Europe In Crisis
Europe's political landscape has been teetering on the edge ever since Britain voted to leave the ‘security’ of the EU last June. Donald Trump’s victory in the US seemed to build on this wave of populism and, indeed compound it. Anger and disdain won’t be isolated for long and mainland Europe is already feeling this. The 2017 French Presidential election is billed as the next election capable of a big shock with popularity rising for hard right leader Marine Le Pen. The leader of the Front National has already declared her admiration for Trump and his movement. It is this admiration that is feared more so than the surprise victory of a real estate agent promising change. It is the fear that there is more like him around.
The anti-establishment wave has already claimed it’s next victim, in the shape of Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who is set to resign after losing a referendum on Sunday. Having lost a referendum which promised constitutional reform this weekend, Renzi feels there is no longer a place for him as a leader in Italy. The reforms would have removed power from the Senate and mean that proposed laws would only require the approval of the Lower House of Parliament, as opposed to the current system which requires approval from both Houses. In short, Renzi was campaigning to make it easier to govern the nation moving forwards and move Italy away from its usual instability. Not only was Renzi gambling his political future on the referendum having said he would resign if he lost, but he was also gambling with the stock markets, that are set for turbulent times now. The “No” vote which has come through in the Italian constitutional referendum had been widely forecast by polls and political commentators but the resignation of Renzi is still a blow to politics on a European front. The fall-out for the markets and Europe’s economies is unclear, but some upheaval may now be in prospect, particularly given the scale of the vote and the political and financial uncertainty facing Italy.
In a time where the media is portraying the EU as unstable and capable of collapsing to the far-right, we must reassess. We must recognize that while the EU is a representative of the people who occupy it, these people are discouraged because their opinions are not being listened to, the template of how the EU has been run for years needs to be addressed if it is to continue with integrity.
Political commentator David Van Reybrouck recently heralded Ireland as “the most innovative democracy in Europe” and while we are under no illusions that these citizens are disgruntled with the government too on many matters, the channels of communication are, at least, open.
This is very much embodied by the recent Citizen’s Assembly held in Dublin castle on constitutional reforms on abortion legislation. The inaugural meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly decided to hold four, weekend-long meetings on the constitutional restrictions on abortion before submitting a report to government legislators. The 99 ordinary assembly members, chosen by a polling company to be broadly representative of the electorate, will be joined by Judge Mary Laffoy and Taoiseach Enda Kenny for the coming sessions. Seeking to get a sense of the feelings amongst the electorate in order to move forward with the 8th amendment is seen as extremely positive. There is no major science behind the logic of asking people to give their honest and open thoughts on a highly contentious subject such as abortion but with this citizens assembly, Ireland is setting a precedent that may help to bolster and support the government when it is lacking in public credibility.
Analyzing How Europe Can Improve
So how can we all operate within these frameworks? As a society, we have never been more equipped to communicate, on multiple different platforms. We must follow leaders who encourage participation and actively seek out our opinion. It doesn’t have to start with Citizens Assemblies, it can begin with any kind of deliberative democracy.
Yes, political tensions are growing and landscapes are changing, but it doesn’t have to be through negative ideologies. Democracy needs to improve. “Democracy has to evolve from a state of government in which the people have the right to vote, to a form of government in which the people have the right to speak”. 2016 has, so far, been the year of rising up in the face of authority.
We should remember that elections are only a relatively recent aspect of democracy. Before that , we had years of forums, assemblies and so on. Revisiting these platforms may again be called upon. The way representatives have moved further and further away from those they represent is surely at the heart of recent political shocks. How better to reverse this situation than investing our government and our communities into initiatives like the Citizen’s Assembly.
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