cover almost one-fifth of the Indian population with 200 million people which is bigger than the combined population of Germany and France. Such a large population experiences caste discrimination in forms of sexual assault, physical violence, forced prostitution, manual scavenging, and denial of most basic human rights. This is tribalism of the highest order and the international community is not paying enough attention to it.

Despite the fact that caste discrimination is outlawed in India since 1947, it is omnipresent in India and the situation is not showing any signs of progress as the crimes against Dalits have increased by 66% and the rapes of ‘Dalit’ women doubled between 2007 and 2017, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Continue reading “Why the “I” in “India” Stands For “Identity””

The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?

By Charlotte Culine

Freshly arrived in Uppsala, my mind filled with the idealized Swedish role model, it is with great surprise that I learn that Sweden is now facing the rise of populism and Euroscepticism. Rumours has been the situation in Sweden was slowly decaying but I had not realized the extent this phenomenon had taken in this country often considered as the peace haven of Europe, until I arrived and witnessed the tensions surrounding the legislative elections. After France and the Front National, the UK and UKIP, Austria and the Freedom party of Austria, Italy and the Five Star Movement, it is now Sweden’s turn to deal with Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party. Indeed, the Swedish elections that occurred on the September 9 has for the first time seen the everlasting left-wing Social Democrats party’s monopoly on the government endangered by nationalism and anti-immigration ideologies.
The country has gradually seen the rise of populism ever since the beginning of the 2000’s, following the first arrivals of asylum seekers coming from Iraq. From then, the number of asylum seekers has constantly increased up until 2015 when it reached its peak with 162,877 asylum seekers[i] entering the kingdom, before the government changed the immigration procedure, making it tougher. Sweden, almost unharmed by the 2008 economic crisis, remained prosper and did not seem to be the most fertile environment for such a breakthrough from the nationalist factions.

To have a better understanding of the current political landscape and the point of view of a Swede on this situation, I had an interview with our teacher Lars Löfquist, doctor in Theology, director of studies in Uppsala for the Euroculture programme as well as two other programmes concerning Humanitarian Action. Starting from this, I was able to draw some observations that could explain how Sweden got to this point, what is the current situation and what is to expect in the coming weeks. Continue reading “The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?”

Bridging the Gap between European Citizens & Brussels?

By Linda Piersma

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.[1] Via its ‘Europe for Citizens Programme’ (EfCP), the EU now supports various external projects to stimulate this two-way relationship.[2]

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.[3] 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,[4] 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.”[5] By understanding the European public sphere as a network of online and offline meaning-making,[6] 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?”

Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016

 

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Trump and Clinton. Photos by Gage Skidmore, compiled by Krassotkin

Ryan Minett

Next Tuesday will hopefully be the end of the absolute fiasco, disaster, or whatever less printable name you would like to call this year’s election. As much as I would like to talk about it, there is little to nothing positive that outweighs all the negative associated with both candidates. In the last few weeks, there have been rumors from both sides that either Clinton or Trump would drop out of the race leaving the election all but decided in favor of the other candidate. Both times these rumors have come out I was terrified at the very real prospect of either Clinton or Trump becoming president, though honestly I was more terrified at the thought of POTUS Trump than POTUS Clinton. I’m not here to support one or the other. They are both deplorable candidates. That a country of 320 million people has to choose between these two is embarrassing though not altogether surprising. Watching this campaign has been nothing short of Kafkaesque as we watch this garbage, unable to do anything. This is not an election where the voters will vote in favor of a candidate, but rather, for the most part, against a candidate. If anyone is still unaware, next Wednesday the future president of the United States will almost definitely be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Writing those words, my heart beat faster and a wave of fear crashed over me as I realize yet again how bleak the future is.

Why I’m scared of Trump… Continue reading “Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016”

The Danger of Ridiculing Trump: Even if he loses Trump and his supporters cannot be ignored

 

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Trump and his supporters

Arne van Lienden

Ever since Donald Trump announced that he would run as the Republican Presidential candidate he has been a constant supplier of sensational media headlines. Never before in modern American history did a Presidential candidate attract so much controversy and had so little support from the establishment of his own party. With every shocking statement he has made so far – from calls to ban Muslim immigration to virulent misogynistic remarks – commentators predicted that it would be the end of his campaign. But for Trump it seems that nothing can harm him. He continues to generate support while liberal media are left fazed. His actions made the persona Trump into a constant subject of ridicule, almost a laughing stock. But laughing at Donald Trump distracts the attention from the deeper laying socio-economic issues influencing his supporters. As long as these are not heard or taken seriously, Donald Trump may just be a harbinger of things to come.

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Trump rally in Cincinnati

Recent polling has shown that is rather unlikely that Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States. The leaked video with Billy Bush came at the worst possible moment for his campaign. For weeks he tried to appear more reasonable and substantive in interviews and press conferences in order to gain support among white middle-class voters. But where some middle-class voters just might have started to believe he was not that bad, the video leaked and established Trump’s image as a misogynist once again. The result is that demographically Donald Trump just does not seem have enough support to win the Presidency. Besides having a lack of middle class votes, Trump also lacks support in other parts of the population. Whereas Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 won 6% of the African American votes, polls show that Donald Trump has around 3% support among African Americans. Although these percentages seem both shockingly insignificant one should only remember the Presidential elections of 2000 to see that in American Presidential elections the margins are often incredibly small. In recent years the Republican Party has also aimed for the Hispanic vote as Hispanics are overwhelmingly Catholic and could align themselves with the Republican views on abortion and gay marriage. However Trump has antagonized many Hispanics with his derogatory remarks on Mexicans and consequently this election they seem to favour Hillary Clinton over Trump.

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Trump’s campaign slogan. Photo by Gage Skidmore

While numbers may suggest that Donald Trump is running behind it seems that no one takes any reassurance from this. This election has never been about numbers or statistics because they have been against Trump from the very start. Jeb Bush and Marc Rubio were seen as the golden boys in the Republican Party but they were forced to withdraw their campaigns within months because Trump constantly exceeded every expectation. Donald Trump has gone beyond the statistics and numbers that always dominated the media coverage on the Presidential elections and has done so by mobilizing a group of voters that in recent years has been structurally underrepresented in the vote because they felt no candidate recognized their position. It is the ‘hidden group’ of working-class white Americans that suddenly rose to the surface as an important force during these elections. In areas that have been negatively affected by globalization and ‘trickle-down’ economics Trump is seen as the candidate who can turn America back into the manufacturing superpower it was before. With the newest round of the Clinton email scandal hurting her polling position, a Trump presidency is not impossible.

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Host of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver. Photo by Steve Jennings

Popular liberal TV-shows like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight have in the meanwhile started a media offensive against Trump and his supporters. Donald Trump is the perfect persona for ridicule and satire. His inconsistent speeches, outright racist and sexist statements, and his remarkable debating style have been the subject of satirical items that gathered millions of views on TV and YouTube. Also the supporters of Trump are often publicly scorned. There is an overload of videos where Trump supporters are exposed as violently racist and/or sexist. It is important in any free society that people can get mocked and that politics can be the subject of satire, but the current media coverage on Donald Trump uses a dangerous framework to depict him and his supporters. To see the successes in his campaign as a sudden eruption of collective stupidity and racism in American society overlooks the fact that his supporters “may not have it worse than some other demographic groups in America today, but they have fallen the furthest”. The racial and sexist dimension in the Trump campaign should never be overlooked, but neither should the fact that the white working class is the demographic group in America that lives in a worse economic situation than their parents did. Globalization and neoliberal economics have left certain areas in the United States riddled with unemployment, poverty, and a dangerous disgruntlement.

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This Trump supporter at a Cincinnati highlights the deep distrust of his supporters hold for mainstream media

In recent years the main focus of the Democratic and Republican Party has been to gain the middle class vote. The white working class voter is deemed to be aging and to be slowly becoming a relatively small demographic group. So in the Presidential campaigns the Republican Party focused more on the wealthy part of society with promising tax cuts, and the middle class families who were also promised a rise in purchasing power. The establishment of the Democratic Party, traditionally the party for the white working class, has shifted its main focus to social justice for minorities. Although Bernie Sanders did voice the discontent of the white working class, Hillary Clinton is seen as the epitome of middle-class liberalism with no regard for a struggling working class. It is no wonder then that the white working class voter did not feel represented in the establishment of both parties. Whereas usually this does mean that they would not vote, this year’s election is different. Donald Trump presented himself as an anti-establishment candidate who would completely change the partisan and bureaucratic government in Washington. His populist rhetoric and promise to ‘make America great again’ resonate in the areas where the white working class is still the largest voting group. For instance in the Rust Belt – a formerly heavily industrialized area in the Midwest – unemployment is structural after most industries left the area. Trump’s rhetoric to bring manufacturing back from China is hugely popular in these areas that ever since the Reagan presidency have only been in decline.

Framing Donald Trump’s campaign solely in terms of racism and sexism overlooks the fact that 42% percent of the American electorate is nonetheless likely to vote for him. Ridiculing Trump and his supporters will only contribute to further polarization and antagonism between liberals and conservatives in the United States. It is disturbing enough in itself that a substantial demographic voter group only finds itself heard in a megalomaniac and populist candidate like Donald Trump. The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight’s success comes mostly from poking fun at channels like Fox News, but the audience of Fox News is not likely to be open to other views or other channels if they find themselves the subject of scorn there. It rather works to reinforce the polarized media landscape in the United States. It should be the task of liberal media to look deeper into people’s motivation to vote for Trump and to make their concerns more accepted in the discourse surrounding the elections. Also Hillary Clinton’s debate strategy of constantly reminding people of the controversies surround Trump is futile as long as the deeper socio-economic worries of the white working class are being ignored. A more inclusive discourse should begin with the media and politicians that propagate a liberal ideology.

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Trump has many devoted supporters. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

If numbers and statistics can be trusted just this once in these elections, then Hillary Clinton will become the first female President of the United States. This will be a huge milestone for gender equality in United States, just as the 2008 election of Barack Obama was one for race equality. But it should not ignore the fact that Donald Trump has made it so far in the American elections. It should not be considered as a deviation from normalcy in politics or as a unique collective misjudgment. The success of Donald Trump has revealed the discontent of a ‘hidden group’ of voters who previously have been structurally ignored in American politics. The only way to prevent a normalization of populism in American politics is to be more open to the struggles of this group of voters. If they will be ignored again than Trump will prove to only be a harbinger for things to come in the American political arena.

Click here for more by Arne van Lienden.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Islamophobia: Made in America – A New Phenomenon? US Elections and Discrimination” by Sabine Volk

“Should Voting be Compulsory in the US?” by Emma Danks-Lambert

“Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016” by Ryan Minett

The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? A European solution to voter inequality in the US

This essay is moreover a response to political scientist Robert A. Dahl’s famous work How Democratic Is the American Constitution?, in which he points to several democratic issues in the American constitutional system.

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The Constitution of the United States of America is almost a holy document in the US

Sabine Volk

How democratic is the American constitution? asks political scientist Robert A. Dahl in his famous essay. His argument does not leave much of a doubt to the answer: the American constitution is by far not the democratic model constitution that many Americans think it to be. Claiming a more critical stance towards the more than 200 years old script, Dahl discusses several questionable aspects of the American founding document. Amongst those aspects, for example, is the unique electoral system whose outcome does not always represent the will of the citizens, as in the 2000 national elections. Another fairly undemocratic feature is the unequal representation of citizens in America’s second legislative chamber, the U.S. Senate, in which the federal states are represented. Dahl defines unequal representation as a condition in which the number of members of the second chamber coming from a federal unit such as a state or province is not proportional to its population, to the number of adult citizens, or to the number of eligible voters.

“The inequality in representation,” he then finds, “is a profound violation of the democratic idea of political equality among all citizens,” since it goes against the basic democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” One cannot but wonder why unequal representation exists and on which grounds it can be justified in a democracy.  Continue reading “The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? A European solution to voter inequality in the US”

To vote or not to vote? Young people’s feelings towards the European election

Will you vote for the European election? I gathered feedback from friends from several countries and asked them whether they think they will cast their votes. In the end I got many different answers. This article shows, in no way representatively of course, the variety of feelings towards this European election.

Franziska Brinkmann│Franziska_Brinkmann@gmx.de

News about the special party congresses as well as advertisement campaigns all over the internet constantly remind us that from 22nd to 25th of May, Europeans will have another chance to vote.

How do young people feel about the upcoming elections? Are they eager to vote or not?

How do young people feel about the upcoming elections?

I gathered feedback from friends from several countries and asked them whether they think they will cast their votes and the reason why. In the end I got many different answers. This article shows, in no way representatively of course, the variety of feelings towards this European election.

This May, once more, most people in Europe will have the freedom to vote. I say most people, since there are of course, many people living in Europe without having citizenship (like many of my Euroculture friends). I also say this because there are four nations in the EU that have the legal obligation to vote: Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Luxembourg[1]. For all other Europeans it’s time to decide first of all if they are going to vote at all.

My own research on the European elections began when I tried to figure out how voting is going to work for me this time. Due to the MA Euroculture programme I am in Krakow right now, far away from my assigned ballot box in Göttingen, Germany. To tell you something about my voting behaviour right away: I always vote and it does not matter if it is a regional, national or European election. Since I am in a programme concerned with European culture and politics now, I feel even more obliged to do so. Continue reading “To vote or not to vote? Young people’s feelings towards the European election”