11th of April 2014
Discussing Democracy in the former capital of Europe
If Europe would have any “capital” nowadays most people would situate it in Brussels, the city where the European institutions are located. However, in a distant past – more than a thousand years before we had a European Union and a European Parliament – the capital of Europe was situated in Aachen. This medium sized German city that is situated very closely to the Belgian and Dutch borders was once the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. It was the centre of the empire of Charlemagne, the traveling emperor who ruled his grounds by constantly moving from one place to another. Now, the Europe on Track team and winner of the Charlemagne Youth price visits the city after which their price is named: Charlemagne meets Charlemagne. In Aachen, we discussed about democracy, politics and the European Elections.
Transnational politics and a government of experts
In Aachen, we discussed with some enthusiastic members of AEGEE-Aachen about the European Elections. Where does the idea of elections come from? Why should we take the effort to go to the voting office and cast our ballot for somebody we don’t even know? In order to get to know more about the elections, we had to go back to the basics – the reason why we vote anyway: democracy. In an interactive setting, the participants got the team-assignment to try to design their own democracy, totally from scratch.
“How would your ideal European democracy look like?”
Surprisingly, the teams came up with very different ideas. On behalf of “team Blue”, Benjamin Feyen presented an idea that was focussed on reforming the legislature. His team had come up with an idea of a European parliament that only consists of transnational seats. This would mean that anybody in Europe could vote for every candidate; so if you’re living in Poland you should be able to vote for a candidate from France or Portugal or any other member state. Moreover, they came up with the idea of having one third of the parliament being chosen by means of a lottery instead of elections, so to have one third of the parliament being filled with random European citizens. This could be a very interesting innovation while it would make a part of the parliament independent from party politics and campaigning: creating a “real” representation of the European population.
The other team, “team Red”, came up with a different idea that was focused on the executive branch of government. They argued that one of the main problems of politics nowadays is the gap between politicians and the field they are making policy for. In their ideal democracy, a health minister should have a background in the health sector and an education minister should have experience as teacher at an educational institution. Only if we could choose our ministers out of groups of experts in their field, the people in charge would be able come up with sensible policies and be directly accountable for these.
“Why should we take the effort to vote for the European Parliament elections?”
After thinking about these “ideal” democracies we discussed the current situation of the European elections and asked the question “why would you vote?” All participants were convinced that they should take part in the elections, both to exercise their democratic right and to have influence on the shaping of the European political system. However, some critical comments were raised. Kostas Tsoleridis argued that it’s not strange that many people don’t go to vote because it is very hard to differentiate between European politicians. How can people really see the difference between the positions of for example Schulz and Juncker when they both have a lot of similar opinions on important topics? Moreover, the political structure of the EU has become so complicated, that it’s almost impossible for the average voter to know about the actual influence of his vote. How can you know whether your vote counts if you don’t understand the system?
The session in Aachen provided some very interesting insights in the ideas behind our democratic system. On the one hand, we seem to have a democratic system in the European Union, on the other there are still many ways in which we could improve it. Today, we have arrived in Mannheim in order to discuss the Europtimism amongst the European youth: what can we be optimistic about in Europe and what can we gain from Euroscepticism? Keep track of our blog in order to stay updated on our great European journey!