Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The unbearable top down-ness of European democracy. And the Irish Robin Hood.

To vote or not to vote in the upcoming European Parliament’s elections….
Voters’ interest is once again very low (e.g.: in France source LH2) so the EU Parliament launches a glitzy €18 million elections campaign :"European elections, it's your choice". It may be so but the real question is: does it matter if we vote?

Truth be told, “le machin européen" to paraphrase Charles de Gaulle, is running "itself” just fine without people having a real say (voters turnout in 2004 dropped to 45.47%). As ever more powers are being transferred to the EU Parliament (even more under the European Constitution/Lisbon Treaty), the issue of legitimacy is getting hotter. Or it is just hot air? Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president and architect of the constitution on which the treaty is based, said “public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly”. Enters the Irish-voters-who-dare-say NO (53.4%) in the referendum of June 2008 (yes-vote 46.6%) ...

"We are not sheep"

Our political elites are no longer amused and many view this expression of sovereign will as an "inconvenience”, an "obstacle" that must be overcome. The post-ballot message from the EU top sounded like "thou shall vote YES for we know best." Essentially a rethink is out of the question even though the message from the EU bottom is quite clear: citizens are apprehensive, disillusioned and also fed up of being patronized by politicians. Given a chance, the populace rebels by exercising its democratic right to say NO. But even after the translation into the EU official languages (the other 22), the leadership “didn’t get it”. A Russian NIET might have got more attention…

To my mind, the Irish no-voters have become the Robin Hoods of the EU forest. The rebellion had the merit of bringing to light the real nature of the EU democratic process, i.e. consultation of the citizenry is only meant to yield a YES-result. Referenda or elections shouldn’t question let alone stop the momentum engineered from above. Hence begging the question of whether the ideal of a free Europe where citizens can shape their own future isn't slowly being replaced by an ideology tolerating no dissent. If there is no doubt that the Parliament has a few good men and women fighting to do the right thing - while shuttling between their country, Brussels and Strasbourg -, the sad fact that national parties tend not to pick the best (not to mention the recycling of the old like Libertas is doing for its pan-European campaign), does not abode well for the future (for more see Européennes, le PS fait le choix de la médiocrité).

While citizens - rebellious or not - are cutting on their spending to weather the global economic storm, Members of the European Parliament are discussing plans for a new multi-million euro aqua gym/sport centre (according to the Daily Telegraph €8.1m - the EU Parliament hits back and says only €4.1m). Should this rather unclear proposal turn into reality - in whatever shape or cost, it most certainly will -, the thought of healthier, more relaxed parlementarians would hardly be comforting to the struggling EU citizen-taxpayers. A referendum on the issue is unlikely but somehow it is easy to imagine our elected representatives in grand aquatic isolation pondering about the most bearable wellness "top-down" democracy can bring them. See the Times on how MEPs make millions...

Thank you Ireland for being the voice of reason, for keeping alive the hope of a freer, more accountable and democratic Europe ! And on the occasion of your National Day, Happy St. Patrick!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Kadin günü: women on top of their world.

Sabiha Gökçen (1913-2001)
An Air-force officer , she was one of the world's first female fighter pilots and a symbol for Turkey of the emancipation of women. Jetting solo over Turkey and the Balkans in small biplanes, she became the nation's own Amelia Earhart, a celebrity in hat and goggles.

Arzuhan Dogan Yalçindag
First chairwomen of the Board of Directors of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association - TÜSIAD.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Civil liberties threatened in Europe. Well everywhere...

"Why then do the European states claim for themselves the right to spread civilisation and manners to different continents? Why not to Europe itself?". Joseph Roth, 1937
If our liberty were safe in the EU (surpranational or national levels), there would be no need for citizens to raise the alarm. Yet alarm bells are ringing throughout Europe. In view of the economic crisis, we should not forget the lessons of history (post-1930s...), i.e., not take freedom (democracy) for a European granted.
The Convention on Modern Liberty is one of those ringing bells. Bringing together people from all walks of life and political affiliations, it focused on the situation in the UK. Yet its message is truly universal. We are lead to believe that in the name of so-called "justice", "security", "truth" we should sacrifice our freedom. A little here, a little there.... but in the end, it all adds up. And what the facts are demonstrating is a trend of erosion of civil liberties throughout Europe with increased state intervention and intrusion in our lives.

Most fall for the rhetoric of fear used to justify the curtailment of individual freedoms. The answer is to keep questioning, to challenge the claims, to test the facts, to debate the issues and hopefully reverse the trend.

History tells us too that fighting for liberty makes a difference. During his exile in England young Voltaire (1694 –1778) was impressed by the British Monarchy's support to freedom of speech. Back in France he fought for civil rights at a time when the French Monarchy was absolute. His words in defense of freedom of speech continue to inspire "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it". Looking at the dangerous course taken by today's European leaders, there are reasons to be concerned. Voltaire must be turning in his grave. And we need to take action.

That said about Europe, don't expect to find guidance and/or solace with the United Nations and its human rights "Alice of Wonderland world" where freedom of opinion is increasingly viewed as a problem. In her speech Jo Glanville (Index of Censorship) argues that the UN is actually retreating from defending free expression. "The prevailing view at the UN Human Rights Council is that potentially offensive speech is so dangerous that our liberty is better served by deploying censorship rather than protecting the right of free speech"....

The Council passed a resolution condemning "defamation of religions" (non-binding Resolution 62/145, 2007) and calls on governments to take action. Freedom House (FH) reports that the U.N. General Assembly is considering an "Anti blasphemy Resolution" which would make it binding on member states to make it a crime to criticize all religions (A resolution pushed by the group of 57 Islamic nations). In the CNN interview, Paula Schriefer (FH) says that the effect of the non-binding resolution on freedom of speech is already being felt around the world (arrests of journalists). So what next? A Euro goulag, global inquisition?.... Food for free thought. For now.