The headline above refers to a Stealers Wheel song from 1972 made famous (again) by Quentin Tarantino as part of the soundtrack for his deservedly acclaimed 1992 movie, Reservoir Dogs.
If you ask my teenage daughters, both of those references are “SO ancient! SO old!” But to me, they are extremely timely.
In the next few days, we are likely to see “blood on the floor” from some of the mainstream parties in the European Parliament. In fact the political scenario might make the scenes in Reservoir Dogs look like something out of Toy Story. In all probability, during the post-election phase, attentive observers will be able to see lead negotiators of those same mainstream parties sing the above song – probably off key and definitely not in unison –as a chorus.
Why? Politics. Tactics. Nationalities. All are legitimate explanations. Governance issues are equally important, chiefly the Parliament’s need as an institution to assert its position as a credible counterpart to the European Council.
But there’s a bigger explanation, a meta explanation, which transcends all of these reasons. If you believe in democracy, the explanation is this: real politics (not to be confused with realpolitik) is made by those people who will and can.
So you can make a very simple matrix…
Brilliant people will arise on either side of the political spectrum. By showing that they are effective communicators, they will convince us that they could – probably – make European politics. These same people will also make it abundantly clear – as written in their very programs – that they are not willing to do so. Despite the speeches, rallies and massive support…. nothing will materialize.
Throughout the political spectrum, you will also have profoundly good and willing candidates – soon to be MEPs – who have a lot of unguided goodwill but no real ability to put it to use. Failing to devise any revolutionary strategies and feeling disappointed at being misunderstood by electorate and colleagues (politicians rarely recognizes their own lack of abilities), they will become innocuous, doing no evil, but falling in line to follow those who are genuine leaders.
Equally dispersed across the spectrum – but hopefully not in equal numbers – you will find those who don’t care and don’t want to do anything – the passive and disinterested. They ran for office and won the election for reasons unexplained and inexplicable. They will be forgotten even before the first picnic-trip to Strasbourg, regardless of how many times they are re-elected to Parliament.
And finally you’ll have those who are both willing and able to do what they are here for, regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum.
If an election can be about “Yes, we can” the post-election reality for ‘real politicians’ will always be “yes we will.” These latter specimens will be able to make political compromises and decisions that determine the future of Europe in a wider sense, because they can. They will lead the colleagues who can’t step forward, and energize some of those who simply won’t, and in the end, it is they who will make politics – stuck in the middle as they will be.
The Personal Democracy Forum Europe is taking place in Barcelona on October 4th and 5th. We’re co-sponsoring the event so a few of us will be heading down to mingle with the best and the brightest minds in the “internet + politics” space.
Why are we involved? In short, the Internet is revolutionising the interaction between citizens, civil society, business and politicians. As the world’s largest conference on how technology is changing politics, the Personal Democracy Forum conference is the best place to meet, discuss and understand these changes. The programme is already jam packed and includes everything from Europe’s Digital Agenda to mapping the political influence of Twitter.
Who is going? Leaders in the political/digital field: campaigners, NGO’ers, journalists, bloggers, politicians, technologists and many more with first-hand experience of how democracy is being transformed online. Not least Alec Ross, senior advisor to Hillary Clinton, Randi Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, Marietje Schaake MEP, Constantijn van Oranje-Nassau, Prince of the Netherlands and Cabinet Member of Neelie Kroes, and Dominic Campbell, Founder of Future Gov.
But we are not just there to socialise and soak up the Spanish sun; no we are also going to be hosting a session on the European Citizens’ Initiative. Andrew Rasiej, one of the founders of Personal Democracy Forum, was talking last week in our podcast about the potential for the internet to help direct the usage of government resources. And already the Initiative has seen innovative use of online media to reach out across Europe and get support for legislative proposals. As such it is a perfect case in point from which to examine the true impact of our digital age.
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.
A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients.