On 5th February 2014, in Collegium Polonicum (Słubice), during the first day of the 14th conference Europe of 21st Century organized by the Adam Mickiewicz University Faculty of Political Sciences and Journalism a panel entitled Forms of participation of citizens in political decision-making process in Europe took place. The panel was organized by the Research Group “Helvetic Initiative” in collaboration with Centre for Direct Democracy Studies.
The event was moderated by Dr. Magdalena Musiał-Karg and Dr. Tomasz R. Szymczyński. While in the previous edition of the conference in Collegium Polonicum members of the panel focused basically on Swiss relations with the European Union, in the current edition participants of the panel were mainly focused on the forms of participation of citizens in political decision-making processes in Europe.
During the panel eleven papers were presented. The first referent was Dr. Marcin Rachwał (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań), who outlined from a theoretical perspective the problem of citizens’ influence on the democratic states’ mechanisms by reference to a dispute between elitists and pluralists. Dr. Rachwał referred in his speech to the position theorists such as Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels and Vilfredo Pareto. He also stressed that quite often invoked thesis attributed to Robert A. Dahl equating polyarchy with a democratic political system is flawed, because the concept of Dahl’s democracy is an idea which, in fact, was never and nowhere achieved.
Afterwards Dr. Krzysztof Koźbiał (Jagiellonian University) underlined important issue concerning questions about lowering of the voting age which may be seen as linked with the generally observable phenomenon of decrease of voter turnout in the elections in European countries. Dr. Koźbiał in his speech referred to the examples in which the lowering of the voting age had been the subject of public debate. He pointed out that in Austria this debate has resulted in lowering the minimum age for participation in the elections to the age of 16 years. Dr. Koźbiał presented as well an example of the Swiss Canton of Glarus, where similarly those who completed the 16th year of life can vote, mainly due to its association to the obligation to submit tax settlement in that age.
Another two speakers MA Krzysztof Duda (AMU) and Dr. Ewa Myślak (JU) focused their interest on the Swiss popular initiative. MA Duda in his paper entitled “The citizens’ initiative in Switzerland as an influence of citizens’ mechanism on political outcome” drew attention to the relatively high proportion of withdrawn initiatives, which in his view is primarily due to the functionality of the instrument, which threat of use ends with implementation of the demands contained therein. Subsequently, Dr. Ewa Myślak in the paper entitled “Popular Initiative – ‘pearl’ of the Swiss constitution in the hands of the main actors of representative democracy” presented on how this instrument can be used as a tool in the hands of political parties and their dependent organizations.
Then Dr. Michał Tomczyk (Universität Luzern) in his paper entitled “Decision-making process in foreign policy of Switzerland” elaborated the opinion, according to which, due to necessity of making relatively rapid decisions, which is in opposition to the idea of consensual democracy (characteristic for the Swiss political system), evolved a model based on the stronger position of the Federal Council, which was equipped by the federal parliament in the right to conduct foreign policy. This results in actual strengthening of political position of the executive.
Dr. Małgorzata Kaczorowska (University of Warsaw) in her paper “Political participation of citizens and political parties in Switzerland and the European Union” presented the problematic of attitude of Swiss political parties towards the issue of European integration. Conclusion was, that while deeply Eurosceptic approach of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) may be seen as understandable and consistent with a place on the spectrum of the Swiss political scene, similarly unconvinced standpoint towards EU of other parliamentary parties may be interpreted as surprising.
MA Marcin Łukaszewski (AMU) centered his speech on the case of specificity of Liechtenstein, which is primarily based on relatively strong political position of the head of state in comparison to the status of other European monarchs. MA Łukaszewski attempted to identify how citizens are deprived of the opportunity to influence on the shape of law adopted by parliament through equipping unelected monarch with the right to refuse signing a bill adopted by parliament. In his speech, MA Łukaszewski appealed to the examples of Luxembourg and Belgium, in which monarchs due to their world-view reasons had refused to sign the bills adopted by parliaments. In this context, the Prince of Liechtenstein is an exception on European scale, because he has the constitutional right of refusal to sign the bill.
Then Dr. Marta Witkowska (UW) presented a paper entitled “Development and participatory processes in the European Union”, which highlighted a number of challenges for the practical functioning of political parties at European level. In the opinion of Dr. Witkowska these challenges are primarily related to the occurrence of insufficient harmonization of the legal regulations on political parties at the level of states with requirements frequently expected at the EU level.
After the speech of Dr. Witkowska the floor was given to Dr. Łukasz Zamęcki (UW), who introduced the issue of low levels of social capital as a factor that weakens the participation of citizens in the European Union. In his speech, Dr. Zamęcki pointed to a relationship, which, in the opinion of the speaker, should be of interest for policy makers in the EU member states. While Dr. Zamęcki purposely omitted the Belgian case due to functioning of the compulsory voting in this country, in his analysis he underlined the high degree of correlation between the level of social capital and voter turnout.
Another speaker was Dr. Magdalena Musiał-Karg (AMU), who presented a problem of deficit of direct democracy at the EU level. While at the state level (EU member states) institutions of direct democracy exist and have been repeatedly used in making decisions related to the process of European integration, the functioning of the European Citizens’ Initiative – according to Dr. Musiał-Karg – ought to be at present assessed as ineffective. Though this instrument of direct democracy may be interpreted as desirable, contemporary lack of efficiency of it may be explained by the difficulties of implementation and the absence of the compulsory obligation for the European Commission to the initiation of legislative procedure.
Afterwards Dr. Tomasz R. Szymczyński (AMU) dedicated his presentation entitled “The decisions taken closest to citizens in the EU – reflections from the hermeneutical perspective” to the role and importance of adequate forms of communication towards EU member states citizens on the subject of European integration. He indicated contemporary requirement of increase of the level of engagement in activity of the representatives of the political, scientific and, last but not least, journalist field in coverage of events taking place not only at the national or local, but also at the European level. The speaker underlined, that especially in times of global financial and economic crisis it is both inevitable and challenging obligation with regard to the content as well as to the form of this objective.
Subsequently Dr. M. Musiał-Karg and Dr. T.R. Szymczyński opened the discussion. On the second day of the conference a meeting of the Research Group “Helvetic Initiative” members was carried out, during which the plans for further activities of the group had been deliberated.
Reported by: Marcin Łukaszewski