11 April: First day of DemocracyAlive!

I woke around 8am UK time, with a stinking hangover. Not fair! I’d not drunk any alcohol. I finally found the online programme for today’s DemocracyAlive! events. I don’t mean it wasn’t online before, just that I’d not made time to read it before now. I decided on going to these events:

  • What public services for the future? Digital Transformation and Low-carbon economy
    (12 noon to 1pm)
  • Festival launch (2pm to 3pm)
  • [Koffiepauze (3pm to 4pm)]
  • Democracy as a culture (4pm to 6pm)
  • Talking Europe with Commissioner Vestager (6pm to 7pm)
  • Talking Europe with Michel Barnier (7pm to 8pm)

Here’s how I got on, mostly recalled from tweets, texts and emails I sent at the time.

first part of panorama outside Hotel Tesselhof

first part of panorama outside Hotel Tesselhof

second part of panorama outside Hotel Tesselhof

second part of panorama outside Hotel Tesselhof

I staggered to breakfast, down tea, apple juice, dark wholemeal bread and peanut-cheese (dutch peanut-butter) and felt more human. I found I had lost one of my winter cycling gloves in Edinburgh airport, so bought some Thinsulate ‘wooly’ gloves at a local sports and camping store.

cargo bikes etc for rent at Fietsverhuur De Koog

Many cargo-bikes!

I hired a bike at Fietsverhuur De Koog. This took two goes: I was first given a mountain-bike that lived up to its name. I would have needed crampons and ice-tools to climb into this bike’s saddle. A second bike with a much smaller frame presented almost the opposite problem. However, the shortness of the frame meant I would sit upright and so be able to see where I’m going.

There was some faffing to attach lights, GoPro mount and jPhone mount, then I set off for Den Burg. It took about 30 minutes to cycle the 4 miles to Den Burg, and not long to find Groeneplaats, the site of the festival. Finding out that nothing started until 2pm was puzzling. I guess it explains why my chosen events are not longer on the programme.

Anyway, I wondered off in search of food, and found coffee and chips, then got back in time for the launch.


opening at DemocracyAlive!

Eva Maydell MEP opening DemocracyAlive!

Andrew Maxwell was the opener. His set is on Youtube (19:00 to 42:00). He was followed by Eva Maydell MEP (Youtube: 42:00 to 52:00) and Texel’s mayor, Michael Uitdehaag (Youtube: 52:00 to 1:02:00), and singer Amber Arcades (Youtube: 1:006 to 1:28). Here’s my tweets, lightly edited for typos and sense. My reactions are in italics:

    • Eva Maydell doing formal opening. She is president of European Movement International. She thanks Texel’s mayor. She think politicians should be more feted, not fated. I like.
    • Eva Maydell says, inter alia, we don’t need a war against outsiders. Mayor of Texel now speaking at @DemFest_EU, welcoming in English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish. Fantastic. Now reverting to English and Dutch. He is Michiel Uitdehaag. Details here.
    • OK what happened to my last tweet? [I’d written a long tweet about what the mayor was saying, and it didn’t post.]
    • Amber Arcades at at DemocracyAlive!

      Amber Arcades at at DemocracyAlive!

      Now Amber Arcades at @DemFest_EU. Singer with grunge-country tune to her axe

    • Amber Arcades’ drummer is her iPhone. It never lets her down, she says at @DemFest_EU. Bluesy voice.
    • Amber Arcades @DemFest_EU, singing a song about Europe as an intersubjective reality (my interpretation of her words). We should celebrate the stories of us to build the strength of our IRs. I like!
    • I like that there is a Glassroom at @DemFest_EU on Texel. A wee reminder of ‘home’. There is also a dome for restaging Mad Max movies.

    'Glassroom' at DemocracyAlive!

    ‘Glassroom’ at DemocracyAlive!

    wooden dome at DemocracyAlive!

    wooden dome at DemocracyAlive!


  • hashtags at DemocracyAlive!


    Rather glad to learn today that I am quite likely to be able to vote in next EU elections. So one of @DemFest_EU⁩’s hashtags has come true for UK, I hope! Question for me is how we stop moggites etc disrupting without denying their right to hold and express their opinions. My point is that anti-EU have the right to be so, even though I think they are wrong and now know they got ‘power’ partly through lies and underhand activities.

flag showing supporters of DemocracyAlive!

flag showing supporters of DemocracyAlive!

Democracy as a culture

I was interested in this session because it was run by DemSoc, and I was curious about how Demsoc would suggest that democracy can be a culture. My personal feelings about the word ‘culture’ are somewhat negative. A social anthropologist friend wrote about the Talang Mamak, a group of people on Sumatra. As I understand it, the Talang Mamak were not Muslim, and were not allowed to enter Islam, so that the Muslim majority around them could enslave them. (In that area’s version of Islam, a Muslim cannot enslave a fellow Muslim, but can enslave a non-Muslim.) This and the fact that government has to exist to sort things out fairly, but in doing so has to restrict some freedoms (even if these are just the freedoms to rampant arseholes), my feeling is that in general, culture is at least partly ‘only what the powers that be let you do’. (Of course, physical contexts are the ultimate limiting factors. For example, no-one has made it illegal for me to photosynthesise. It is my physical reality that makes photosynthesis an impossibility for me.)

I arrived a little late, full of coffee and vegetable croquettes. (It was very cold, so I had needed warm sustenance.) Demsoc was represented by its founder, Anthony Zacharzewski, Beth WiItshire, Namita Kambli, and Hanne Bastiaensen. With them were two people from Groningen: a local politician and a civil servant. I tried to keep quiet and learn from what they were saying. I didn’t completely succeed at the former, but did succeed in learning. The politician explained how she had recruited people for a sortition by working with local organisations so that every door in the relevant area was approached, and everyone could decide for themselves whether to enter the ballot. This included at least one person who had never before voted becoming a representative.

They spoke about this and other experiments to improve local democratic culture, recognising tacitly that it’s not about rules and systems but about people. I asked how they measured success. They replied that they didn’t think this way, meaning mostly quantitative measures. I think they meant they implicitly and non-rigorously use qualitative measures, such as the success of recruiting new representatives. I would love to learn more about their democratic experiments to and to share my ‘lessons’ from PB in Scotland and Brazil. While I have been typing this, Anthony has put us in contact on Twitter, and I’ve been sent a link to this article about their experiments! It concludes

The citizens’ summit demanded something of our expectations. We are used to coming up with clear cut plans. To measure results. To be efficient and effective. However, establishing dialogue is hard to measure. Civil servants as well as citizens exposed themselves to a vulnerable position and were allowed to make mistakes. They shared the fact that they were nervous and didn’t know where conversations were heading to. Nonetheless, it brought a valuable democratic experience for everyone. There’s ‘a long way to go’ but we’ll make it an inspiring journey!

Talking Europe with Margrethe Vestager

Here’s the livestream.

  • Now in ‘talking Europe with Margrethe Vestager’. She says main difference from national politics and international politics is language. From 5mil folk in Danish only to 500 mil folk in many languages. However she feels more Danish because she is the Dane in the room, but more European than ever too.
  • How does she deal with international people? 900 good staff and following the guideline ‘everyone is welcome’ is her answer. Also most organisations have respect for the rule of law, even when paying major fines. @corrieshore might be interested.
  • Host asks ‘my generation is heavy users of social media. Yours are not. How can we control the big social media companies we rely on?’
  • Without this, says MV, we would have dystopia. US is a long term ally, she says in response to next question. China is both a partner (e.g. around climate change) and a competitor (e.g. around AI). Russia is a problem if it interferes but it is not just that. The EU needs to respect its member states that border Russia.
  • MV mentions trolling, fake news etc. Knowledge of it makes it possible to deal with it.
  • MV mentions how folk here want to make people vote and inspire one another. My question: surely democracy is more than just voting?
  • Live-stream from @DemFest_EU is here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=te0h5nZsq04. It seems to have about a 60 second lag! What’s a minute between friends, though? 🙂
  • Delay in my tweets due to lack of jPhone battery, so now charging phone from laptop. My lag much more than 60s 😦
  • MV now talking about need for tax fairness @DemFest_EU. Digital orgs apparently average 9% tax but other sectors pay around 20%. So need to change to accommodate this. Again, @corrieshore might be interested.
  • MV answering qn about many folk in poverty in Europe. Strategy is converging on higher levels. This translates into better welfare, she says. This convergence us happening, but it will take time, says MV.
  • Now using laptop to tweet, so I may be faster. MV now talking about how to deal with changing industry. Don’t invest in moribund ones, but invest in making changes to support people to make livings elsehow.
  • Qn about Junker priorities for MV. Question had many words but it was about environment. Start of answer is all of EU is signed up to sustainable development goals They are for everyone and should be built into processes, to build jobs in a new way. This is the challenge, says MV.
  • Should have said earlier that ‘MV’ is @vestager.

Talking Europe with Michel Barnier

Much respect: he was negotiating until 2:30 this morning, then travelled here. Here’s the livestream.

  • Never thought I’d be within 20 metres of @MichelBarnier! He should be on now, but there is a welcome ‘koffiepauze’ while he is arriving. (Not indulging in more caffeine yet – need to sleep tonight!)
  • OK, make that 3 metres!
  • @MichelBarnier being asked how he applies patience he learnt from doing olympics (worked 10 years for a 16-day event). He thanks audience. Says is a school of patience, and a lose-lose game. It has no added value.
  • @MichelBarnier being asked about future. He hopes UK will ratify treaty, if will is still to leave. It is time for UK to decide and act. EU respects this decision, even though it regrets it. As people may know, I have no respect for the decision by UK.
  • @MichelBarnier being asked about elections being about what we feel, not what we think. (So says Yuval Harari, according to host.) MB says fact is that so long as UK is EU member, it has to follow its rules. So if it an EU member on 22 or 23 May, it must do EU elections because UK citizens will be EU citizens, and so have the right to vote. [I note this is a right, not an obligation. So if lunkheads don’t want to vote, they don’t have to, and as far as I am concerned, can STFU about this ‘imposition’ of needing to vote.]
  • Host asking @MichelBarnier whether the UKs queen can be the UK’s ‘divorce lawyer’. MB says it is not his role to give personal opinion, as a way to dodge that question! Well done! Next question is about the relationship with @theresa_may and whether her replacement could be worse?
  • @MichelBarnier replies that it is his job to work with whoever is the UK government, not to intervene in UK domestic matters. Says he will not re-open the WA. But political declaration is open. What is more important is this, the future relationship, not the divorce.
  • @MichelBarnier says there are 3·5m EU citizens living in UK, 1·5m brits living in EU. They all have rights. This is EU’s first priority in negotiations, says MB. Host asks about Ireland. He says Ireland is proof of being lose-lose or ‘regression’.
  • This is because after the troubles, 21 years ago people decide to impose peace. [Now I want to cry. My brother was a soldier. My worst fear ever was him meeting this fate in Northern Ireland. I know I am a drama queen!]
  • @MichelBarnier mentioning border of EU goes through centre of Ireland. It is not EU’s goal to put a border between parts of UK – that is a result of , nothing else. So offered to invite just NI or all of UK into customs union. Brexiters rejected both!
  • @MichelBarnier asked how we should reinvent EU for jobs, economy etc. He goes back to says political declaration is important cos UK will be friend and ally. He is ready to work with UK as soon as withdrawal Agreement ratified. Then we need to rebuild…
  • @MichelBarnier says EU is ready to launch negotiations to build partnerships. These will be mixed agreements. Do not underestimate difficulties, says MB. He is now touring 27 capitals to meet all 27 heads of states and 27 governments. [That workload would kill me!]
  • @MichelBarnier says Mr Farage might be an MEP if people vote that way. MB apparently had a ‘stimulating’ meeting with Mr Farage. His answer was ‘the EU will no longer exist after ‘. [That is so embarrassing, I think! Nigel Farage, you DO NOT speak for me.]
  • Michel Barnier in demonstrative mood at DemocracyAlive!Just to show how close I was to Michel Barnier.
  • @MichelBarnier says his door is open to ‘each and every’ UK leaders. He has made efforts to understand why 52% voted for Found similar things/feelings in other parts of Europe.
  • Just read that I should have been using these hashtags at @DemFest_EU: #DemFest, #ThisTimeImVoting, #EUelections2019.
  • @MichelBarnier says the key to fighting climate change is for EU to act together, following spirit of conference of Paris. He quotes figures from IPCC. Going back to last tweet, Brexiters are on same curve as distance from various bits of infrastructure.
  • @MichelBarnier now talking about figures for production, use, effects of plastic bags. Perhaps we should be more ambitious, he suggests. [NB please watch the livestream for his actual words.]
  • Bah – lost track of interview with due to family things ongoing.
  • @MichelBarnier says  proves EU is not a prison, but that there are mechanisms for accession, so EU is not finished (in the sense of complete). [I wonder about Augustus’ advice to his successors not to make Rome bigger.I am sure there are now more folk in Europe now than there were in the Roman Empire. So I wonder whether the EU is too big. My personal opinion is ‘no, because we have better comms options’.]
  • @MichelBarnier says ‘take care about Europe’. I think he means ‘of’, as in ‘take care of your house so it can shelter you’. Enlightened self-interest!

After the interview, I agreed with Daniel, another attendee from the UK, that ‘Brexit makes him feel embarrassed to from the UK’. I replied that ‘Brexit is fucking stupid. It is basically telling the EU “you are our enemy”,’ then explained why I was nearly in tears. I then realised that M Barnier was about two metres behind me. I apologise to him and others for the profanity. I was too nervous to approach him and thank him for his patience with the UK.

After this, I had a gado-gado, then cycled back to De Koog. It was a lot of fun cycling late at night in the dark. The cycle-paths were delightfully smooth tarmac, with white lines showing the edge of the path. It felt like I was flying! Back at my hotel, I lay in a stupor of tiredness, thoughts and exhilaration that prevented me getting to sleep until the wee small hours. This explains why I’ve had time to blog today.


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