The Real State of DiEM25*
Election information for Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) members
The Operating Principles (OPs) of DiEM25 promote factionalism and disenfranchisement.
Reform of the organizational structure is made close to impossible by the OPs.
Contradictions within the organization impede political effectiveness.
A transformation of governance and clarification of objectives is required.
Full transparency of all DiEM25 meetings is essential.
Membership in the democratically structured DiEM25 legal entity must be open to all.
Freedom of expression within DiEM25 must not be impeded.
A weakness of DiEM25 is that people contribute time and money to an organization in which they do not hold membership. Very high transparency is required at all organizational levels, if manipulation and exploitation are to be avoided with this type of structure. In addition, the selection of leadership representing all factions within the organization is required, if ideological dictatorship is to be avoided. Recent events suggest that these requirements have not been satisfied.
Some suggestions for improvements in DiEM’s founding documents were apparently ignored. The Green Party MEP Sven Giegold was “convinced that the draft manifestos of DiEM25 contain a number of important contradictions and major flaws.” When contradictions are present, arbitrary choices must be made and they tend to flow from the underlying beliefs of the decision makers. Perhaps this is why one DiEM member commented: “DiEM was originally marketed as a platform democracy movement, but it turned out to be a traditional (1960s-80s) intellectual Marxist group.” Giegold also objected to the lack of transparency in the drafting process. This lack of transparency has continued and resulted in serious contradictions. Examination of the documents provided for the registration of the DiEM25 legal entity shows obvious typographical errors. In summary, careful consideration of the foundations for the new association is not in evidence. Many of the problems discussed below are due to a failure to resolve contradictions during the formation of DiEM25.
The election season started with the announcement in Berlin of a new Party Strategy for DiEM25. That is, DiEM25 would form a political party in order to benefit from funding and influence made available to such organizations in many European countries. The Membership has been asked to consider alternative methods that could be used in such a Strategy, including not forming a party at all. However, as a result of this announcement, distribution of the news on social media, including DiEM’s own website, the German, etc. press has reported that a decision to become a party has been made. So, the costs associated with being a political party in the public perception, etc. have already been paid.
The immediate reaction from the Membership was negative with some people leaving DiEM25 after the Berlin event. An Open Letter widely supported by the DiEM25 Spontaneous Collectives (DSCs) was distributed via the DSC-Coordination Mailing List (DSC List). An unclear response from the Coordinating Collective (CC) conceded that more time was needed to consider the decision, but raise a number of other questions. Answers to these questions have not been forthcoming.
The allocation of six votes for six openings is known as Plurality-at-Large voting. Plurality-at-Large voting encourages factionalism: "The block voting system has a number of features which can make it unrepresentative of the voters' intentions. Block voting regularly produces complete landslide majorities for the group of candidates with the highest level of support.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plurality-at-large_voting)
The fact that a faction with 51% of the votes can capture all seats assumes great importance due to the dual organization framework of DiEM25. There is a DiEM25 legal entity under Belgian and European Union law incorporated as an International Non-Profit Making Association (INPMA). The membership of this INPMA consists of the CC members plus Ex Officio members (the Coordinators). The INPMA controls funds and provides communication channels for the Volunteers, who are guided by the Manifesto and Organizing Principles.
While Volunteers may contribute time and money to DiEM25, they have no direct influence on the operation of the legal entity. Volunteers cannot directly propose organizational changes to be voted upon by the Membership. Even under ideal conditions, 49% of the Volunteers can be excluded from organizational influence.
Voting is being carried out with an internally developed system. Members signed up after 1 June 2017 receive this message: “As you have joined after the cut-off date for this election, you will not be able to vote this time around. (We want members to vote only after they have had a chance to be properly informed.)” The second sentence was added after the start of the vote, apparently due to complaints. The resolution was approved by the Validating Council (VC) 21 July 2017. Therefore, it amounted to an ex post facto rule. That is, people who signed up as full members after 1 June 2017 discovered they were excluded from the vote by a decision taken 21 July 2017. Ex post facto laws are typically prohibited, since they can undermine the rule of law. It isn’t clear why those signing up after 1 June 2017 would be less informed, since voting information was made available after 21 July 2017. The reasoning presented to the Validating Council was different: “In order to ensure that possibilities of foul play are kept low the organising principles mention the need for a cut-off date. Given that this is the first time such a vote takes place in our movement, the VC is required to vote on a cut-off date specific to the election commencing on 1 August.” And: “Please note that the cut-off date you vote for will also become the standard cut-off date for future CC votes (i.e. same cut-off date as for those wishing to run for the CC, same date as the opening of the candidacies for the CC, same date as the closing of the candidacies for the CC). With this in mind, which date do you choose for being the cut-off date for members wishing to vote in the CC election:” The CC didn’t offer the option of a separate cutoff date for the current election compared to elections in general. Therefore, the VC could only choose options that resulted in excluding Members after the fact, even though the risk of foul play in this election seems to be extremely low, due to the minimal resources within the organization at this time. So, it appears that a faulty decision was presented to the VC. The easy solution was to explain away the problem instead of modifying the decision and then the voting system.
Elections of this type are typically conducted via Internet voting sites. Such sites are typically a more cost effective solution, since they conduct elections for many organizations and, therefore, can spread development costs widely. As a result of varying demands from organizations, they have highly flexible solutions that are capable of handling special conditions, such as first-time elections. However, the most important advantage of such sites is they are neutral parties with no interest in the outcome, thereby reducing the risk of vote tampering. They also have the resources to make the vote highly secure, auditable, etc. ensuring that no outside party can bias the outcome. Since no voting committee has been setup to organize this vote, people in charge are those with a direct interest in the outcome. This arrangement maximizes the risk of foul play by the leadership.
The DiEM25 Manifesto states “Our immediate priority is full transparency in decision-making (e.g., live-streaming of European Council, Ecofin, and Eurogroup meetings, full disclosure of trade negotiation documents, publication of ECB minutes, etc.)” However, the meetings of DiEM’s CC are not live-streamed or even recorded.
When Lorenzo Marsili was asked about video from the CC on his recent Facebook Live, he rejected the idea that there should be full coverage. This is a rejection of Transparency, which is supposed to be our fundamental principle. To make things worse, it is virtually impossible to conclude anything definite from the minutes of the CC meetings.
It is generally assumed that DiEM must demonstrate by its own organizational procedures that full transparency is practical. In any case, a failure to conform to its own demands would lead to them being dismissed as hypocritical. It appears, therefore, that a failure to observe transparency internally is counter to DiEM’s political program. Such a failure also appears to be a violation of Members’ Pledge to not act in contradiction to the Manifesto or Operating Principles.
We are not questioning CC members’ motives. We can explain their behavior as an example of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. It states: Any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy or "Who says organization, says oligarchy." This can explain a rejection of full transparency, but how can the CC continue on a path that undermines DiEM’s objectives? This can be explained by the Iron Law of Institutions: ‘The people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution.’
The solution to these dangerous tendencies is full transparency, which allows “grassroot” or direct democracy to function. Only the Members can ensure that the leadership conforms to the principles enshrined in the DiEM25 Manifesto and Operating Principles. The CC is the representative body of DiEM25. However, Members are now being ask to vote on the candidates without having access to what actions have been supported by those who previously served. The report from the Berlin meeting stated that members had left DiEM25, due to their feeling that the arrangement had been too “top-down.” Nothing that has been done has corrected this impression. If DiEM25 doesn’t follow its own demands, it could disintegrate as a movement. DiEM25 meetings must be open to all members, unless there are privacy concerns. In such cases, a detailed explanation must be given. The Transparency question has been put to all candidates. The discussion is available both on Facebook and in the DiEM25 Forum.
Non-local DiEM25 Spontaneous Collectives
The lack of transparency was acknowledged in the CC response to an Open Letter from the DiEM25 Spontaneous Collectives (DSCs). It states, “As we did in an earlier email, we acknowledge that the Berlin announcement of the discussions that will lead to our electoral stance should have been preceded with a great deal more deliberation within DiEM25.” The CC’s Response to the Open Letter also rejected the idea of non-local DSCs or long lasting, “institutionalized,” project groups. However, this appears to directly contradict DiEM’s basic idea of a trans-European movement. The response specifically cited the Democracy in DiEM25 (DiD) non-local DSC, which has been both testing new democratic mechanisms and drawing attention to the failures to observe democratic principles. The proposed non-local DSC on Gender Issues has also been inhibited.
The Poland initiative is an example of why we need non-local DSCs. About half-way through the action by the DSCs to support Polish democracy activists, it was announced that the Polish Government had agreed not to take two of the opposed actions. This had little effect, since the only coordination was the DSC List. If there had been an non-local DSC formed on the issue, a decision could have been made not to waste any more time or to reformulate the response to be more effective. Without this, a lot of work was done and nice videos produced, but there was little, if any, political effect.
The rejection of non-local DSCs can be considered another example of the Iron Law of Oligarchy in action. The rejection of DiD was one way to deflect criticism of the oligarchic power that has been assumed by the CC. DiD was earlier refused access to the DSC List. This prevented their criticisms from being distributed. However, the Operating Principles (OPs) allow non-local DSCs: “For most activities, DSCs are best suited for people who live reasonably close to one another.” This says that some activities are not suited to people living close to one another. Therefore, non-local DSCs are permitted. Also: “DSCs must strive to find answers to the question: What do DiEM25 values and principles mean in practice? How can meetings make participants leave the (physical or digital) room feeling enthused rather than alienated?” If people can leave digital rooms, they can be be non-local.
DiEM as a Political Party
The report from the Berlin Meeting (where it was announced that DiEM25 was to form a political party) stated that members had left DiEM25, due to their feeling that the arrangement had been too “top-down.” The Open Letter from the DSCs stated: “Direct participation in the elections was not explicitly part of the DiEM25 Manifesto and would therefore be a major addition to the Manifesto that the membership should vote on according to the rules stated in the Organizing Principles (60% of the votes and a quorum of 50% of the members). The response from the CC did not address this. The following question has been addressed to the candidates: Did the CC violate the OPs in launching the Party issue?
Summary and Conclusion
We have discussed three violations by the CC:
1- DiEM25 demands video streaming from EU bodies, but refuses to stream its own meetings. We can't expect to be taken seriously, if DiEM25 doesn't "Walk its Talk".
2 - The Party issue is revealing because the question of violating the OPs raised in the Open Letter was evaded. The Open Letter was responded to with a statement incomprehensible to many (Fog Index of 17, when a widely understood message should have an Index of 8 or below).
3 - The non-local DSCs ban undermines DiD, the proposed Gender DSC, and responses like the Poland campaign.
The repeated violations suggest that there is a structural problem. One structural problem is that only the CC can recommend a disciplinary action against a Member. Seeing that an overwhelming majority of CC decisions are made by consensus, there is no real possibility to discipline a CC member. So, we have a structure which places the CC members above the law. The OPs specify a governing structure similar to that used by the Chinese Communist Party: “Rule by Law.” That is, the Law is to be obeyed by everyone, but the Communist Party / Central Committee. This can be contrasted with the “Rule of Law” in a democratic system, which requires all to obey the Law.
Transparency is undermined when terms like "Coordinating Collective", etc., are used for what is formally a representative democratic structure, and functionally an oligarchic leadership. Other non-transparent terminology, such as "grassroots democracy,” is not supported by any collaboration with the numerous groups in the EU which are promoting democratization of the European Union. One open letter, around the time of formation of DiEM25, listed “Blockupy International, Altersummit, transnational Agora meetings” among others. This failure to work with these groups suggests that democracy is not a dominant objective of DiEM25.
When DiEM was formed, several published commentaries pointed out that the market for “democracy” organizations in Europe was already full. At that time, the idea of a traditional political party was rejected as ineffective. The failure of the movement strategy to take off has now led to a reversion to that earlier approach. While this might lead to DiEM25 surviving in a few countries, it will not achieve the European-wide objectives.
One objective of DiEM25 is a new constitution for Europe. Sven Giegold offered the following comment in an open letter:
“The Treaties foresee a constitutional assembly (“convention”) but in another composition than you propose. I am convinced that the rule of law is fundamental to build Europe. Europe cannot be constructed successfully through the logic of rupture. Rupture is much more likely to lead to disintegration and conflict between nations. Therefore, all who want to change Europe and its institutions should not vaguely call for a rupture but to use the plentiful options for change which the treaties foresee.”
This comment exposes an underlying potential of DiEM25 as a party promoting a revolutionary transformation of Europe.
Members are leaving DiEM25 and major changes are needed to avoid disintegration.
One solution is a new OP: Any Member can ask the Validating Council to determine if a violation of the OPs or the Manifesto has occurred. Currently, only the CC can refer disciplinary matters to the VC, making them above the law. Rule of Law is the foundation of democratic organization. Functionally, we don’t have that in DiEM25. The CC apparently doesn’t feel it has to even justify its actions, when they appear to violate the OPs. Structurally, it is impossible to make changes in the OPs that would correct the situation, because those changes can only be proposed by the CC. We can’t promote democracy in the EU, if DiEM25 remains an elected autocracy.
Reform of the organizational structure is required. The current OPs make that close to impossible. All members of DiEM25 should be made members of the DiEM25 legal entity. This is the normal way associations are managed. Exclusion of DiEM25 members from their own association doesn’t conform to democratic principles.
From the OPs: “11.7. The decisions of the General Assembly shall be kept by the Secretary General in the minutes’ register, in the Association’s headquarters and they shall be made public.” I can’t find these online. This means that members are making payments to an organization, but can’t observe what the organization is doing, unless they go to “Maison des Associations Internationales”, 40 Rue Washington, 1050 Brussels? This unacceptable situation must be corrected immediately. In addition to violating democratic principles, a failure to make the minutes public may be a violation of Belgium law.
A major strategy change is necessary. Reform of the organizational structure must be followed by a new approach which allows DiEM to take the initiative. Responding to G20 meetings, speeches by EU Leaders, regressive moves by populist leaders in European countries, etc., may be necessary and may raise DiEM’s profile in the media, but doesn’t provide a solution to the current crisis. Today’s technology allows even small organizations to directly implement solutions to what appear to be insolvable problems. For example, could DiEM25 launch an electronic currency that would undermine the austerity paradigm, which has locked Europe into economic stagnation? With a 30% unemployment level in some European countries, there would be plenty of customers for a DiEM25 solution. Thus far, our strategies have assumed that political power is a precondition for economic change. New technologies like Bitcoin make this assumption questionable. If the economic problems of Europe can be solved by direct action, we could well see solutions before 2025.
*The inspiration for the title -
On Sep 9 @ 19:00 – 21:00 DiEM will present:
THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION
The weekend before the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, delivers his official ‘State of the Union’ speech in Strasbourg
David Stodolsky, DSC Copenhagen 1