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Sovereign for 15 minutes

Andreas MüllerAndreas MüllerSunday, May 26th, 2pm: I am on my way to vote in the European elections.

It takes me five minutes to get to the polling station on foot. It has been set up in one of the classrooms the local primary school, as usual. Three election assistants sitting at a somewhat battered school desks greet me, ask for my voter documents and then hand me my ballot.

There are two other people in line ahead of me, so I have to wait a little. This is somewhat absurd, I think: More than 500 million citizens are voting today in the second-largest election on this planet, and I’m standing here in a small classroom, surrounded by art works of school children. But I’m doing something really important: with my vote, I'm supposed to decide what will happen with and in the EU for the next five years.

One of the polling cabins frees up, I make my cross on the ballot and put it in the box - I had decided beforehand which party I would vote for. So after five minutes, I'm standing outside again and start making my way back home. Five minutes to get to the polling station, five minutes of voting, five minutes back home - 15 minutes of being sovereign. And now?

In a democracy, the citizens are the sovereigns. We jointly decide how we want to live together, which topics are important to us, who represents us and what we want to decide on directly. That is the theory – but unfortunately the reality in Europe is different. In five years’ time, my participation is limited to just 15 minutes. The rest of the time, I am relegated to watching from the sidelines. I am no longer allowed to take any influence on political decision-making and can only hope for the goodwill of a politician. From sovereign to supplicant? – That’s not how I see democracy.

A democracy needs empowered citizens and strong democratic instruments: elections are not enough. This is not about weakening or even abolishing the parliament. No, it's about strengthening the rights of citizens. As a citizen, it must be possible to contribute ideas and proposals in between elections.

In the last five months, we have fought for just that with our "Now The Citizens" campaign. We demand that citizens can work together with politicians in citizen assemblies in order to develop new, progressive ideas for Europe. We want citizens to be able to participate between elections and put issues on the political agenda. And we demand European-wide referendums on issues that will affect us all.

In the run up to the EU elections more than 300 candidates have pledged to support those demands. Almost 30 of them now have been elected to the new EU Parliament. Together with them we will push for more democratic rights. So that 15 minutes of sovereignty will eventually turn into every day. 

** Managing Director
Democracy International