REDEM (III). Open panel

Notes from the conference Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective, organized by SciencesPo/CEVIPOF, and held in Paris, France, on 5 and 6 February 2020. More notes on this event: redem2020

Pierre-Ettienne Vandamme, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Add a layer of ethics of voting and deliberation around elections:

  • Enrich the message conveyed through votes.
  • Stimulate public debates, before and after vote.
  • Foster a more reflexive and public-spirited ethics of voting.
  • Focus attention on policy proposals.
  • Clarify the specific mandate conferred to elected representatives.

Need to think about institutional ways of fostering an ethics of voting.

Traditional secret ballots send the message that all motivations are equally valid.

Need to think about devices that both respect privacy and protects voters, incentivizing “deliberation within” on relevant considerations.

Laurentiu Gheorghe, University of Bucharest

Inequality splits society and opens the gates to demagogs.

Big data and artificial intelligence helps in identifying the major trends of society, the major interests of society. This is in general good, but can be used in evil ways: to change the major trends of society, to affect the major interests of society. That is, to massively manipulate society.

We should regulate this in some way: we have to preserve the freedom of building one’s own reasons to vote and the sense of that vote.

Miljan Slavic, University of Belgrade

The proceduralist approach: how we vote is very important. The way we design voting procedures/institutions determines the legitimacy and the outcome of the elections.

Discussion

Elise Rouméas: discrimination should not come free, it should have a cost both for politicians and voters that chose a discriminating programme/option.

José Luis Martí: Sebastian Linares talks about the “democratic oath” as a programmatic compromise with values.

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Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective (2020)

REDEM (II). Democracy, Rationality and Inequality

Notes from the conference Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective, organized by SciencesPo/CEVIPOF, and held in Paris, France, on 5 and 6 February 2020. More notes on this event: redem2020

Andrei Poama, University of Leiden

Is deliberation better than voting?

Voting insulates vulnerable citizens, citizens that do not know or just cannot argue in front of other citizens on a deliberation. But they may be good enough at casting an informed vote. Voting protects vulnerable citizens from influence from others (which may be good, but also bad).

Disenfranchising someone from their right to vote has been traditionally justified for criminals, although in many democracies disenfranchising is not allowed. There are other debates about enfranchising/disenfranchising vote for children or elderly people.

Alexandru Volacu, University of Bucharest & Bucharest Center for Political Theory

People usually have a negative view about the ethics of voting.

About individual duties concerning voting, some people believe that they have the duty to vote as a sense of responsibility on what would happen if only “the others” voted; another point of view is that it is a right that costed a lot to have recognized, and thus it would be disrespectful not using it; last, many people believe that voting grants a right to political critique —and, inversely, if you do not vote you should not critizise what you don’t like.

There is the debate whether people have the duty to “vote well”. But it may be more correct to speak about some instances where one can “vote badly” (e.g. most people would believe that selling your vote is not ok), but “voting well” is much more difficult to define.

A usually accepted of “bad vote” is when it goes against your own interests, taking “bad” as non-rational.

About institutional design, there’s the open debate on compulsory voting, allocating voting rights, the design of electoral systems, and the secrecy or openness of voting.

Jonas Pontusson, University of Geneva

There are cases where inequality has not increased (or actually decreased) and nevertheless voters have shifted towards populist/fascist options. So it is difficult to identify one single simple issue as the cause of the raise of populism.

We have a large number of studies that confirm that the poor are less represented, that they vote less, and that middle income (not middle class) voters do not have the weight in policies that they would have considering their number. The different of affluent voters and poor voters is huge and in favour of affluent voters.

Left parties seem to be increasingly shifting from poor voters to middle class / affluent voters. This implies a dispossession of poorer voters, leaving them with lesser options, while middle class voters have much more where to choose from.

On the other hand, people tend to penalize candidates without a certain level of education or skills, and also penalize people earning above a certain threshold (e.g. twice as much as the average income). The problem being that people usually know the educational or professional background of a given candidate, but not their income.

Dominik Gerber, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. Sustaining democracy: citizen’s duties and the problem of demandingness

Across the world, citizens are losing faith in democracy (perceived performance of democracy).

Four approaches of the value of democracy, based on two axes: instrumental/non-instrumental and epistemic/non-epistemic.

[I really could not follow this presentation]

Interesting readings on the epistemic value of democracy:

  • List, Goodin (2001). Epistemic democracy. Generalizing the Condorcet Jury Theorem
  • Warren (2017). A Problem-Based Approach to Democratic Theory
  • Estlund (2013). Epistemic approaches to democracy. In Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences, Volume 1

Discussion

Chiara Destri: when we speak about parties, their characteristics and their behaviour, we should tell parties as an entity from parties as part of the party system. Quite often parties push in one way while the party system pushes to a different way.

Q: delegation of vote, how would that be considered in terms of voting well/badly? Volacu: cannot see anything “wrong” in vote delegation, always considering that there is no trading in it.

Q: usually, intuitions come first and then we rationalize them. What about if we have bad intuitions? Would that be voting badly even thought we honestly rationalized our voting?

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Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective (2020)

REDEM (I). Democratic Ethics and Politics

Notes from the conference Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective, organized by SciencesPo/CEVIPOF, and held in Paris, France, on 5 and 6 February 2020. More notes on this event: redem2020

Martial Foucault. The rise of populism and the collapse of the left-right paradigm

Politics of 2 new axes provides a comprehensive framework to understand anti-system forces in France, Europe and the USA:

  • Low life satisfaction and distrust in institutions are common to anti-system voters.
  • Interpersonal trust: split between radical left/right votes.

Determinants:

  • Life satisfaction and distrust in institutions: highly correlated to economic insecurity.
  • Interpersonal trust: mobility and loneliness in post-industrial societies

Policy consequences:

  • Redistribution and inequality. But part of the poor vote for anti-redistribute platforms.
  • Policies to boost generalized trust and fight loneliness at work and in remote territories (e.g. post Yellow Vests recommendations.

Annabelle Lever, CEVIPOF/Sciences Po

It is crucial that young people vote just so they can have some sense of ownership on elections, not only (though also) to legitimise the results of elections.

The design of electoral processes is not neutral. Not only it can radically change the results of elections, but also the perception about its fairness and how it considers the different profiles of voters.

Political scientists and their obsession with targeting has led to an alienating way of doing politics. People are aware of being targeted, of being manipulated. And they are sick of it.

Valeria Ottonelli, University of Genoa. Citizens’ political prudence and the ethics of voting

Prudence is the practical virtue that guides us in deliberating about the right course of action and acting accordingly, having in mind the science of the good and the particular circumstances ans stakes involved (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, book 6).

We need to theorize political prudence so that it is compatible with other political principles such as passion, responsibility, etc. And taking into account numbers, pluralism or the relation between individual and collective virtues.

The ethics of voting as an exercise of political prudence. Political prudence concerns the ethics of voting, demonstrating, deliberating, etc. The ethics of voting of a liberal democracy should be pluralistic, in the sense of plurality of considerations, and allowing different voters to state their preferences.

Carys Roberts, Institute for Public Policy Research

The system based on two major parties is in clear decline in the UK.

The income gap has widened in recent times, and this has had an impact on voting turnout. There was a hope on increased turnout in youth, but it has not turned out to be true.

Devolution of power to communities is a way to be explored when it comes to thinking in ways to strengthen democracy.

Discussion

José Luis Martí: maybe we have been focusing to much on elections and not on other ways of political involvement: organizing elections but also being involved on policy-making or design of public policies, etc.

Chiara Destri: how the ethics of voting affects legitimacy? Annabelle Lever: treating people as rulers, not only as voters has an important impact. This includes how parties recruit and promote members. Politics have become professional in a very narrow point of view: middle class, highly educated, etc. losing plurality and the grassroots components.

Ludvig Beckman: are duties of voters compatible with prudence? can our duty be not to exercise prudence? Valeria Ottonelli: there are examples, as not selling your vote, are a duty and are related to prudence.

Miljan Slavic: how do we interpret not participating in elections or voting with blank or null votes? Some of them are actually being critical with the system and saying it is not legitimate. How do we interpret all of them? Annabelle Lever: one should assume the worst, that people are disgusted with the system, or the candidates, or the whole thing.

Ismael Peña-López: we keep on insisting on how to engage youth, how to engage minorities, how to engage women, etc. in electoral participation. But we should not forget the other side of the equation: how do we make politicians more accountable, how do we make institutions more understandable, how to we make politics in general more transparent and honest, etc. We are in the middle of a paradox: as the world grew more complex, we shifted from direct to representative democracy; but now that the world is becoming even more complex, we demand that citizens are more informed and more engaged in politics; but, not to go back to direct democracy, but to “vote better”. Why not leveraging the effort we are demanding to citizens to improve decision making by letting them participate in deliberative or direct democracy instruments? Why not demand less to citizens and demand more instead to democratic institutions to reduce the complexity of the world for the citizens?

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Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective (2020)

Draft Opinion. Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens

Cover of the draft opinion "Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens"
Draft Opinion “Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens”

On 9 December 2019, the Catalan Government presented a working document at the 26th CIVEX commission meeting of the European Committee of the Regions.

The aim of the working document was to spark a debate for an upcoming Opinion on the “Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens”. The working document had the following scheme:

  1. Bridging the gap between what leaders see vs. what citizens see
  2. Lack of identification of EU issues with daily-life issues
  3. An ecosystem of infrastructures of participation
  4. Engaged citizens in a technopolitical paradigm
  5. Transforming the administration(s)

Now, a draft for that opinion has just been published for its discussion during the 2nd CIVEX commission meeting. As it happened with the working document, my colleague Mireia Borrell, Secretary for External Action and the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, acts as a rapporteur, while I am appointed as an expert to draft the opinion.

A preliminary abstract of that opinion is as follow:

  • Proposes the setting-up of a Network of Open Participatory Governments, made up by regions and cities, with the purpose to translate upwards and downwards diagnoses, perceptions and proposals on European issues and decision-making;
  • Proposes that the Committee of the Regions designs, implements and coordinates such a network in collaboration with all other European institutions;
  • Expects that the Network of Open Participatory Governments can succeed in granularizing European policies and principles and breaking them into smaller, more understandable bits, thus contributing to bring them closer to the citizen, so that they can better draw the line that weaves macro-, meso- and micro-levels of policies;
  • Suggests that the Network of Open Participatory Governments is piloted during the Conference on the Future of Europe to enlarge, extend, intensify and enhance the dialogue between European institutions and citizens through local and regional authorities, contributing to translate upwards and downwards the deliberations taking place at different levels;
  • Wants to raise awareness on the fact that more and more citizens are moving towards a new paradigm of political engagement – technopolitics – which is characterized by horizontal relationships, distributed power and networks of collaboration, enabled and enhanced by digital technologies and open data, taking place in informal spaces and out of institutional circuits;
  • Believes that there are new ways of listening to citizens, new ways of enabling citizens to engage and participate in policy-making, and that a new ecosystem to coordinate the proposals of citizens and the responses of a multi-level administration undoubtedly require a thorough transformation of the culture of administration(s).

Our proposal of the functioning of the Network of Open Participatory Governments is summarized in the following figure:

The full text that will be discussed in the next CIVEX commission can be downloaded below:

logo of DOCX file
Working document:
Peña-López, I. (2020). Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens. Draft Opinion. Brussels: European Committee of the Regions.

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Opinion Factsheet. Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens

Cover of the opinion factsheet "Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens"
Opinion Factsheet “Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens”

The European Union is entering a sort of constitutional process. The Conference on the Future of Europe will be a two-year time span devoted to reflect what the EU should be like in many issues, and aiming at institutionalizing this reflection in the form of formal agreements, maybe a new treaty, maybe even a/the constitution.

There is —amongst many others— a big fear driving the conference: the huge disconnection between European institutions and citizens’ daily lives, that increasingly leads citizens to take shortcuts in the forms of populism. A populism that increasingly turns to be sheer fascism. This fear, though, can be turned into an opportunity to engage citizens more and better in public decision-making at the European level. This is the take of the European Committee of the Regions, that believes that European institutions may reconnect with their citizens by reestablishing the transmission chain between them by means of municipalities and regional governments.

This summer, the European Committee of the Regions commissioned my colleague Mireia Borrell, Secretary for External Action and the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, to be the rapporteur of an upcoming opinion on Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens. I was appointed to support her as the technical “expert” to draft the opinion.

On 9 December 2019 we presented a working document/factsheet at the 26th CIVEX commission meeting.

The document is structured as a set of strategic questions that can lead a debate on the problems causing the disconnect between political institutions and citizens, and how a structural ecosystem of citizen participation could bridge this growing chasm between representatives and people. Questions — and tentative proposals for each sub-set of questions — are grouped in the following topics:

  1. Bridging the gap between what leaders see vs. what citizens see
  2. Lack of identification of EU issues with daily-life issues
  3. An ecosystem of infrastructures of participation
  4. Engaged citizens in a technopolitical paradigm
  5. Transforming the administration(s)

The document is publicly available and can be downloaded below. First, in its original language (English), then in the different official languages of the European Committee of the Regions.

Full text downloads:

logo of DOCX file
Working document:
Peña-López, I. (2019). Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens. Working Document. Brussels: European Committee of the Regions.

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Conference on Democratic Innovation (IV). Regional planning and collaboration

Notes from the conference Conference on Democratic Innovation. Open territories. Rethinking the physical space with the citizens, organized by the Secretary of Transparency and Open Government of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 November 2019. More notes on this event: territorisoberts2019

Regional planning and collaboration
Chairs: Cristina Palés. Cap del Servei d’Educació Ambiental de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Network for the Conservation of Nature
Marc Vilahur, President

Participation cannot take place at the end of a public policy decision, but has to be intrinsic to the whole project. Participation has to impact not only the key actors, but the whole of the citizenry and the whole of the Administration.

When participation takes place at the beginning of a policy-making process, people tend to turn complains into proposals, tend not to say “no” but “I would like this”.

Territory safekeeping is a formal agreement between someone that wants to use the territory and a civic organization that wants to take care of a given territory. In this case, civil society approaches better the territory than the Administration. There are communication and coordination channels needed between such organizations and the Administration, but the Administration should be able to step back and leave room for civil society organizations to play some roles related to the public good.

Safekeeping agreements are formal agreements, but are non compulsive, based on goodwill, adapted to individual and collective needs.

The experience of Geoinquiets
Marc Torres, Membre de Geoinquiets i Geostart

The change of culture in the Administration is a transformation, not just an evolution, on how public workers work. It is becoming more about reaching consensus, about talking to others and about listening to much more others. In many senses, this is what most innovative public workers were looking for: to open up their work, to be allowed to explain what they think and what they do, to address specific actors — not necessarily always the same ones —, to disclose working for the public good as the public good is a common matter.

We have to think about the we, not about the I.

With participation, we can address the citizens, but also let public workers share their experiences and their diagnosis.

Participation is about building a knowledge network, a unique and collective network that thinks and acts.

Participation is much more than contributing to a top-down project. Participation should also be understood as people doing things for the sake of it, as people taking the initiative to address and solve problems, with or without the Administration. Sometimes these grassroots initiatives are the seed of major collective planning projects or policy-making initiatives in general. This is also participation.

We speak about co-deciding, but can we speak about co-participation? About designing the very same processes of participation?

The experience of Mirapeix Lawyers
Carolina Mirapeix

Most people realize that there are plans or regulations just when they want to do something, and the regulation would either not allow them to do it or force them to do it in a given way. This usually leads to conflict: people are surprised and, even worst, people tend to think that something illegitimate happened. “Why was I not warned? Why wasn’t I aware of this?

When planning becomes norm, transparency and participation take on a new meaning. Participation has to come at the very beginning of planning. The diagnosis, the forecast, the responsibility of planning have to be shared by all actors, public and private. And for participation to be possible, information is a must. Information that is easy to find and easy to understand.

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Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)