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Offline xasop

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The workings of European democracy
« on: June 17, 2021, 08:14:14 PM »
I've never looked very deeply into the workings of the EU, as someone who is ineligible to vote in European elections. The system of numerous institutions spread across three different cities always seemed a bit daunting. However, I am almost certainly going to be eligible to vote in 2024, so I decided it is time to educate myself so I can decide who to vote for in a few years.

For those of you who are not European, and our British residents who still do not understand what they opted out of, I will provide a brief summary here. The EU is composed of seven institutions; of these, this discussion will be limited to the four that comprise the legislature and executive, as these are the ones voters can most directly influence. The other three — the judiciary, the central bank and the auditing body — are a topic for another time.

Despite much propaganda thrown around regarding the supposedly undemocratic nature of the EU, it strongly resembles most Western democracies in its structure. Where appropriate, comparisons will be drawn between EU institutions and the institutions of other democracies.
  • The European Parliament (EP) is comparable to the lower houses of many bicameral parliaments around the world, such as the House of Commons in the UK, or the House of Representatives in the USA. It is elected directly by eligible voters in each member state, although the exact criteria for voting eligibility vary by state, with an election held every 5 years. As the only institution directly elected by the people, this will be discussed in more detail below.
  • The European Council (EUCO) and the Council of the European Union (Council) are, taken together, somewhat analogous to the upper houses of many parliaments, such as the Senate in the Netherlands or (somewhat more loosely) the USA. (A comparison with the House of Lords in the UK would be too strained, given how undemocratic the British system is.) The purposes of these institutions are to represent member states, rather than representing the people directly. The EUCO is comprised of the heads of government of each member state, and the Council rotates its membership according to the topic under consideration — for example, when the Council is convened on environmental issues, it will be composed of the Ministers for the Environment of each member state.
  • The European Commission (EC) is the executive of the EU. It consists of 27 members, one from each member state, who are appointed through a process involving both the EUCO and the EP. One difference between the EC and the executives of most other democracies is that the EC need not be elected from within the ranks of the EP, but since the EC cannot be formed without the approval of the EP and it relies on the EP's continued support to do its work, it is no less democratic. The current President of the European Commission, analogous to the prime minister in most democracies, is Ursula von der Leyen.
I will now go into some further detail on the EP, as this is the most directly relevant institution to voters. Rather than the familiar party-based approach, the EP is organised into groups, which are groups of members (MEPs) with similar ideologies. This arrangement, as opposed to organising MEPs by the state they represent, facilitates cooperation between the representatives of different member states with similar political views. Generally, each group will be composed of the elected representatives of ideologically related European political parties, although there are exceptions where different members of a party have joined with different groups. European parties, in turn, are formed from cooperation between national parties of member states with similar ideologies.

This idea may be easier to grasp with an example. The largest group in the current EP is the European People's Party Group (EPP Group), made up of the eponymous European People's Party (EPP), along with some representatives from the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM). In turn, the EPP is made up of various national parties, including:
  • Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU) in Germany,
  • Partido Popular (PP) in Spain,
  • Platforma Obywatelska (PO) in Poland,
  • Νέα Δημοκρατία (ND) in Greece,
  • Fine Gael (FG) in Ireland, and
  • Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA) in the Netherlands, among many others.
So, if a German voter were to cast a vote for the CDU in an EP election, that would translate into a vote for the EPP, and their representative would ultimately sit as part of the EPP Group. Groups in the EP will generally have a leader who speaks for them in plenary sessions, as in this session from last year, where each group presents its response to President von der Leyen's proposed funding to recover from the pandemic.

This system results in some odd incongruences. For instance, I would not support either of the major parties (Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael) in Irish national elections (assuming that I were eligible to vote), but so far I like the Renew Europe (Renew) group, in which Fianna Fáil participates. Conversely, I like some of Partij voor de Dieren's positions in the Netherlands, but they have chosen to align themselves with the group The Left in the European Parliament (GUE/NGL), which is too left-wing for my taste, so I would not vote for them in a European election.

In order to facilitate clear communication between people of differing backgrounds, and to minimise the misunderstandings that come with language barriers, MEPs are permitted to speak in any of the EU's 24 official languages. A team of expert interpreters translates all statements into 23 of these in real time (Irish is presently excluded due to the difficulty in finding qualified interpreters), so that all MEPs can understand each other, and all European citizens can understand each session. EP sessions are available to watch, live or recorded, online in any of the 23 EU languages other than Irish.

This is all fairly new to me and I am still getting a handle on how it all fits together, but this is as good a summary as I can give of what I have encountered so far. As for the reason I began looking into this, my own views seem to fit somewhere in between the groups Renew and Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), and the EP sessions I have watched so far seem to confirm this. I'm going to keep watching EP sessions and try to get to know the system a bit better so I can make an informed choice in a few years.
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Offline Rushy

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2021, 12:18:33 AM »
The primary problem with the EU is that its structure heavily mimics the outdated and completely worthless UK parliamentary system (as do many other European nations). The irony that the UK can't handle being part of a government that's nearly an exact replica of their own government because it's incompetent is completely lost on them.

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Offline xasop

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2021, 12:24:32 AM »
The primary problem with the EU is that its structure heavily mimics the outdated and completely worthless UK parliamentary system (as do many other European nations).
What you're observing is not "mimicry" of the UK, but just how Western democracies work in general. As I pointed out in my OP, the EU is in some ways more similar to the US than to the UK, but that doesn't mean it's "mimicking" the US either.

The irony that the UK can't handle being part of a government that's nearly an exact replica of their own government because it's incompetent is completely lost on them.
As are many other ironies of Brexit, apparently.
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Offline xasop

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2021, 08:10:14 PM »
I've been exploring the European Parliament website some more. The MEP search lets you slice the 705 MEPs any which way you want — by country, by constituency (for countries with more than one), by political group or by membership in committees or delegations. Once you've found the MEPs you're interested in, you can see a list of all the speeches they've made in Parliament with a transcript and a video link. Very helpful when trying to decide whom to re-elect.

Also, there is the inaugural plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe tomorrow morning at 08:55 CEST (June 19, 2021, 06:55:00 AM your time, if your offset is correctly configured in the forum settings). I'll try to watch that, since it'll be my first chance to watch a plenary live.
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Offline xasop

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2021, 03:51:04 PM »
Also, there is the inaugural plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe tomorrow morning at 08:55 CEST

This turns out to be far more interesting than I expected. They are launching a website for the participation all EU citizens, available in all 24 official languages of the EU. This conference will involve direct participation from citizens all over the EU, with particular emphasis on young people, minorities and those who have not previously been involved in EU democracy. The idea is for citizens, not MEPs, to put forward ideas and suggestions, which will then be debated in the EP and concrete proposals formulated.

I think this is a brilliant idea, and another example of the great influence for good that the EU is on democracy in Europe. People from all over the EU will be able to find others with similar ideas across the rest of the EU and discuss and debate them, and at the end of it, see tangible results from the process.
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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2021, 04:20:20 PM »
That sounds interesting. Are you familiar with the Citizen’s Assembly in Ireland? With it becoming increasingly obvious that elected officials are not necessarily more qualified at crafting legislation than many non-elected people, it seems like systems that broadly engage the population in consensus building is a bright possibility for the future of democracy.
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Offline xasop

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2021, 04:25:51 PM »
That sounds interesting. Are you familiar with the Citizen’s Assembly in Ireland?
I wasn't, but that seems interesting as well. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

With it becoming increasingly obvious that elected officials are not necessarily more qualified at crafting legislation than many non-elected people, it seems like systems that broadly engage the population in consensus building is a bright possibility for the future of democracy.
I agree, with qualification. Many bills legislatures need to deal with are routine, not very interesting to most people, and would never cross the mind of the average citizen. So, while I do think direct involvement in democracy is important, it cannot replace representative democracy as the primary form of government, only supplement it.
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Offline xasop

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2021, 04:28:24 PM »
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/election-results-2019/en/seats-political-group-country/2019-2024/

This is also pretty interesting, you can see how different countries differ in how many members they've elected in each group. France and Germany in particular have markedly different levels of support for the different groups. Germany has much greater support for EPP and Greens/EFA, while France has more Renew and ID MEPs. As expected, half of Poland's MEPs are ECR (PiS), but I'm surprised by how many GUE/NGL MEPs Ireland has. Here in the Netherlands, we seem to have a good balance of centrist, centre-left and centre-right parties, with not many extremists on either side.

It's also pretty obvious that Brexit has changed the balance of power a bit — aside from the Non-Inscrits members (all but one of whom were from the Brexit Party), the UK had a lot of Renew (Lib Dems and Alliance Party) and Greens/EFA (Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru) MEPs. Somewhat ironically for their propaganda campaign, this means that the Brexiteers have increased von der Leyen's relative power in the EU by leaving, since the UK had no EPP MEPs whatsoever.

As someone who likes both Renew and Greens/EFA, it's sad to see them go, particularly the Plaid Cymru members who have spent the past 20 years campaigning for the recognition of the Welsh language in the EU.
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Offline xasop

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2021, 01:00:08 AM »
I decided to take advantage of my relatively recent bilingualism and try to get a feel for how accurate the interpretation of the European parliament sessions is. Take this speech by MEP Anja Hazekamp of the Left group, originally given in Dutch, but with an English interpretation available.

In terms of the political message, the interpretation is adequate. If I had no knowledge of Dutch, I would still understand the key point she is making, so it is certainly better than nothing. But many finer details and the expressiveness of tone and adverbs are lost in translation. When I listen to the interpretation, I hear what she's saying; when I listen to the original, I feel what she's saying.

While being fluent in all 24 languages is probably out of the question, I have to conclude that the EU's policy of encouraging all its citizens to acquire at least two languages other than their native tongue is absolutely worthwhile, and should be adopted by the education systems of all member states. When MEPs speak in Dutch, I greatly prefer listening to their own oratory because it is easier to follow than the interpretation. This is not a criticism of the skills of the EP's interpreters, but the simple reality of interpretation.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2021, 01:04:38 AM by xasop »
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Offline xasop

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2021, 01:40:59 PM »
European Parliament is having its first plenary session following the summer break at 17:00 CEST (15:00 UTC) tomorrow. You can watch it here or read the agenda here.
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Offline xasop

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Re: The workings of European democracy
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2021, 11:49:37 PM »
The leader of the Renew European Parliament group is stepping down after being elected leader of his party in Romania. Sophie in 't Veld, a member of the Dutch party Democrats 66, has already announced a bid for the EP group leadership.

Dutch EU lawmaker Sophie In’t Veld has staked her claim to become president of the centrist Renew Europe, the third-biggest political group in the European Parliament, after the current president, Romania’s Dacian Cioloş, announced plans to step down.

“As Group leader, it would be my mission to further consolidate and strengthen our political family. We are more than the sum of its parts, we are one for Europe,” she told EURACTIV on Saturday (2 October).
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