Saturday, February 6, 2010

Minutes from Newropeans/Grillo meeting in Paris

Newropeans is a supranational citizen organization that wants to make the European Union more democratic. Rather than on societal problems, Newropeans mainly focuses on the institutional reform of the European Union. At the European elections 2009, the organization stood for elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands. However, they could bridge neither the threshold in Germany and France nor win a seat in the Netherlands (no threshold). Since then, not much has been heard of them.

Beppe Grillo is an Italian comedian, blogger and millionaire (see my post about him here), who believes that the future of democratic representation lies in the internet. In Italy, he has become quite popular among young people.

Newropeans and Beppe Grillo met in Paris on Saturday. It was the first time since the elections that they really raised their voice. Here are my comments to their livestream (or fast-forward to my analysis at the bottom of this post).

-Start at 14.30

-First twenty minutes: Grillo is poking fun at the world, entertaining the people. Laughs everywhere. The talk is in Italian and French. Most people in the audience seem to understand both. The panel is talking to an elite.

-Now he's talking about the development of his blog. 25 minutes into the talk. Still nothing tangible.

-Livestream viewers remain at about 20. Pretty stable.

-They got me via their Facebook communications. "Beppe Grillo, Franck Biancheri, Marco Travaglio en conférence-débat: La démocratie en danger: Italie-Europe, les citoyens résistent". So far, the discussion hasn't really mentioned where the danger to European democracy lies in the first place. Nor presented any solutions.

-Finally it's getting more tangible. They're talking about broadband internet access for citizens in Italy. Wish he wouldn't always scream like that.

-Grillo talks about the lack of objectivity in Italian media, naming Corriere della Serra as an example. The web offers a second entry into debate which is not restricted by media agendas.

-Grillo stopped talking. Time for questions.

-A citizen reassures Grillo of the solidarity of young Italians. Italy had a big public discussion when a university professor advised young Italians to better leave the country.

-Grillo talks about the potential of online campaigning. The web allowed the Swedish pirate party to gain support. It allows people to connect across different countries and continents.

-I wish he wouldn't scream like that.

-What happened? Viewers sprung up to 440.

-Over to Franck Biancheri, Newropeans president. Led the party into the European elections 2009; they stood for elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

-Biancheri talks about the young generation. Flexible, international, able to adapt to changes. A generation that wants to use its rights as European citizens.

-No other continent besides Europe in which cultures interact in a comparable way. Young citizens profit enormously, says Biancheri.

-Biancheri: The power places in Europe are not Berlin or Paris any more, but Brussels and Frankfurt. They are unaccounted for and don't reflect the opinions of the 500 Million citizens of Europe.

-The importance is to create a structure that allows a democracy from below, says Biancheri.

-Those who want to change something see the space for political action diminish in the nation-states and competences move to Brussels. The political debate has to follow to Brussels, according to the Newropeans president.

-Different electoral structures in the nation-states. Germany: 4000 signatures to put up a list for elections. Netherlands: Only very few. Italy: A lot of signatures. The electors in Italy and Germany don't seem to be equal, says Biancheri and wants to create a single electoral procedure in Europe.

-Grillo is back on. Criticizes the fact that there is no common European vision in Brussels.

-Grillo puts on a red hat resembling the hat of the Ku Klux Klan, and disappears from stage.

-Over to Marco Travaglio, Italian journalist.

-Firefox keeps on shutting down.

-Viewers are up at 600.

-Travaglio recommends an Italian blog,

-Back to Biancheri. He says that 80% of all French media are financed by the state.

-"Nothing is going on in the world [seen through the eyes of the French media]. Except an old lady run over in Southern France, a little dog somewhere in France..."

-Recruitment process in French media: "You take young people that aren't really up to the scratch. Fooling someone who doesn't understand is easy. Fooling someone who knows the subject is already more difficult."

-Journalist selection has to follow more specific criteria, he says.

-European journalism: A much bigger difficulty, since the policy area is more difficult to understand.

-Independent European journalists are necessary. The European institutions spend a lot of money to obtain only positive coverage about Brussels politics, says Biancheri.

-The "Erasmus generation" will need to move the EU out of the impasse. "The only language is translation ... We have a lot of young people who speak the five, six biggest languages in Europe. And we have the highest literacy rate in the world."

-My Firefox keeps on failing me. No chance to see the end of the video.

Overall, what I saw was an analysis of the French and Italian media democracy with media that they depicted as controlled by the government. They see the blogosphere as a way to bypass these limitations and create a second arena for public discussion. Projecting it to the European level, they said that a common European discourse had to be created via the virtue of translation, but they didn't really go into detail.

I would have liked to see some more concrete proposals for a democracy from below through the means of social media. Some polarizations could have been left out.

The idea of a common electoral system is interesting and definitely necessary to create a true European democracy. But there are a lot of legal obstacles. And then, public discussion about the EP candidates has to cross the linguistic borders of the nation-states. It will be interesting to see if Newropeans can make any concrete proposals for the piecemeal achievement of a common electoral system.

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