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Direct democracy? Not at all Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by giuliano gennaio, Italy Apr 3, 2003
Human Rights   Opinions
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I write this article being inspired by my participation in a meeting of an Italian political movement called “Democrazia Diretta” (Direct Democracy). This movement is aimed at involving citizens in the ‘res publica’, the ‘common cause’ through innovative tools like advisory referenda or participated public budget.(www.democraziadiretta.it)

What has fascinated me from the very first moment that I embarked on the European Union Student Council adventure, was the innovative character of the Council’s strategy of representing students: asking students directly what policies they want European Institutions to carry out in the field of higher education, and in doing so enabling them to act as a pressure group and speak up about issues that concern them through their own ‘mouthpiece’, the European Union Student Council.
Democrazia Diretta promotes the same concept and attempts to spread it to all citizens in Italy, thus creating support among the constituency to convince institutions and media to give more attention to issues such e-democracy, referenda, law proposals drafted by citizens and so on.

In the European Union something like this exists already, although in a very basic format. A few weeks ago the Greek Presidency of the European Union launched an e-voting portal (http://evote.eu2003.gr/EVOTE/en/index.stm ). Through this portal citizens can express their vision on the future of Europe, on drugs policies, on various running items in the European Parliament and, very topical, on the war in Iraq.
The European Union is also one of the few supra-national bodies which allows citizens to participate in the decisionmaking process by giving them the opportunity to present petitions and moreover to monitor the state of the presented petition while it is being discussed in the European Parliament.
The European Union member states will most likely present the European Union Constitution that is now under construction, to the European citizens via a referendum in order for them to ratify it.
The European Union is working with the United Nations and the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) on different issues concerning e-governance and information society issues. Civil society is mobilised in order to make citizens aware of how valuable and convenient it is to cast their vote directly instead of via their representatives in the European and national parliaments or local city councils.

So, it looks like the communication between citizens and institutions is already very advanced or at least much more advanced than could ever have been expected before the emergence of Internet. Is this all true then? Are we silently approaching a direct democracy era? Are citizens really involved in the decisionmaking process? NOT YET, AT ALL!
The problem at stake here is the implementation of the policy decisions: after the opinions of the citizens have been collected, the political representatives , the most important symbol of a parliamentary democracy, do not put forward these opinions. The proposals are not discussed and voted upon. In a parliamentary democracy the opinion of the people should be the starting point for the legislator when representing the interest of the people.
Nowadays, commissions and assemblies work on the basis of interest groups and lobbies, completely forgetting the people’s voice. A first strategy to make the voice of the people count in the political system could be to start from the local level authorities.
In Brasil for example, the municipality of Porto Allegre allows 20% of the budget to be discussed by Citizens, amended and finally voted upon while in Italy more than 400 people have presented petitions to the Parliamentary assembly during the present legislation and only 19 arrived to the parliament or the committees to be discussed. None of them yet being voted.
Returning to the examples presented above we have to admit how , for instance, the work done by the ITU and the United Nations towards creating an Information society for all is still in progress. In the Preparatory Committee one can easily see how the national interest is still the most important objective to be pursued. The action plan of the World Summit for the Information Society is still vague and without any clear implementation strategy due to lack of funds.
The same declaration drafted by government representatives from all over the world is also unclear and cannot easily implemented.
The e-vote portal discussed above is ,furthermore, only a poll-led initiative designed to involve citizens in the work of European Institutions without any clear follow-up about what will be done with the opinions cast on this portal.
The referendum that will take place all over Europe to ratify the European Constitution will not be blinded for governments that can still act without taking care of the People’s voice since the acceptance of the advices given by the European Constituency assembly must only be signed by the Inter- ministerial body. Not even one pan-European debate on the issues concerning the Consitution has been held.

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