The event was kicked-off yesterday with a presentation of EU Vote Watch. – VoteWatch.eu is going to be launched next week. Its aim is to present the voting record and behaviour of Members of the European Parliament (EP). To publish voting records, the website draws on Roll-Call Vote (RCV) data from the European Parliament. The registration of RCVs can be requested by groups in the European Parliament on more or less any vote (and amendment) they like. A few hours after any vote, the record can be seen on the EP’s website. The sponsors of the VoteWatch.eu project aim to have the data inside their own website just a few hours after Parliament publishes them. Prior to this new website, there had been a very similar project by the Romanian Institute of Public Policy (IPP). Now, Doru Frontescu, the main protagonist of this previous project has joined VoteWatch.eu but unfortunately their old website www.ippro-mep.eu is not publicly available anymore. Another angle at things is the German project Abgeordnetenwatch, where you can publish questions to national MPs but also MEPs and some kind of peer pressure is bringing most MPs to answer these publicly.
The challenge: translating information into action
After the presentation of VoteWatch.eu an interesting discussion developed in the group. The first controversy arose when Sara Hagemann, the presenter, was asked about making the data and code available to anyone to use and connect their information to other projects. Unfortunately, she did not seem to be very keen on this – and this is a pity! The second and most interesting discussion is about translating the edited and available information on voting records into action and also newsworthy stories. As Rob pointed out with regards to his New Zealand experience, the availability of information is not guaranteeing better debate by definition. I think that more specific interest groups and citizens should come in here now. If environmental groups used the voting records to publish “bad behaviour” on concrete legislation, and if internet groups rank MEPs according to their record for the freedom of the internet, than this is how things should be. This is also the point where the first point about open source access to data comes in. If let’s say Greenpeace can connect up to the voting record on the REACH chemicals legislation, then they can produce a story and work out how different political parties and individual MEPs have voted on this topic. Friends of the Earth has done such an interesting overview/”EU Vote Watch” for the 2004 European elections but unfortunately, I have not heard of any follow-up for the June elections this year. Another good one is on internet freedom by the French La Quadrature du Net network which scores political groups and individual MEPs.
Translating information into action therefore depends on four points
– availability and accessibility of data via open source so that it can be used by any interested actor
– always think legislative voting and budgetary voting together – both is important and relevant for follow-up
– targeted interest for specific policies like copyrights, climate change etc
– imagination to build a broader story and possibly campaign around the “bad” voting record of a certain group
Various ways of vote watching
Besides this relaunch of the IPPRO project there are similar projects going on in different parts of Europe and beyond. One such project is the excellent website by Rob, one of our guests her at the #EODS09. His TheyWorkForYou.co.nz is an excellent watcher of the New Zealand parliament. He even includes donations and the citing of donating companies in speeches in parliament. Another such site is UNdemocracy.com which looks at the voting record of nations in the UN. This site is maintained by Julian, another of our participants here. There are surely more than these but you get an idea of what is available.
I guess the difficulty with the VoteWatch project is that it is too much building up on academic theories developed by Simon Hix and others about voting behaviour by MEPs. He has done interesting research and proven that MEPs do not vote as nationals but along party/ideological lines. This is of course interesting but any participant in EU politics will have figured this out in the meantime. Now, it is much more interesting to challenge MEPs on individual issues and hold them accountable for what they preach at home – and how they vote in Brussels (Strasbourg). Here, their project is interesting but it needs to connect to the wider web 2.0 opportunities and hence my suggestions above.
What I would like to see in the future
– the voting record of member states in the EU Council
– the voting record of Commissioners on new legislation but also on other decisions like granting of state aid (exceptions)
– the inclusion (e.g. into VoteWatch.eu) of the annual budget voting behaviour by MEPs and EU member states