3 December 2011

Democratic vacuum in EU

Possible changes to the fiscal regime in Euro zone countries mean that one of the most important democratic rights - the decision over taxes and government spending - would be taken from national electorates and vested in a supranational bureaucracy only vaguely accountable to the citizens. Even worse - some even go so far as to give the EU Courts the final say. This would mean that technocrats that owe their primary allegiance to murky backroom deals between political parties in their home country would be able to issue diktats to the citizens of states that do no toe the line. Initial calls for a referendum to sanction the transfer of power to the EU and its acolytes are - not surprisingly - already being stonewalled by the political establishment. This demonstrates the urgent need to take the decision about whether or not to hold a referendum on any legislation out of the hand of the political machines running our lives at present.

28 November 2011

How not to hold a referendum

The inhabitants of a small rural township in Austria had to vote on the proposed merger of three neighbouring councils. The amalgamation was intended to cut down administrative costs. The result of the referendum was a resounding no as 90.3 % of the voters rejected the proposal. In our view this was a flawed proposal as the voters never had to make an honest choice that was impacting their own pocket book. Expenses for local administrative units are mostly paid for by central government funds. Only if the voters would have to bear the full cost of administering their local government unit would they have been in a position to assess the full consequences of their vote.

27 November 2011

65 % believe politicians can be bought

Says an opinion survey in Austria. That does not necessarily mean that this view can be found in all other countries (though in some the percentage may be even higher) but we would venture a guess that the results would not be more flattering in most countries. The regulation of party and campaign financing as well as the end to state subsidies and hidden financing (such as advertising in party-controlled media outlets) is essential to restore faith in elected representatives. The lack of direct democracy is responsible for the fact that the electorate seems to be resigned to this lamentable state of affairs. Only direct control of political decision making would make it possible to enforce adherence to stricter moral standards in political life.

25 November 2011

How to control the influence of money in politics

Reports that property developers have been major donors to the Conservative Party in the UK highlight the role that money plays in politics. Some rich individuals blatantly spend their wealth on getting elected to public office (Schwarzenegger, Bloom berg, Corzine in the USA come to mind) while at the other end of the spectrum the hapless citizen-taxpayer is powerless to stop the gravy-train of public subsidy to the establishment parties in countries like Germany and Austria. Dirdem would at least give the voter a say in the regulation of party finances. In addition the requirement (or mere threat) to hold a referendum on any issue will make the outcome of any political decision subject to the approval of the electorate thus providing a safety-valve against behind-the-scenes manoeuvring.

10 November 2011

How many signatures for referendum?

Occasionally critics of Direct Democracy remark that proposals to launch a binding referendum do not get the support of sufficiently large numbers of signatories. But it has to be considered that collecting them is an uphill task and the launch of such a Campaign often has to be at the expense (in money and time) of volunteers. The trigger point to make a referendum proposal binding must therefore set at a point that is not too low (in order to avoid nuisance proposals) and not too high (so as not to make most or all proposals ineffective).

8 November 2011

Danger of Ad-hoc Referendums

The problem with ad-hoc referendums is that they are being abused by both parties involved: The proponents (usually the party in power) wants to get additional legitimacy for a decision it has already taken (or wants to wash its hands of a difficult decision). The voters may use the opportunity to cast a vote on the government of the day and not really address the issue at stake. As the only way a referendum can exist in most 'democracies' is by government decree there is a permanent question mark about the whole exercise. These deficiencies are often used by opponents of direct democracy to paint the instrument of referendum in an unattractive light.

7 November 2011

Too many laws - not only in Greece

One of the problems that has been highlighted by the 'Greek tragedy' is the tremendous number of new laws that has been created in that country over the past decades.

But Greece is not alone. All modern 'Democracies' are spewing out page after page of (often poorly worded) laws that have been pushed through by the party machine that happens to hold power at the moment.

While the introduction of Direct Democracy would not mean that no new laws will be passed, it provides at least the hope that the threat of closer scrutiny in a referendum will be a warning sign to the Governments as well as Parliaments and help to make sure that only legislation that is really required will be put on the statute book.

Carbon Trade - Bureaucrats create paradise for scamsters

Apart from the fact that the carbon trade scheme has been decreed without any democratic participation by the citizens we have always argued that the only people to be enriched will be traders, speculators and - above all - the fraudsters. Much - if not most - of the crime in the world is caused by ill-conceived legislation (prostitution, drugs, excessive taxes on alcohol and tobacco to name the most obvious cases) and the agriculture sector so far has been the most high-profile sector involving fraudulent activity in the 'legal' business sector. Before long this will be surpassed by trading in carbon 'credits'. Who is going to monitor, measure and account for the activity in something as ephemeral as air and gas? Certainly not sleepy bureaucrats and their minions in the - already overstretched - police and judiciary. But the political class as always operates according to the well-proven rule of the bureaucrat: why make it simple if it can be complicated (and expensive)? The obvious way to reduce consumption of fossil fuel is cheap and effective: let the rising demand cause price to rise and if necessary increase taxes on fossil fuels. Another observation: the Media are also complicit in the backroom dealing that gives Lobbies that profit from the Carbon Trade as the industry representatives are giving excessive space to propagate their self-serving mantras.

6 September 2011

London Riots - blame feral politicians?

When an establishment politician denounces the rioters as part of a 'feral underclass' he may well have a point, but should he not also denounce feral politicians that hike the fees students have to pay by absurd amounts?

4 September 2011

How to make Football more democratic

Democratic reform is not limited to the realm of government but has also to include the vast area of business and voluntary activity. A good example is Football where a small clique of officials in Zurich's FIFA headquarters runs the show without any input from the ultimate stakeholders, the members of individual football clubs and the supporters or spectators. When a prominent club manager demands reforms and calls for the inclusion of clubs, player, leagues and referees in the decision process it is remarkable that he makes no mention of the most important stakeholders at all. Associations such as FIFA - and the Olympic Movement  would be another one - today are also vast businesses and to a certain extent monopolies and this should be another reason why the wider public should have a commanding say in the governance of their activities. The existing constitution of FIFA may appear to be democratic - there are elections to its various boards etc - but the tiered structure of the organisation means that the existing members are to a large extend shielded from any proper supervision and elect their successors and supervisors.

3 September 2011

Almunia claims EU citizens want more integration

One has to wonder where Joaquin Almunia gets this insight from. As he is part of the Politocracy that rules in the EU and most European States we have little optimism that he has consulted the subject-citizens. No surprise that he seems never to have held a job outsided the charmed circle of party, government or think tanks.

17 August 2011

Eurozone an undemocratic construction

One may be a supporter of the Euro or a fervent critic but one aspect that is mostly overlooked in the present debate about the future of the Euro is the fact that no consideration is given to the wishes of the citizens in the countries that are affected by the turmoil in the financial markets.

The politicians in most member states of the Euro-zone (and the technocrats that do their bidding) have introduced the Euro without bothering to ask for the agreement of their electorates. Now they are reaping the results of their authoritarian measure and try to get out of the problem by forcing even more authoritarian measures on their citizens.

3 August 2011

Initiative calls for lowering 5 per cent hurdle in Zurich town council

Many countries have a minimum hurdle that parties have to exceed before they are allocated seats in the national or local parliaments. Now there is a new initiative in the City of Zurich that calls for the lowering of the threshold to 2 per cent making it easier for smaller parties to gain a seat in the town council. Without taking a view on the merits of this initiative we are convinced that all constitutional changes should be subject to a vote in a referendum and that it should not be left to the established political parties and politicians to decide what changes are adopted.

13 May 2011

Politician 3 : Democracy 0

A poor week for democracy draws to an end: The EU plays a leading role in preventing the Serbs in Bosnia to hold a referendum about the legal institutions, Finnish parties unite to prevent the 'True Finn' party from blocking more subsidies directed at bailing out Greece, Austria's socialist party withdraws from offering to hold a referendum about the abolition of mandatory military service.

11 May 2011

Direct Democracy reduces power of dominating party blocs

The political scene in most countries is basically dominated by an explicit or implicit two-party system, most commonly described as 'left' and 'right'.

Even countries with a multitude of political parties represented in the legislative body ultimately are governed by either a coalition of left-or rightwing parties. The exact composition of the coalitions may change from time to time but the general drift of the political intent of its components does not alter much over time.

So it is no wonder that from time to time there are calls for a 'third party' to give voters a real alternative to the policies supported by the dominant parties. In their fight to grab tiny percentages from the other side the party strategists tend to hug a 'middle-of-the-road' ideology which makes the policies virtually indistinguishable for the citizen. As the two political side from time form 'grand coalitions' voters in these periods are left with no political alternative at all and have to submit to a quasi-dictatorial regime.

A constitutional system of direct democracy offers a viable solution to this problem as voters would be able to exert direct influence on all legislation thus circumventing the oligopoly power of the existing party system.

2 March 2011

Voters may get the right to sack their MP

Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg says that 'voters will be given the right to sack errant MPs if they are found guilty of serious wrongdoing.' (Daily Mail). We would go a step further and insist that voters should have the right to recall their representatives at any time. Of course, this should be subject to strict restraints and a sufficiently large quorum would have to back any more to instigate a recall procedure. Also keep in mind that in a system of Direct Democracy the Parliament and Government will be anticipating any such moves and avoid pushing for measures that could be expected to face opposition from the majority of citizens.

22 February 2011

President forces new referendum on Iceland's debt repayment

Iceland's president has called a referendum on the latest plan to repay the UK and Netherlands the 4bn euros (£3.36bn) they lost when the Icesave bank collapsed. (BBC). However welcome this may be, it has to be noted that Iceland's constitution did not require a mandatory referendum on an issue of such importance. Not many politicians would show so much backbone and interest in giving citizens a say in major decisions such as the planned requirement to repay debts incurred when the British and Dutch subsidiaries of Icelandic banks collapsed.

16 February 2011

How to control Public Sector Pay?

Pay in the Public Sector and for civil servants in general seems to be difficult to control. The reasons are that the people who set pay are often in the same boat as those on the receiving end of pay awards. Therefore the news that Councillors in English Local Government Authorities will be given the veto over the salaries of top civil servants promises not much of an improvement. Only when citizens have a direct say in setting local taxes and spending priorities as well as the setting of pay will the inexorable rise in the number and costs of bureaucrats be checked.

UK Councils vote down public question-and-answer sessions

The furious resistance that established politicians and entrenched bureaucracies will put up against the introduction of proper Democracy can be guessed from the decision of some English councils after they voted against introducing public questions at meetings. Tha even this very tame and timid effort to bring more accountability into local politics has been blocked shows how frightened local politicians are about the threat of having more light shone on their activities.

British MPs defend their perks

It is absurd that Members of Parliament in most countries are able to set the rules that guide their conduct and expenses. Just now the British MPs threaten to rewrite Commons rules on expenses unless their demands for changes to the regulations are met.

Unholy Alliance against Electoral Change

When the leader of the Taxpayer's alliance takes the lead role in the campaign against the introduction of the alternative vote in England one has to wonder when the public discourse in the country will ever be free from short-sighted considerations. The referendum may well cost money - but to object against this (tiny and insufficient) reform of a dysfunctional electoral and democratic system on the basis of what it would cost completely neglects to consider the negative fallout from a continuation of the present arrangements. At a time when the present government tries to win approval for the hollow slogan of a 'Big Society' it would certainly be the best to start giving the citizens a proper say in the running of the government at national, regional and local level. Only the introduction of a comprehensive form of Direct Democracy will move the county in the right direction. One also has to wonder why the No Campaign would not want to disclose the names of their donors? Maybe one would find the names of the same hedge fund oligarchs that pull the strings behind the Conservative Party?

How much would AV referendum in UK cost?

John Redwood ruminates in his blog about the costs of the planned referendum about the introduction of the AV voting system in England. But Dirdem argues that AV alone will not change much. Also irrelevant to ask how much the AV campaign may cost, it is pittance in comparison to total budget. One has to ask what are the costs of a dysfunctional democracy where voters are reduced to box tickers at the discretion of the sitting government or once every five years. The remoteness of government (and it is not much better in most ‘Western’ Democracies) due to this pseudo-democracy can only be ended by a system of Direct Democracy

15 February 2011

An End to the monolithic 'Nation' State

History shows that states are not eternal entities. Borders have changed continuosly and there is no reason to assume that they will not do so in the future. The main movers may no longer be tribe, race, religion, class or language. Maybe the new dynamics that will influence shifting 'borders' will be ideological - but in the positive sense of the word. China's special economic zones or the City States in medieval Europe point us in the new direction. There are also indications of new thinking behind Free-Market Cities in Honduras. The ruling political class will fight these ideas tooth and nail as it would mean that their power-base - a centralised nation state - would be eroded by competing political entities that would give the citizens a true alternative - by quitting a political unit that they do not wish to support any longer.

Civil Resistance less needed in Direct Democracy

The current debate in Austria about ending the national service required by all men has led one leading national newspaper to give the impression that it might have made a call to evade the call to service. In a week when the events on Cairo's Tahrir Square are fresh in our minds this raises the interesting question: is civil disobedience a proper tool to promote one's political aims? We would tend to argue yes as the current democratic systems are at best a pseudo-democratic regime where the will of the people as a whole is regularly subordinated to the wishes of the political class and their acolytes in the lobbies of special interest groups. On the other hand, direct democracy would allow to settle controversial issues quickly as all minds are focused on the particular question and not diluted by the usual political infighting between parties and personalities. Of course, the problem of military (or national) service for men only raises the question why this sort of discrimination should be allowed in the first place. This brings us to the question of where the limits to the will of the people are and what precautions are taken to make sure that basic rights are not subjugated to a dictat of the masses.

12 February 2011

Middle Class: the milk cow of dysfunctional democracies

In typically insensitive fashion a British politician has warned the Middle Classes in the UK that they "do not know what is about to hit them." Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary made it clear that the 'Poor' and the 'Rich' are not willing and or able to make a proportional contribution to put the country's finances in order. It is particularly galling the the Super-rich paymasters of the Conservative Party - many of whom make little or no contribution to the common good as they are adept at evading taxes - are treated so leniently while the rest of the population has to tighten the belt. Ironically the financial games where these donors played a significant role are to a large extent the reason for the precarious state of Britain's finances.

11 February 2011

EU - did anyone ask you for your opinion about these issues?

Duplication of Parliament seats costs Euro 180 Million per year
MEPs not required to disclose details on their allowance of £91,000 a year tax-free expenses
 EU watchdogs find errors in 90% of Brussels budget
Hungarian company paid more than £3200,000 by EU to build new facilities for dogs
 Tyrolian farmers paid £14,000 to "increase their emotional connection with the landscapes they cultivate"
France and Germany spend Euro 400 million a year on Arte TV despite declining viewer numbers
Structural Funds spend Euro 50 billion a year
 Gipsies entitled to share of Euro 17.5 billion of structural funds destined for 'vulnerable' groups
 MEPs to get 736 more 'researchers' at a cost of £16,600 each to deal with External Affairs questions
 £163 million for schooling children of Eurocrats
 EU wants to spend 6 per cent more next year
 24 Million Euro subsidy for Hotel construction in Lanzarote
 European Council members must put interest of the Union above those of their own countries (Lisbon Treaty, Article 9)
 EU prepares expanded sanctions against Iran
 MEP wants tax on carbon-intensive products
 EU wants introduction of body scanners on Airports
US to get access to customer bank accounts
 'Only' 300 new diplomats for EU Embassies
 EU plans green taxes to cut debt
 104 lobby firms go in and out of EU ParliamentGreece gifted Euro 6.3 billion in 2008
8000 bureaucrats for 130 EU embassies
EU wants proceeds of financial transaction tax for itself
 EU permits planting of genetically modified potato
 EU wants to attract more refugees
EU Parliament costs Euro 1.5 Billion annually
EU wants to attract more refugees
EU Parliament costs Euro 1.5 Billion annually
Monster Trucks up to 60 tons may be allowed
 One in three MEPs employs a family member

Spendthrift countries bailed out by taxpayers in thrifty countries
Airlines compelled to use renewable energy
 Unrestrained immigration into Italy
Excise taxes on Tobacco to rise again
 EU wants to store airline passenger data
500 Million Euro for Kosovo
Non-Eu troops stationed in Europe
Ireland to vote again on Lisbon Treaty
'Green' plans could put £300 on prices of new cars
Tobacco-style health warnings on all car advertisements
New passports must include fingerprints from 2009
Air passenger information exchange with USA
 EU control of climate strategy of member states
Free speech outlawed by EU bureaucrats
Fundamental Human Rights Agency opens in Vienna
Model History textbook planned
 EU Officials vote to cut emissions
 Euro-constitution is sneaking in by the back door

9 February 2011

French Prime Minister accepts free gifts

When Francois Fillon admits that he accepted free holiday accomodation and transport it is a poor advertisment for the role that the political elites play in our semi-democratic politcal systems. Career politicians with no or very little experience of working outside government or government-controlled sectors such as education, civil service or the justice departments are dominating the levers of government and pursue an agenda that is less and less reflective of the wishes of the population at large.

6 February 2011

Charter Cities - good idea but not so new

Paul Romer's concept of 'Charter Cities' that operate outside the dysfunctional tangle of a country's existing rules is an idea whose time has come and fits in very well with Dirdem's vision of Direct Democracy. But one must remember that the concept is not that new: the city states in Ancient Greece and the independent City-States in Italy and Germany during the Middle Ages were to all intents and purposes precursors of the Charter City that Romer postulates.

25 January 2011

WEF Davos - neither economy nor development

Neither the economy nor development is the main subject of the Annual Davos Circus. Apart from the fact that 4,000 Swiss soldiers are protecting the 'Forum' (at a cost of Sfr 1.5 million) the only reason for the media circus seems to be the self-promotion of the various participants. While some of them may have their participation paid for by the forum the majority is there courtesy of the taxpayer or shareholder of their country or company and is happy to freeload at other people's expense. Quite what the purpose of all this hot air should be becomes more and more unclear and the significance of this PR stunt declines as the number of gawking media representatives rises.

22 January 2011

IMF agrees $ 30 Billion loan for Poland

How much longer can international organisations distribute helicopter money to countries that are perfectly capable to keep their own financial affairs in order? And where is this supposedly 'free' money coming from? How are the citizens of the states that guarantee this largess able to supervise this spending?


Local politicians in the Bavarian city of Passau are unhappy with their government in Munich and have threatened to attach the town to neighbouring Austria. (21/01/2011)

8 January 2011

Media: Questionable public 'discussions'

As the present system of pseudo-democracy in essence degrades the citizens to helpless spectators they are nevertheless desperate to make their voices heard. One outlet that gives them the illusion of having their opinions considered is provided by phone-in programs on radio or comment sections on websites maintained by newspapers and other media companies. But nearly always these events are carefully monitored (one could say censored) and all undesirable views are eliminated. Alternatively the public's contributions are selected in a biased fashion. A good example is often given by BBC News on the web were an even or very similar number of voices for or against a proposition is often published (all in the interests or 'impartiality') and no accurate reflection of the balance of opinion is presented. Venting their frustration may help lower the blood-pressure of angry citizens but does little to improve governance in countries that need a complete overhaul of the democratic institutions.

How to reign in government spending, control the burden of taxation

An interactive budget-balancing tool (for example the one published by the New York Times) illustrates that with good will and common sense any state's budget problems could be solved quite easily and the tax burden reduced considerably. Usually spending is a one-way street were politicians buy votes with money that is ultimately raised from their constituents and we all love to spend other people's money. Letting citizens vote on each individual spending item will make it much more difficult for politicians to continue playing this game. Naturally, each group of citizens will still fight to gain as much from the government spending as possible but in each case there will be a larger group of citizens that does not participate in the benefits from this particular spending measure and will oppose it. The usual backroom deals between representatives of different interest groups will be impossible as they lack the final say on any spending.