By Jean Lambert
The Green party has always been at the vanguard of experiments in 'doing democracy' better: giving more people a say in how we choose our politicians, making the results of elections more reflective of public opinion and ensuring our representatives are, well, more representative.
The Greens are firmly behind extending the vote to 16-year-olds, for example, and for switching to a more proportional voting system for Westminster – and local council – elections. The right to vote should, say the Greens, be based on residency, not nationality.
Obviously, any changes to the UK voting system would require a change in the law, and that isn't in the Green party's gift to give. But internal elections are already conducted according to these principles, and now, with elections to the European parliament just a few months away, we’re seeing an experiment in a new form of real democracy: a EU-wide, on-line ‘primary’ election for the Greens' faces of the pan-European campaign.
Where all the other parties are choosing their lead candidates internally, the Greens have thrown the process open to every EU citizen aged 16 or over.
That’s right – anyone who is prepared to state their support for 'Green principles' can have their say, just by visiting the website and voting.
And the candidates are inspirational: Jose Bove, the French MEP famous for destroying a McDonalds franchise in protest at the chain’s use of hormone-treated beef and the US policies on food imports, Ska Keller, a migration expert who speaks six languages and represents the Federation of Young European Greens, Rebecca Harms, current co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European parliament and European Green party co-chair Monica Frassoni.
Next Saturday, January 18th, I'll be chairing a hustings debate in London for anyone who wants a chance to meet all the candidates for this EU-wide selection, and hear about their political priorities, before casting a vote.
The debate – which is open to everyone, not just Green party members – will take place from 2-4pm at the ICO Conference Centre, 22 Berners Street, London W1T 3DD. To register for your free place, just visit the Green party's website here.
Of course, the Green primary is an experiment – it’s the first time it has been tried, and no-one knows how popular it will prove with voters, or how much difference it will really make to the outcome of next year's elections to the EU parliament. But it’s the Greens, once again, who are leading the way and are, yet again, trying new ways of doing things in a broken political system.
Survey after survey tells us most people are pretty uninspired by most politicians – and disconnected from the EU. They want more of a say in how the political parties that dominate our democracy – especially at EU level - choose their candidates. The Green primary gives people just that.
Jean Lambert has been the Green MEP for London since 1999. She is a member of the European parliament's employment and social affairs committee, where she works on issues including immigration, social inclusion, workers' rights, social security, and improving work-life balance. She is also a member of the civil liberties committees, and chair of the European parliament's South Asia Delegation. She was vice president of the European parliament Green group for 2002-6 and was named MEP for Human Rights in 2005.
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