For more than five years, WeCitizens has contributed to transparency in politics by publishing the country’s largest database of political representatives.
We thank the many politicians who responded to the invitations to make themselves better known, via our platform.
Unfortunately, there are also politicians who use the GDPR as an excuse to fight an initiative, which was intended to be constructive. We intended to restore confidence between citizens and the political world.
Due to lack of resources, WeCitizens is forced to suspend the publication of PoliticiansOnline, from now on.
26 December 2020.
WeCitizens is an independent civil society organization (CSO) established in Brussels, in 2012, wanting to reduce the break between the citizen and politics. With our transparency tools we contribute to better democracy & governance.
We have produced five vote advice applications (VAA) in 2014 in Belgium for EU and other elections. In 2016 we started publishing an Index of transparency of political parties. In 2015, we put online PoliticiansOnline, which is the biggest publicly available database about Belgian politicians. It is interactive and will be participative.
WeCitizens is politically impartial. We have around 25.000 readers of our newsletter (in French and Dutch).
For six years, different teams of developers have been involved. WeCitizens has following active internet tools:
We need lots of new developments of PoliticiansOnline and we rely on you to produce them.
Jean-Paul Pinon, CEO of WeCitizens
pinon@WeCitizens.be , GSM 0497 527751
Brussels, March 2020.
In the run-up to the elections, some citizens’ movements and interest groups wish to issue a voting recommendation. It is more interesting to recommend candidates than parties, but it takes a lot of work. WeCitizens is the technical operator, which allows to easily and more efficiently realize such a project.
Situation without our tool
Some groups write a questionnaire to evaluate the candidates in the elections who best defend their interests / values. The effort to contact the candidates is so great that these groups give up and simply question the parties. Following a manual analysis, they can then disseminate, by their means, the comparison of parties. Unless there is media coverage, the dissemination of results is very limited.
Advantages of the tool offered by WeCitizens
Services from WeCitizens: basic offer, € 2,870
WeCitizens revises the formulation of closed questions selected by the client, in principle half a dozen. The questions are translated to be available in FR-NL-EN-DE.
WeCitizens makes a reasonable effort to find and record in its database the candidates for the elections concerned.
WeCitizens sends to all parties and to all targeted candidates an invitation email to answer the questionnaire. Reminder emails are sent regularly to those who have not responded.
In order to increase the response rate of the candidates, WeCitizens offers the client the campaign tool. This is a web page that allows you to send, with a few clicks, personal reminders to politicians who have not yet answered the questions. The customer can disseminate to all his supporters the URL link to this page.
Anyone who consults the Political Directory of Wecitizens finds easily and freely the answers of the political actors. This database of the political world is the largest in Belgium, publicly accessible.
The calculation methodology is the same as for the electoral GPS. The customer has a link to this dynamic result page (that is, it is always up to date, given the new information collected). The customer can present the results in another design, with the mention: “Ranking calculated by WeCitizens on the basis of the instructions of [client]”.
Services of WeCitizens: Premium offer, € 5.600
In addition to “standard” services, this package includes:
On the basis of the information provided by the customer, WeCitizens writes an explanatory note. This text of 800 characters maximum, which accompanies the question, must be neutral. It explains the context, what is at stake and, if possible, figures. The notice is translated to be available in FR-NL.
The campaign (see (d) above) is announced in the newsletter of WeCitizens, which is sent to over 90,000 recipients, including political journalists.
If the political party reminder e-mail has no effect, more personal steps are taken to obtain party responses. This concerns parties with at least one MP.
WeCitizens publishes, for each question, a webpage, accessible by its search engine, where you can find all the available information concerning the question. In particular a statistic on the positions of the political actors. This concerns issues that fall within the competence of at least one parliament.
In this page of explanation will appear the result of a virtual vote of each parliament concerned: if the question was submitted today to vote in the parliament, what would be the result. The calculation is based on the parties’ responses, published in the Political Directory.
WeCitizens publishes the list of voting recommendations produced using its tools. In order to respect the impartiality of WeCitizens, this publication is only possible if a sufficient number of customers (in principle, ten) have used the Premium service.
Gold Offer: € 10,000
In addition to the “Premium” services, this package includes:
WeCitizens examines whether the issues have been the subject of parliamentary votes in the last four years and transcribes the results. This makes it possible to compare the answers (pre-electoral) with the political acts (when they are available).
WeCitizens screens the press to identify influential people who have spoken out on the subject (for or against): university professors, thinktank experts, editorial writers, etc. These people are added to the Policy Directory.
WeCitizens publishes, in its newsletter, a neutral article with the arguments for and against. The article also analyzes the responses gathered from political actors.
Jean-Paul Pinon, Pinon@WeCitizens.be, 0497 527751.
The above offer is expressed excluding VAT, and is subject to change. The applicable prices are those published on the website of WeCitizens the day of the written order.
What public problem are you working to solve and why?
Partitocracy means that parties have captured the power, and citizens are conducted to many forms of submission to the party they choose. Parties and institutions tend to dilute responsibilities. It is hardly possible for the citizen to sanction the abuses.
There is a break (distrust) between the citizens and the politicians. Many citizens do no more care about politics. They seek to fraud as much as possible in order to reduce the impact of politics: taxes, rules, etc. The participation to elections is decreasing: in the EU elections of 2014 only 28% of people below 25 years participated.
Citizens are not aware that the main victims of this fracture are the citizens themselves. Many politicians are happy that citizens leave the place, and allow them to work in an opaque way. This facilitates corruption and abuse.
Citizens are growing irresponsible. This make society more exposed to risks of demagogy, manipulation, extremism, etc.
We lack citizens’ participation and involvement.
People are no real citizens, because this would involve more solidarity, more responsibility for the common interest.
How are you attempting to solve the problem?
It is essential to put the responsibilities at individual level. We advocate the possibility for citizens to vote for individuals (within the parties). We promote a new democratic model: delegated democracy. In this system, each voter gives a revocable mandate to one person to represent him in parliament.
We shall not solve the fracture between citizens and politics, if we only denounce abuses from politicians! We must get people understand that likewise in the society, there are good and bad politicians. Voters must feel the responsibility to select intelligently their candidate(s), based on three main criteria: political affinity, professional competence, integrity. The latter is the most difficult to assess. We provide, in Belgium, information that voters can understand: vote advice applications, profiles of politicians, plugin “linking celebrities”, etc.
Our transparency tools can be used in schools as games, as powerful ways to make people familiar with politics and politicians. Our database of politician is interactive and participative. We require a validation procedure when people provide data.
How does your work illustrate or expand the definition of what it means to be an active citizen or member of your community?
The most basic duty for an active citizen is to participate to elections with a sufficient preparation. Our transparency tools make this task more easy and attractive.
People do not invest time in elections if they feel it is useless. The model of delegated democracy reduces the feeling of being powerless.
Modern society moves from traditional model where power is in the hands of “pillars” (traditional parties potentially linked to religious authorities, main trade unions), to a network of civil society organizations (CSO). Delegated democracy allows many such CSOs to have their representative in Parliament.
Our website includes campaign tool and other possibilities to send reminders to politicians in order to get their answer on political questions. This is a “quick win” to enhance communication between the citizens and the politicians. Any CSO, any lobby, can use our instruments.
We aim to be more active in citizenship education. Our first projects are: (1) pedagogical kits to familiarize (young) people with our transparency tools, and (2) an exchange platform where offer and demand for citizenship training can match.
What concrete impact is your work having?
We are the only ones producing vote advice applications (VAA) for selecting candidates (not only parties) from the whole country. Our VAAs are linked to our database, which is unique in providing such a complete profile of politicians (including candidates).
We are a bit too new to show big figures of participation. In 2014, 25% of the candidates to elections participated in our VAAs, which were consulted 63.000 times.
When a CSO submits a question to all relevant politicians, it can expect to get 1% of responses. With our campaign tool (helping people to send reminders) we got nearly 20% of response rate.
In October 2016 we published a transparency index of political parties. Before we started assessing, no single party published its accounts. Two months later, 4 parties did so.
Brussels, September 14, 2017
Break between the citizen and the world of politics
For some time now, we observe a break between the citizen and the politicians. Apparently, a crisis is required for decision-makers to ask themselves some serious questions: for instance, when so-called “extremist” political parties become ever more popular. What kind of catastrophe is required for parliaments (in general) to change the democratic model? In the 1930’s, everyone realized that the rise of Nazism represented a danger for peace and democracy, but how many politicians were prepared to draw the necessary conclusions?
In Belgium, the extremely small degree of power which a voter has – to express his/her preference for one or other of the candidates – is neutralized by the devolving effect of list voting which favours the candidate at the top of the list.
At the time of his November 21, 2016 lecture at the Free University of Brussels, Mr noted that the kind of democracy which had taken root in our countries was no longer in tune with modern thinking : “We tackle 21st century problems with procedures used in the 20th century and within an ideological context of the 19th century”.
Some procedures date from the 20th century …. BC ! At that time, one was already able to gather physically an assembly and to count a manual vote. When will we start using real digital technology in the service of democracy?
Delegated democracy in 10 points
Representative democracy is frequently considered in contrast with direct democracy. There is, however, a solution that combines the advantages of both these models, thought of as being antagonists: we call it “delegated democracy”:
Vote (B) is the same as an irrevocable mandate in favour of the party or candidate of choice and valid until the next elections. The voter can vote for several parties and/or candidates, including by mixing and matching candidates. In this case, the parties and/or candidates will each be given a share of the mandate.
Compared with the technologies which have, for instance, been introduced to manage bank accounts, a far simpler system is required in the present case.
WeCitizen’s Political Atlas (or other similar initiatives) allows all candidates to make themselves known and to provide information as to their position regarding the political questions of interest to citizens. The Electoral GPS or the Political Atlas’ “advanced search” function allows the citizen-voter to readily find those candidates with whom he/she shares the greatest political affinity.
In order to facilitate “access to the profession”, the threshold could be lower in the first years. Entry into (or exit from) parliament does not necessarily have to take place at the electoral terms (B). The number of parliamentarians (MPs) can vary at any time.
Such transfers allow the pooling together of the mandates held by candidates who do not achieve the required threshold for access to parliament. The law prohibits rewarding these transfers, but allows the ceding candidate to receive reimbursement of any campaign expenses, within legal limits.
The possibility of entering parliament without depending on a political party changes the relationship between the MP and the party. The MPs are no longer just simple “executants” of decisions taken by their party. The parties may differ according to the level of voting discipline required of their members, the party’s ethical code, etc.
The law determines who has the right to take part in the vote : for instance, only the residents of the Brussels-Capital Region may take part in the elections for the Brussels Parliament.
The parties may submit several « regional » lists: for instance, one list for each province in the federal elections. However, the voter may cast his/her vote for any candidate on any of the regional lists.
This dispenses with complicated calculations (such as the d’Hondt method) involving the transfer from one constituency to another of the votes for one and the same party.
This ensures a strong government, able to take coherent decisions, even if these are unpopular.
Comparison with traditional representative democracy
Delegated democracy keeps the important advantages of representative democracy. Parliament is made up of professional politicians who have the time to follow the work carried out by parliament and to deal competently with highly complex questions. The MPs join parties, which in turn allows for a clear majority to arise in order to form a government.
Delegated democracy affords a degree of protection against “partitocracy”. The parties’ excessive level of political power arises because no one can carry out his/her political career without being subjected to a political party’s authority. The parties have confiscated what little power the “ordinary” citizen enjoyed. It is they who decide who is eligible (in the top of the electoral lists). They obstruct all forms of the citizens’ deliberative participation in the political process.
In a delegated democracy, the candidates may collect mandates and transfer them to whoever in order to enable one of them to enter parliament… and so it has become possible to enter parliament without the support of a political party.
Comparison with direct democracy
The proposed solution retains the main advantage of direct democracy: the citizen’s vote (A) cannot be used to vote contrary to his/her wishes.
In the event tomorrow of a vote on a subject close to my heart and my representative not defending my point of view, I can withdraw the mandate I gave him/her and can give it to another MP.
This permanent power given to citizens (who have chosen method A) can help to energize the political landscape. Today, citizens are aware of the fact that they have hardly any political power and are consequently turning their backs on politics. When and if they are able to influence the legislative process, this would motivate them to set up pressure groups. The civil society organisations will warn their members, should they need to intervene.
Comparison with « fluid democracy »
« Fluid democracy », as promoted by the Pirate Party, is the model closest to the one being put forward. “Fluid democracy” is more complex in that it allows the appointment of one representative per subject, e.g. one for taxation, another for sustainable development, etc. It does not require a threshold in order to access parliament. One disadvantage is its instability because the “direct democracy” effect would generate incoherent decisions caused by election campaigns, which involve the heart rather than the mind. The fact of having a different delegate for each specific political field does sometimes prevent decisions from being taken which integrate a general view of the whole. Delegated democracy remedies this thanks to its “filter”, i.e. the professional politician.
Jean-Paul Pinon, February 14, 2017.
THE ADVANTAGES OF WECITIZENS’ VOTE ADVICE APPLICATION (VAA)
Once the results are shown, the user can type in another postcode and is immediately provided with the corresponding results without having to answer another questionnaire.
In the subsequent table of comparison, one can also see comments made by the candidate.
The default table only shows the questions to which the user has provided an answer and which he/she did not consider “less important”. A simple click and the table expands to cover all the questions.
A tab above the table enables the user to click and switch to the Political Directory.