The Green Party primary provides a great example of how we can achieve a more open and democratic Europe.
Paul Cohen is the international secretary of the Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green Party of England and Wales
Europe and democracy are two words rarely seen together in a positive light. Phrases like “crisis of democracy” and “democratic-deficit” are applied to the European Union with alarming frequency, and from reading mainstream media coverage you could be forgiven for assuming that we are ruled over by a group of despotic technocrats based in Brussels.
But there is still a strong and growing democratic streak in the EU.
The Treaty of Lisbon, rather than focusing on national issues, encouraged consideration of the issues that the European Parliament actually has power over, and aimed to do this through establishing the role of lead candidates for political groups in the European elections.
These lead candidates will compete with each other in televised debates to try and win the public over. The European party that wins the most votes in the election then has their lead candidate appointed as President of the European Council (provided the European Parliament ratifies their appointment). Simple. Kind of.
The problem is that while the public will ultimately be slightly more informed about European issues, the selection of the lead candidates is still done internally, behind closed doors.
The European Green Party didn’t like this idea. Their solution was to open the doors to the public, and give voters the choice; they came up with the European Green Primary.
The European Green Primary operates in a similar fashion to the presidential primaries in the US, whereby a number of figures within the party go head-to-head in an open and public manner to win the candidacy.
Yet even this style of primary doesn’t offer the open and democratic process that the Greens were looking for, limited as it is to relatively small portions of the electorate.
In order to secure the transparency wanted, not only party members, but anyone living in the EU over the age of 16 who broadly “supports green values” can vote for the lead candidate for the Greens.
This offers the unprecedented opportunity for Europeans not just to choose their elected representatives, but to choose who they are selecting from come the election.
Four people are competing in the Green Primary: Jose Bove, Monica Frassoni, Rebecca Harms and Ska Keller. They are doing so both online and in person, giving everyone a chance to engage with the selection process.
The centrepieces of the primary are a series of live debates held in eight different countries, including austerity-squeezed Greece and Spain, allowing voters, who may never have thought about the Greens before, to find out about what the candidates stand for, and how voting Green could help them.
Part of what makes the Green Primary such a landmark event is engaging disaffected voters.
There’s more to this than just being open and democratic though. It’s also about giving the public the chance to prioritise different areas of the work of the European Green Party. All the candidates have focused their campaign on specific issues. Choosing your preferred candidate goes on to influence the key issues the Greens will be focusing on in May.
It is an efficient way, in effect, of the public setting the agenda.
Wouldn’t it be nice to think that all of European politics could be like the Green Primary? Just think what the landscape would look like if every party took the time to listen to and engage people who felt that they had been abandoned by the traditional institutions. How much more diverse would leadership be if everyone had the right to voice their opinion on who they were voting for?
So take the time to vote in the European Green Primary, even if you won’t be voting Green in May. We can achieve a more open and democratic Europe. Let’s hear your voice.
The European Green Primary runs until the 28 January 2014. To find out more and vote go to www.greenprimary.euLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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