Tsipras before the MEPs: Finally a glimpse of European democracy

11 July 2015
VoxEurop

Alexis Tsipras' appearance before the European Parliament on 8 July was a superb moment in Europe's democratic life, claims the blogger Fabien Cazenave. Of course, the debate did not resolve the Greek crisis. But what a difference to European Councils taking place behind closed doors.

Finally, we have witnessed a clear exchange between the Greek Prime Minister, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. We finally left to one side a German, Slovakian, French or Greek perspective. Europe became political in the good sense of the term, because we were no longer in the insular Europe of our diplomats.

It was a "European" moment, proof that the mediatised public space also exists at a European level. Whether we were pro or anti-Grexit, the arguments were at least laid out on the table. It was much clearer than the carefully chosen words of our national leaders: caught between their national interest and not wanting to undo Europe, they so often water down their declarations. For example, at the meeting between François Hollande and Angela Merkel nothing new emerged except for that image of the French President and the German Chancellor side by side.

Even if it was disappointing that Tsipras did not bring any new Greek propositions with him, the positioning of the big European political clans was very exciting. We did not at all expect Manfred Weber, the head of the rightwing EPP (European People's Party), to pour scorn so publicly on the Greeks. Alexis Tsipras could only respond by asking him to remember the cancellation of the German debt in 1953, after the Second World War. This exchange ultimately had a European dimension. Normally, these types of speeches are isolated in different national public spaces. Criticisms, notably from Germany, are passed through the filter of national newspapers before reaching other countries, like Greece. This time, there was no filter to warp a direct exchange. So citizens have been truly able to form an opinion.

The bug on the site of the European Parliament

But not everything went smoothly. The Parliament's site and the Commission's audiovisual service did not broadcast the debates under the correct conditions. We were forced to make do with a live broadcast by national 24 hour news channels. And in France's case, the debates were interrupted by returning to the studio until the next question from a French MEP. It is true that not everybody has the means to employ simultaneous interpreters over several hours… What a shame that the television channels cannot re-broadcast the live transmission from the European Parliament's site in their own languages. And yet the technical capacity exists – we see it every year with Eurovision.

But like the famous song contest, the debate went on a little. It is impossible to follow over three hours of debating – for citizens at home as much as for media outlets. What weakened the impact of this exchange even further was that Alexis Tsipras only had a few minutes at the end to respond. So he focused his responses on the leaders of the different political groups. There's a clear need to reform the discussions in the European Parliament.

The European public space exists far away from our diplomats

But all that does not ruin the striking moment of European democracy that we witnessed. The European public space exists in spite of its segmentation into different national media. Once again, the European Parliament has been at the vanguard. Its debates deserve better than their current broadcasts. Because when we talk about Europe, it is meant to break through national borders. That is not to say it should aim for uniformity. During these exchanges, we have seen very different political stances, from pro and anti-Europeans, from eurosceptics to federalists. MEP's nationalities were no longer the most important aspect of their speeches. That's after all the reason why we've constructed Europe.

"The temple of European democracy", as Tsipras described it, played its role perfectly. The Parliament's Europe is so much more exciting than the Europe of the diplomats who are not working for the European common interest but for the national interest.

Translated by Simon Pickstone

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