Posts tagged ‘elections’

Easy e-citizenship in France

As we have explored numerous times in this blog over the years, the Internet is increasingly shaping political discourse, public scrutiny over elected representatives and our democratic life in general. The upcoming French parliamentary elections are proving once again that e-citizenship is gaining ground fast; for some this year, computers will replace the traditional ballot box.

A major pioneer of e-citizenship was Switzerland, where in some constituencies citizens are already entitled to vote online; now France is on the verge to cross this barrier. For the first time, as a pilot scheme, expatriates will be offered the opportunity to elect their Members of Parliament on the Internet. They will be saved from the effort of going a remote Consulate and queuing to fulfil their civic duties. I thought I was attached to the decorum around the elections, going to the elementary-school turned poll-office and hearing the familiar “A voté”, but, I have to admit that for me at least, pragmatism has won over principles. 

If the experience proves efficient, it should be extended to more ballots and be available to all French voters. Given the very poor participation of expatriates in 2007 (as a shameful reminder, only 47% of French expats living in Belgium voted in the last presidential election) I can only hope that e-voting will raise the general commitment to democracy. Voting by a show of hands, male suffrage, and the poll tax are all antiques that political institutions gave up under social pressure. There is little doubt, in my view, that in a few decades e-voting will seem as natural as any other aspect of progress, either technological or societal.

In spite of the enthusiasm, there are still significant concerns around securing the integrity of the ballot. However, the Swiss encountered no major problems, and efficient solutions for identification and authentication exist e.g. electronic IDs; not to mention that so far I have never been robbed of my e-ordered pizza…

For information: www.monvotesecurise.votezaletranger.gouv.fr  

 Alice Bowdler

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April 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm Leave a comment

Election test for UK coalition hits Lib Dems

It’s almost exactly 12 months since Britain saw the formation of the first coalition government for 70 years, as David Cameron and Nick Clegg brought together the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in a joint administration committed to tackling the massive economic crisis facing the country in the wake of the credit crisis.

Coalition politics underwent their first electoral test on May 5 with local elections, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland parliamentary elections, and the referendum on the Alternative Vote.

There was a strange mixture of outcomes. The Liberal Democrats had a disastrous day, losing 700 local government seats and failing to achieve the fundamental switch to the voting system which they have long craved; the Labour Party had a good day in local government elections, but a rotten day in Scotland as the Scottish National Party swept all before them to take an overall majority in the Scottish parliament – and this despite a proportional voting system which had been specifically designed to limit their grasp on power; the Welsh nationalists lost seats to the Labour Party, which ended the day one short of an overall majority in the Welsh assembly. The balance in Northern Ireland is little changed, but with turnout down and much less evidence of sectarian sentiment than in the past.

Scotland is now bound to push its interests more vigorously in Brussels, while a strengthened coalition between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland may well seek greater co-operation with the Irish government in European affairs.

May 5 gave a terrible bashing to the Liberal Democrats, and particularly for Nick Clegg, who had taken his seat in Westminster and become party leader after years as an MEP– and who could take much of the credit for the party’s election success one year ago.

It was a painful experience for the Lib Dems, as the junior coalition partner lost those former supporters on the “progressive” (anti-Conservative) wing of the party and others who perceived the Lib Dems as betraying commitments made before the general election, in particular on university fees. Clegg’s party lost control of a swathe of local government authorities as 700 local councillors lost their seats, mainly to the Labour Party but also to Conservative candidates.

Perhaps the bitterest blow for Lib Dems was the comprehensive defeat of a vote for AV, the alternative vote (AV) proportional representation system, by 69 per cent to 31 per cent. Thus ends for the foreseeable future the long-standing Liberal Democrat ambition of introducing proportional representation for Westminster elections.

Although Labour leader Ed Milliband did support the change to AV, most Labour politicians campaigned against it, so the Lib Dems have no hope of achieving it through a coalition with the Labour Party in some future hung parliament – at least until Labour itself undergoes a conversion (perhaps following boundary changes which are likely to hit them badly).

“No more Mr Nice Guy” is the Liberal Democrat response to its coalition role following the elections. Ministers such as Chris Huhne can be expected to take a tough line on sensitive issues, but they will also wish to avoid breaking the coalition and facing an early general election. That would indeed be turkeys voting for Christmas.

One issue difficult for Lib Dem ministers may be the EU budget for 2012, where Cameron will certainly maintain an aggressively tough line. His domestic position has been strengthened by last week’s votes and he will see no reason to restrain his rhetoric as the budget negotiations proceed.

Michael

May 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

Kroes will stay

In recent weeks there have been rumours in Brussels circles saying that Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, might become the next Prime Minister of the Netherlands, should her party, the VVD, come first in the elections.

Yesterday it was election day in the Netherlands, and a long one at that, as initial results showed such a thin difference between the centre-right VVD and the centre-left PvdA that neither side could claim victory until very late into the night. In the end, Kroes’s party emerged as the winner of the elections. So when I went this morning to a conference where Neelie Kroes was supposed to be speaking at 9:30, I thought she might not show up at all.

But she did. And she started her speech clearing out any doubt about her future. She said that although she could get any job she wanted at the moment, she would stay at the Digital Agenda portfolio as this is, according to her, the best job she could ever get. She looked sincere, but you never know with politics. Government coalition building can take months in the Netherlands, and politicians are known for easily changing their minds. Surprises might still happen.

Laurence

June 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm Leave a comment

BHV: Not just a French department store

One of Paris’ largest department stores is the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville or ‘BHV’. Women’s fashion, decoration, furniture and DIY material…you can all find it at BHV.

The slogan of the Paris BHV is ‘Tout pour trouver son bonheur.’ Translated ‘Everything to find happiness.’ One can hardly think of a worse motto for the Belgian electoral district of BHV. Unless you replace ‘bonheur’ with ‘malheur’ and ‘happiness’ with ‘misery’.

BHV in Belgium

Is called ‘BHV’ or Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde, after the 3 main cities in the electoral district.

Is the only bilingual electoral district in Belgium.

Consists of Belgium’s capital city Brussels, which is officially bilingual (French-Dutch) , and the 35 Flemish municipalities surrounding it, where Dutch is the main language. French-speaking inhabitants of these Flemish municipalities can vote for French-speaking parties. Most Flemish parties want to end this. Some due to a fear of ‘Frenchification’.

Has been the root of instability in the Belgian government, with Dutch-speaking parties favouring a split of the electoral district and French-speaking parties opposing this. The situation has escalated ever since the federal elections in 2007. In the period between then and now the Belgian government/government formation has collapsed/failed 5 times.

Beyond BHV

In the current election campaign, the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA (New-Flemish Alliance) have taken the debate further than merely splitting up the electoral district of BHV.

Bart De Wever, the party leader of the N-VA also stated that his party would like to see the Brussels Capital Region abolished.

Politicians from various parties, who want to maintain or even strengthen the Brussels Capital Region, have been tripping over each other to discredit his statements. The Francophone business daily L’Echo was pleased to note that almost all other Flemish parties, including CD&V (Christian Democrats), sp.a (Social Democrats), Open VLD (Liberals) and Groen ! (Greens) have joined the French-speaking parties in their criticism on these statements made by De Wever.

Brussels

The commotion surrounding De Wever’s statements about Brussels is much-telling. Brussels is, in many people’s opinion, what keeps the country together.

For instance, the N-VA seems ill-prepared for the practical implications of their proposals, such as splitting up Belgian social security. How would this work in Brussels? In a debate with Frank Vandenbroucke (sp.a) and Philippe Moureaux (PS), this became painfully clear. When quizzed by Vandenbroucke on issues such as whether employees in Brussels will have their social security arranged on the basis of a Francophone or a Flemish system and how this would work with for instance the many Flemish and Walloons who commute to Brussels daily for their work NV-A’s social security expert Danny Pieters was struggling to answer Vandenbroucke’s questions.

Brussels will always be a stumbling block for the Flemish nationalists. As Alexander De Croo, leader of the Flemish Liberals put it in an interview:

“In my opinion, it is impossible to divide Belgium…it’s like a…Siamese twin where basically Brussels is the heart that we have in common. And if you want to split that the heart will stop beating … and that is not what we want. We are for a very large part dependent on the economic power of Brussels, on the attractiveness of Brussels. Splitting the country in two is playing with our prosperity and that I do not want to do.”

Brussels: Tout pour trouver son bonheur?

June 9, 2010 at 6:57 pm Leave a comment

Countdown to the Belgian Federal Elections

On April 22, Open VLD, the Flemish Liberal Party, withdrew from the Belgian government coalition after having lost confidence in the government’s handling of the complicated dossier surrounding the electoral district of Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV).

On April 26, the Belgian King accepted Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s resignation.

Elections were called for Sunday June 13, only half a month before the start of Belgium’s EU presidency.

Snap elections are never easy on political parties. Election programmes have to be made in a rush, candidates’ lists have to be composed in no time: chaos. Furthermore, much energy, time and money was spent on the last elections (regional and European), which only took place last year.

Many Belgians are tired of all this political uncertainty. Ever since the 2007 federal elections, which led to a government formation process that took about 9 months, the Belgian federal government has been unstable.

Although it is compulsory to turn up to the polling booth in Belgium, this election campaign has seen an unprecedented amount of people call for not voting.

That is worrying, as these elections are very important for socio-economic reasons and for the future of Belgium. Belgium’s institutional problems and the tensions between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking are what is picked up most in the foreign press. It would, however, be exaggerated to state, like the FT’s Stanley Pignal, that “the economy has barely featured in the campaign”. Many parties have emphasized their plans to cut costs. Others are campaigning on strengthening social security, for instance by reforming the pension system, and on cutting costs where it will least hurt Belgian social security.

The latest polls

The latest polls indicate huge gains for the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA (New Flemish Alliance). The most recent poll, from the newspaper La Libre Belgique predicts that 26% of the votes in Flanders would go to the NV-A. That would make the separatist party the largest party in Flanders. In Wallonia, the PS (socialist party) would remain the largest political group, with 30% of the votes. In Brussels, the MR (Francophone liberal party) leads the polls, with around 23%.

As there never is a dull moment in Belgian politics, we look forward to updating you on the latest developments in these last 5 days in the run up to the only poll that counts, to be held on Election Day June 13.

June 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm 1 comment

First Ever Digital Election Debate

In the run up to the 9th June parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, the first ever election debates took place through Hyves and Twitter – on the same day. Hyves for breakfast and Twitter for dinner. The 30 minute debate on the Dutch social network Hyves (see earlier blog post on Dutch social media) was considered quite ‘relaxed’ and friendly, whereas its Twitter counterpart was perceived as rather stressed and direct. On Hyves the 50,000 viewers could not actively participate in the debate. Twitter did allow this in its 90 minute session, which subsequently led to mass chaos.

The jury is still out on both digital debates. On the one hand, the large interest of the public to participate in or follow the debate demonstrates an increasing interest of the people in politics in general. On the other hand, the efficacy and legitimacy of these communication channels for this specific purpose are, ironically, up for debate themselves.

As there were no webcams involved, how does one know whether the candidates are actually behind the computer and typing themselves? It may well be that the entire campaign team is gathered behind the keyboard. Some argue that these online platforms can only result in superficial debates as succinctness and speed are of the essence. Furthermore, while the perception was created that the public would truly be able to interact with the politicians it actually turned out to be a one-on-one between the candidates. On Twitter, the responses of the public sort of got lost in the crowd, whereas the candidates maintained visibility. People also complained about the limited time available for the debates.

Therefore, this first digital exercise should teach Dutch politicians to be careful in considering social media as merely a marketing tool. It is not a one-way street. Particularly, as its constituents increasingly consider it part of their right to democratic participation.

As to the effectiveness of these Dutch debates, I can only say: have a look at the number and length of responses shown in the Dutch news bulletin and see whether you find this dazzling. If so, it could mean several things; either these platforms are just not suitable for such debates, or the debate was not set up properly. Another possibility could be that maybe you are not as accustomed yet to these high speed digital channels as you thought you were. Or maybe, just maybe, your Dutch needs some work…

Esther

June 4, 2010 at 11:54 am 1 comment

Low profile on Europe for UK coalition

Against the backdrop of a European economic crisis of monumental proportions, the creation of the UK’s coalition government must seem like “noises off” to other European theatre-goers. But at least the deal reached between Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats could provide political stability in Britain for several years and remove a potentially destabilising element in the councils of Europe.

Having said that, I don’t recall a time when Britain seemed so much apart from European affairs, so preoccupied with its own problems, terrified that the troubles of the eurozone will scupper recovery and growth in the British economy, yet unable to do anything much to help.

David Cameron’s decision to visit Paris and Berlin within ten days of becoming prime minister was a significant gesture. There are certainly bridges to build, especially following the break with the EPP in the European Parliament. Last week’s meeting between David Cameron and President Sarkozy was only the second time since June 2008 that the two had met, and any substantive discussion was put off until the French president’s state visit to London on June 18.

In Berlin Chancellor Angela Merkel provided a guard of honour and addressed her guest as Du rather than Sie. Cameron reminded her of British opposition to any new treaties, but avoided criticism of the German ban on naked short selling. It was a friendly meeting, but had none of the signs of the Anglo-German rapprochement which could be possible.

It does seem that Cameron is not yet at ease dealing with other European leaders. Indeed, reports that deputy prime minister (multi-lingual) Nick Clegg has been asked by the prime minister to strengthen the government’s personal relations with top EU politicians does make sense.

The inauguration of Britain’s Con-LibDem coalition will certainly have come as a matter of great relief to both Sarkozy and Merkel. The “programme for government” launched on May 20 confirms that any further “transfer of power” to the EU would be resisted and that a referendum would be held to ratify any new treaty, but stresses the government’s wish to be a “positive participant” in EU affairs “with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty”.

Joining the euro in the life of the current parliament is, of course, specifically excluded.

The European Commission will find a definite ally on climate change, where the British coalition programme presses the EU to “demonstrate leadership” and supports a 30 per cent CO2 reduction target by 2020.

In some policy chapters the EU is notably absent.  No mention of trade, for instance, nothing on EU security and defence policy, and not a single mention of the EU under the foreign policy heading, despite unilateral commitments on the Balkans, Iran, India and China. The coalition has clearly decided to treat these issues as routine business and not to stress their EU context.

The coalition programme emphasises that cutting the budget deficit is the absolute priority of this government. Britain’s role in the world will be reassessed, which will in turn raise questions in relation to defence spending (closer co-operation with France, cancellation of orders like the A400M?), foreign policy (cut diplomatic spending and rely on a stronger EU overseas service?)  and the contribution to the EU budget, which will soon become a big political issue.

I do wonder how Baroness Ashdown feels about the whole thing as she wrestles with conflicting national demands in relation to the European External Action Service. After all, a slimmed down British diplomatic network might well demand an enhanced European capability.

Michael

May 26, 2010 at 11:14 am 3 comments

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