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Dirty feet rather than e-Government?
Average reader rating: 10  
by Menno Scheers, Club of Amsterdam 07 the future of Countries & Democracies

Re-Inventing Democracies for the Future
The Club of Amsterdam organised a conference about the future of democracy on June 25, 2003. This report will give you a brief summary of the topics and the discussion between the panel and the participants of the Club of Amsterdam. The participants of the event filled out a questionnaire. The results are given in this report. James Dorsey (Foreign Correspondent, The Wall Street Journal) was the host of this evening.

Tom Kok (Director, Cool Capital) started the evening with an introduction on how politicians act and what kind of problems they are facing. He states that political parties don't want anything anymore. People have an opinion, but they don't have a will. From his own experience as a politician he knows that it's difficult to launch new ideas to solve problems. Most politicians check their ideas with friends and colleagues before publishing. And only one hour after publishing they hear that 80% of the population might be against their solution. Real leadership is the only way to overcome this barrier.

Thomas Held (Director, Avenir Suisse - Think Tank for economic and social development) gave the audience an insight in the Swiss direct democracy. The direct democracy in Switzerland led to more communicative politics, a reduction of apathy and cynicism towards politics, collective learning, financial and fiscal restraints and maybe even to an antidote to the personalisation (and banalisation) of politics and a restoration of trust.

Negative aspects are the costs of a referendum and the fact that it slows down a lot of developments like liberalisation. This results in a lack of economic growth and a low labour productivity. A direct democracy has the tendency to create a majority of elderly against a minority of younger people. This demographic trap can be considered as a negative aspect of direct democracy. Other negative aspects the referendum are the loss of competitive advantages, missed opportunities due to Non-EU-membership and systemic blockage of necessary reforms.

67% of the participants would be more interested in the EU if they had more influence.

Saskia Stuiveling (President, Dutch Court of Auditors) states that there's a proven relation between happiness of people and good governance. The gap between policy ambitions and the practice of implementation is one of the main risks to the credibility of the National Government and the People's trust in their administration. Transparency and accountability are important to close this gap and to have good governance. All the participants said to be interested in using e-Government to follow what the government does, to participate in decision-making and to verify if public money is well spent. 73% of the visitors say that once e-Government is introduced, they will spend more than one hour per week participating in policy making and policy monitoring.

Wendy Asbeek Brusse (staff Member, The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy) says that people who are interested in politics see that politics is failing. They laugh about their political leaders and turn their back to politics. This is a dangerous situation.

What kind of democratic system will be a good one for the future? Only 27% of the visitors would support the introduction of a new, clever democratic system (supported by information technology) allowing ordinary citizens, not politicians, to take all-important decisions. 13% think that the United States' democratic system offers a good model for Europe. 86% of the participants think that the democratic power of an individual EU member country should reflect the number of its inhabitants rather than its economic power.

Jan Jacob van Dijk (Member of the Dutch Parliament, Christian Democrats (CDA)) describes that citizens want to have the feeling that they have influence how things are done or decided. Referenda are in his opinion always negative. People who are against win the referenda. Referenda are always in the end of the decision making process. This means that a lot of work is done and then the policy is rejected. Thomas Held agrees but says that a referendum always has a substantial influence, however the success-rate of a referendum is low. The slowness of the democratic process in Switzerland might be a problem in the future.

People get interested in politics when the issues are formulated well. At the moment it seems that the media is only talking about idols & idiots rather than the topics. The press in Belgium had a scorecard for the performance of politicians and ministers. To the question if the mass media will need more democratic control, 53% answered yes.

Politicians don't have time to promote their proposals. People don't have time to read the proposals as well. How do you reconstruct democracy in a country with passive consumers? Is the Internet a possible solution? Thomas Held doesn't see a very important role for the Internet. 60% of the participants hope that by using daily referenda it will be possible in the future to have a real influence on specific issues that affect them.

Do we need better selection methods for choosing our politicians? Lots of politicians just like their job, but don't have a will to change something. And people like those kind of politicians the most. Real politicians are always kicked out - maybe because they want change. 13% of the visitors wouldn't mind if the European parliament's expending role would render national parliaments obsolete.

There is a gap between the reality of people and the reality of policymakers. Politicians even have difficulties with change and learning, because they are cut off from society. What are the politicians able to do? Politicians should not act to get more votes, but to do really something for the people. But first politicians need to go to people and ask what they really want. This conversation should be in the people's environment. So, get out of your tower and get your feet dirty!

Please also take a look at the:
Articles, Links, the Club of Amsterdam Forum
and the Club of Amsterdam event about 'Re-Inventing Democracies for the Future'

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