DiEM25 and the future of democracy in Europe

That is also why I am standing in the election for members of the Co-ordinating Collective. So far, I see no other candidate addressing these issues

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”

― Marcel Proust

“For all their concerns with global competitiveness, migration and terrorism, only one prospect truly terrifies the Powers of Europe: Democracy! They speak in democracy’s name but only to deny, exorcise and suppress it in practice. They seek to co-opt, evade, corrupt, mystify, usurp and manipulate democracy in order to break its energy and arrest its possibilities.”

— DiEM25 Manifesto


Rodin - The Thinker

Introduction and preliminary information

In the preface to the DiEM25 Organising Principles document, approved on 13 Sept. 2016, it is stated clearly that “DiEM25 has a single purpose”. This purpose is clearly described as being “to promote the principles and values embodied in its Manifesto on the basis of participatory, open-source, democratic actions by members drawn to DiEM25 for this purpose”. Later in the Manifesto these principles and values are listed as:

  • Principles:

    • to democratise the European Union;

    • to promote self-government (economic, political and social) at the local, municipal, regional and national levels;

    • to throw open the corridors of power to the public;

    • to embrace social and civic movements;

    • and to emancipate all levels of government from bureaucratic and corporate power.

  • Actions:

    • we must come together first.

    • forge a common agenda,

    • find ways of connecting with local communities and at regional and national level.

  • Inspired by:

    • Reason,

    • Liberty,

    • Tolerance

    • Imagination

    • Transparency,

    • Solidarity, and,

    • authentic Democracy.

Please read the original document in full, as I have given only an abbreviated signpost to the key items.

These principles and actions appealed to me. As a young man in the 1960s I read about the setting up of a Europe-wide democratic structure to promote the future of Europe after a disastrous war. I subscribed then, and I still subscribe to the ideals and the aims of the founders of the “European Project”. This is why, as an Irish representative at a European Teachers meeting in Milano c. 1964-5, I spoke of the need to recognise that “Europe is for all, from chambermaid to Chancellor, from bar-man to Bishop”. Not particularly elegant, but it touched people nonetheless and some have even contacted me in recent years with the question: “Do you remember what you said in Milano?”

This is why I became a member of DiEM25 in May, 2017, having been following the writings, books and blogs of Yanis Varoufakis, then following his role as Finance Minister in the new Greek Government, and again, once the DiEM25 movement was set up, I checked its early manifestations and documents to re-assure myself that it was really intent upon doing what it claimed it would do. At last, I saw an opportunity to contribute to a movement that was close to my heart. I presume that everyone reading this went through a similar process and shares my hopes for the future.

I also responded with eagerness to the motto: “Carpe diem”. I had adopted it as a mantra at a very early age when I studied Latin at secondary school in Presentation Brothers College, in Cobh, Co. Cork, Ireland. My heart resonated to the urgency of its meaning, translated variously as, “grab the day by the neck, take opportunities by the throat, don’t waste time, do it now”!

Let me remind you again of the pledge we signed only eighteen months ago:

  • “We, the peoples of Europe, have a duty to regain control over our Europe from unaccountable ‘technocrats’, complicit politicians and shadowy institutions.
  • We come from every part of the continent and are united by different cultures, languages, accents, political party affiliations, ideologies, skin colours, gender identities, faiths and conceptions of the good society.
  • We are forming DiEM25 intent on moving from a Europe of ‘We the Governments’, and ‘We the Technocrats’, to a Europe of ‘We, the peoples of Europe’.

But now, however, some eighteen months later, I am genuinely fearful that the “carpe” (=grab) is becoming more like a throttling action on progress and movement in DiEM25 because of the spontaneous or unintentional behaviour of some members who are doing to their best to respond, whilst the “diem” is stretching endlessly into the distance. I say this bluntly and without apology because we do not have a lot of time to spare. I added the words “spontaneous” and “unintentional” because whilst I see the behaviour as having a negative effect on the growth of the Movement, I doubt very much that any members are intentionally aimed at stopping DiEM25 reaching its potential. Nevertheless, we must take decisive action now to correct course where it is necessary, and to explain clearly why some actions are counterproductive in their effect.

Let me remind you that over the past eighteen months, over 30,000 European citizens responded to our call and signed up as members of DiEM25.  Recently it emerged that only 3,000 have volunteered to pay a nominal fee as members to build a small budget. What has happened? Only 10% are willing to contribute a sum as small as €1 to support the cause they signed up for? I read the many complaints from those who condemned them for not paying for their membership. I thank them for not doing so, because it shook me and made me think. Have they really been frightened off by being asked for a small contribution? Have they lost interest? Last night it struck me. The idea stunned me and, like that guy on the road to Damascus, I too had my Damascus moment. That 27,000 spoke to me. They are still interested but they have lost interest and enthusiasm when the look at what we are doing. They are not frightened off, but perhaps they are bored stiff with the platitudes and the dictatorial approach of those who think, undemocratically, that we must be led by their ideas. Where are the discussions, the ideas, the debate, the cut and thrust and testing of ideas, one against the other? When we joined DiEM25 we pledged:

“We call on our fellow Europeans to join us forthwith to create the European movement which we call DiEM25.

  • To fight together, against a European establishment deeply contemptuous of democracy, to democratise the European Union;
  • To end the reduction of all political relations into relations of power masquerading as merely technical decisions;
  • To subject the EU’s bureaucracy to the will of sovereign European peoples
    To dismantle the habitual domination of corporate power over the will of citizens;
  • To re-politicise the rules that govern our single market and common currency.

I am now offering myself as a candidate for election to the Co-ordinating Collective because I wish to draw attention to the silent 27,000 members who are not being heard. I am inviting the other candidates in this election to join with me in reaching out to them and telling them that we have not forgotten them; we need them in the Movement; we need them to raise their voices and renew their commitment to our joint pledge. Quite honestly and openly, I appeal to the 27,000 members to renew their commitment and vote in this election. My ideas may not appeal to them, but surely they will identify with some other candidates if they don’t identify with me.

First steps to recovery

For this reason, I suggest that we revisit the Organising Principles before we rush headlong into the future! There are items there that are interfering with the smooth development of the Movement and will continue to do so if we do not change them. These “items”, including emerging structures that have not been thought through and which are still at the “haphazard” stage, the disrupting behaviour of individuals and of groups, whether intentional or unwitting, rash assumptions about the intentions of others, and personal, group, and organisational values, whether shared or not, are undermining our best efforts no matter how hard we try.

Again, I emphasise, that before we jump enthusiastically on our horses, and ride off madly in all directions into an exciting future, that we should take time to survey the present situation and rectify those items in the Organising Principles that need reforming. I am not saying this in a way that is intentionally critical of any particular group or individual. I remind you, however, of the statement in the Section 1 of the Organising Principles (the emphasis added to the text is to focus your attention on some key phrases):

(Quoted from Section 1, Organisation Principles)

At the beginning, DiEM25 was put together spontaneously by initiators who conjured up, together and haphazardly, the idea of a pan-European association aiming at creating a movement for, simultaneously, democratising Europe in general and the European Union institutions in particular, enhancing democratic sovereignty at the local, city, regional and national levels. The time has come, however, to formalise this group that has been, since DiEM25’s inauguration on February 9, 2016, steering its activities into a Coordinating Collective.”

Already I see words and phrases indicating potential dangers, as well as pointing to real, present, dangers. “Haphazardly” is one word. It is perfectly acceptable that things might have been done haphazardly because of the time pressures. To continue on a haphazard path, however, is highly dangerous and already, I see some members reacting strongly, and at times negatively, because they recognise the need to address this issue but their way of reacting to it appears to have alienated some others and may call their own commitment to the Movement into question. Similarly, the word “simultaneously” indicates danger if we try to juggle with two different tasks without improving our organisation structure, procedures and processes. Note that already we are asking questions, such as “Are we a movement or a political party”, “can we be both”, and so on. I would remind those who are pushing for political action now, that in our Manifesto it is stated that: “If we fail to democratise Europe within, at most, a decade; if Europe’s autocratic powers succeed in stifling democratisation, then the EU will crumble under its hubris, it will splinter, and its fall will cause untold hardship everywhere – not just in Europe.”  We have not yet brought the Movement to an adequate stage of development that would support a political wing. 

That is my motivation for initiating this new thread in the Members’ Forum and anywhere else where members of DiEM25 try to meet to discuss our work. We are at a very critical stage in our development. I would also like to state clearly, that because of my experience in organisational change and development projects and initiatives, practised in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, while working as a development aid consultant with UNDP, EU, and British government sponsored projects, I am offering a set of relevant skills and experience for this task. My perspective is not theoretical but is based upon my real life experiences, both successes and failures, as examined through a theoretical framework that has been trustworthy for me. That is why I originally set up a pan-European online “DSC” (now planning to change that phrase to an acceptable format once I receive clarification). I had thought of “GTF” or Grass-roots Task Force on Policy Analysis and Review, but I had delayed the launch until I got clarification.

I am not now, however, willing to wait any longer. On my own initiative and authority, I invite you to join me in two week’s time (precise date and time will be circulated) when I shall be holding the first meeting. I shall sent invitations through the network of DSCs and other active parts of the DiEM25 structure. Our first task will be to continue the discussion that will start from this forum. That is also why I am standing in the election for members of the Co-ordinating Collective. So far, I see no other candidate addressing these issues. Neither am I clear (from what I have read so far of the candidates plans) whether any other candidates are even aware of these issues. But these issues must be addressed. Some members are speaking and writing as if we have already established a structured movement with clear guidelines and policies which can be used for a political presence. Others are rushing headlong to establish a political structure so that we can bring our message to the European electorate! I find this hard to understand and even more difficult to believe. We have not even begun to debate the issues involved in building a movement. Think of other political, democratic, and Europe-wide movements of which you have experience. Compare us with them. We are just eighteen months in existence. If we were eighteen years in existence, I would still wonder what fantasy has taken charge of our lives. It is barely more than eighteen decades since Socialism and Marxism were mooted and they are still riven with disagreements! Capitalism has been around since the Great Silk Road was a pathway and it is still riven with controversy!

This presentation will be lengthy and for that reason, I shall be making a separate post for each section of the discussion about Organising Principles. The initial documents will be presented in short instalments on WordPress and links to access them will be made available on a variety of media, such as Facebook, Slack, the Members’ Forum, and wherever else I can find. This will allow threads of comment to develop in an integrated manner on the WordPress documents. I hope that it will make it easier for members to follow the logic of what I am proposing. This is not a job that can be completed quickly yet it is essential that it be done and completed as soon as possible because the Organising Principles are essential to our performance and to our ability to perform effectively. This task must be open to detailed analysis and I hope that my commentary on the different sections will help to promote analysis and comment and encourage as many as possible to join the debate and make their voices heard. This, after all, is one of our long-terms aims for European citizens! By doing this transparently and with passion as well as objective discussion, we will show to those readers that we can, we do, and we will practise what we preach! Unfortunately, I am already reading comments from some members about the need to keep “certain issues out of the media” and a variety of fears are being expressed about what might happen if “these issues got out”. So we already are offering caveats, parsing and analysing “transparency” before we have even got around to discussing it! I do not apologise for pushing the boundaries of transparency as far as I can. I hope you will come with me.

I am not demanding or expecting that all contributors should be experts, but the concerns of all individuals, no matter what their level of competence, must be addressed if we are to live up to our claims of being a democratic organisation. Believe me, in my book there are no “stupid questions” only “stupid answers”! It is essential that we face up courageously and honestly, as well as dispassionately, to the job in hand. It is normal for members of an organisation to invest not only a lot of their energy but they also invest their personal commitment and identification in the structure and culture of their organisation. Unwittingly, we (and I include myself), must be aware that we also invest our “ego”, our “false self”, in our organisations, making it very difficult for us to be objective about issues in which we feel personally involved, affecting the behaviour, culture, and indeed, affecting the very basis of our declared commitment to this shared ideal. It will call for open, positive discussion, and the questioning of items and behaviours that we might prefer not to discuss openly. Nevertheless, for the sake of the principles we share, and the huge task that lies before us, it is essential that we face the task with love and respect for the people with whom we work, and realise that in taking on this task we must work helpfully, supportively, collaboratively, and carefully, with one another.

The following related posts will discuss the sections of the Organising Principles in the following order. Discuss them and contribute your comments, your observations, and your ideas in any order you wish. It will provide a hard test for the usefulness, transparency, and effectiveness of the various media and platforms we use for our discussions.

      1. Coordinating Collective (CC)

      2. Advisory Panel (AP)

      3. Validating Council (VC)

      4. DiEM25 Spontaneous Collectives (DSCs) and Municipal/Regional/National Committees

      5. DiEM25 Progressive Agenda for Europe: Assemblies-Policy Papers

      6. Amendment Process for Manifesto and Organising Principles

N.B. I am posting these documents on WordPress as the main forum for displaying them. I shall post links and synopses on DiEM25, Slack, and on the Members’ Forum. All of these links will bring the reader to the WordPress page where comments, observations, questions, etc., can be left. This should ensure that DiEM25 members, and any others reading these articles, will find the thread of the discussion in one place.

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