Gala BURSA 2018

REPORT FROM ROMEThe direct democracy forum: a gradual switch from local to national

MAKE (translated by Cosmin Ghidovean)
Ziarul BURSA #English Section /

The direct democracy forum: a gradual switch from local to national
MAKE (translated by Cosmin Ghidovean)

Some people mistake direct democracy with "the popular democracy regime" of communism. No, it is called direct democracy, because the decision is not mediated by representatives.

In direct democracy, the decisions concerning the community are passed by the community, and not by the politicians elected by the community.

Some people fear that the incompetence of the crowds will lead to inadequate decisions and that the uneducated masses will become a matter of manipulation.

The concern is not without merit.

As part of the direct democracy forum hosted by the mayor of Rome, young Virginia Raggi, she mentioned these aspects:

a) The interest in direct democracy originates in the gap between the elected and the voters;

b) Involving the population in the decision-making process raises the issue of the quality of average citizens, which need to be trained, responsible, involved.

Virginia Raggi also reports one third difficulty, encountered in practice:

c) The decision-making process can take a very long time, when it follows the requirements of truly providing citizens with complete information (she says that the citizen decision on the fate of an abandoned movie theatre took a year to be made).

Virginia Raggi mentioned that 17 million Euros have been made available against the decision of the citizen, and the communities have allocated the money for decorative landscaping.

The deputy of the mayor of Taichung (the second largest city in Taiwan), Mrs. Ying-Yi Lin, has explained how she has profited from the fact that the city has incorporated rural areas to launch programs for the conveying and preservation of traditions and that the mayoralties has launched elements of citizen control over the administration.

Ying-Yi Lin is saying that the mayoralty has introduced popular consultation where small issues were concerned (such as the selection of a school's name, for instance), and seeking to progress towards more important matters.

Deputy governor of Vienna, Maria Vassilakou, reports that lack of citizen trust inhibă citizen participation in the making of decisions and that there is a need for transparency - the public display of the budget and of the way it is spent.

The deputy of the mayor of Madrid, Mr. Pablo Soto, claims that citizens' apetite for direct democracy is the consequence of a deeper process, of the disappointment of the population with politicians and parties, so much so that, five years ago, there were protests that had not even been organized by any party nor by a union, which is when new politicians that promote direct democracy appeared.

Pablo Soto says that 100 million Euros have been allocated for citizen decisions.

He also reports that the citizen communication platform (with the name "Decide Madrid") has been exported to Latin American, and Uruguay has exported it to a national level.

The representative of the mayoralty of Barcelona, Mrs. Francesca Bria, claims that we are living in a crisis of the traditional political parties and that the solution is to restart the process from the ground up.

Francesca Bria says that institutions cannot be reformed, but, for them to be changed, others need to be built in parallel.

Francesca Bria notices that cities can serve as testing grounds, for experimenting with new political formulas, at low costs, before extending them everywhere.

She says that 72% of the list of projects of the mayoralty of Barcelona comes from its citizens.

Francesca Bria writes that the mayoralty has posted the mayoralty's budget and contracts online (through a blockchain technology) and that it has created a Committee for Transparency, in charge of resolving statements.

She also mentions that the mayoralty has involved the public in the management of water and energy supply and in managing the actions against pollution.

The deputy of the mayor of Torino, Mr. Guido Montanari, says that the monoindustrial nature of the city has caused major problems when the economic recession came, meaning that the city found itself faced with the alternative of leaving huge hangars under the influence of the free market or design for them projects of benefit to the community.

Guido Montanari reports that a vast space from the center of town, which was on its way to be removed and privatized, was occupied by protesters, which is when the mayoralty began a lengthy process for the modification of the laws, so that in the end, it could make that space publicly owned again and set up a park in it.

In the section dedicated to the economic consequences of direct democracy, , Bruno Frey, professor at the Basel University, listed the classic rebuttals to direct democracy:

1. Direct democracy is more expensive than representative democracy;

2. The decision making process is lengthier;

3. The elected representatives are more competent.

Bruno Frey claims that econometric measures have emphasized the following qualities of direct democracy:

- decisions expenses are reduced by 7-11% in a collective decision process;

- an economic process where the additional direct democracy is expressed through the deeper involvement of citizens, expenses go down even as much as 30%;

- the efficiency of waste collecting increases by 20%;

- income per capita increases 5%;

- the happiness index is vastly higher in areas with direct democracy.

Bruno Frey claims that the executive adapts to the decision in a more adequate and faithful manner if it has been passed through a process of citizen consultation, thus increasing their responsibility.

The minister of the government of the Basque Country of Gipuzkoa, Imanol Lasa Zerberio, says that the local authority is concerned with the survival of this small Basque community and that it has structured the public in such a way so as to streamline the consulting of citizens when it comes to the issues of government, thus opening financing lines for the projects resulting from these processes.

He mentioned that the amount allocated for this project is 65 million Euros.

Deputy mayor of Lisbon, Paula Cristina Marques, wonders how can participative policies apply to residents (8 million) of which 24% did not attend the general elections and 41% did not attend the local elections.

Paula Cristina Marques says that the mayoralty has initiated the "BIP-ZIP" project which found 76 disadvantaged areas of the city, for whose improvement the citizen consultation was decided, as an instrument of strategic planning, thus obtaining 300 projects, 1200 partners and 2000 actions, with a budget of 12 million Euros.

She says that the results have been unexpected:

- the availability of the residents for education has increased;

- their occupational mobility has increased;

- women have gotten more involved in the social and economic life;

- citizen education has been introduced in schools.

The representative of the management of Palo Alto, California, James Keene, shocked everybody when he presented the disaster of direct democracy caused for his town.

James Keene said that the experience with direct democracy in Palo Alto is more than 100 years old and that, through successive referendums, starting with 1911, about 400 amendments have been made to the Constitution, making it the second most complicated constitution in the US.

He says that in 1978, through a referendum which met the quorum of 2/3 of the population, the land tax was capped at 1% (later they raised it to 2%), thus depleting the mayoralty's budget, which led to a crisis of residences and making it impossible to finance schools.

As can be seen from this Forum, the modern direct democracy is being experimented with in local administrations, partially and progressively, through small steps, because the main concern is over the behavior and quality of citizens involved in the collective decision making.

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