Future of Europe


The topic for the 3rd debate is:

The European Commission should take into account civil society protests when deciding the use of Article 7.

In this debate The Da Vinci System (Affirmative) will face Team EngagEU 2 (negative).

The 1st debater of the affirmative team has 24 hours to post the 1st speech of the debate. Even if the speech is posted before the 24 hours expire, the 1st negative speakers’ 24 hours of preparation time will begin when the initial time expires.

Before posting please consult Guildelines and the Online Debate Guide.

Good luck to all teams!


I thank both teams for this debate.

This was a very difficult debate to adjudicate, with good ideas and arguments from both sides, but in the end I felt that the opposition had a slightly better performance, so I gave the win to Team EngagEU 2.

This debate was very difficult to adjudicate and the main reason for this is that both teams concentrated on different aspects of the debate. On the one hand, the proposition focused on the potential benefits of this measure (strengthen democracy, lower euroscepticism, creates a mechanism that incentives states to “behave”, and so on), while I felt the opposition talked mostly about the impracticalities of the measure, diminishing the potential benefits and raising questions of efficiency or practicality (how do you efficiently consult amorphous groups, what happens with the eurosceptic segment of civil society). So I’m left, at the end of the debate, with a few clear ideas: this measure can have benefits for society, but the exact scope and impact of these benefits is unclear. So the decision boils down to a simple question, which do I find more likely, that there will be long-term benefits, or that the practical issues outweigh the advantages.

After reading and re-reading the debate closely, I felt that the theoretical advantages are there, but I was left with too many questions and pitfalls in order to believe that this motion would more rather work and be beneficial, than not.

I think team opposition could have tried to present clearer harms that the motion could create, which was a bit lacking. Maybe, as a simple example, what happens to the population when politicians suddenly have extra incentive to ‘manipulate’ their civic voice. But the questions and issues raised with vagueness of what these “groups” can mean, the bureaucratic burden on the EU, how the process could be skewed provided enough doubt in my mind as to whether the proposition advantages can be realistically reached.

The proposition sets up the debate fairly well and brings some strong arguments, but I felt it necessary to ground the debate more within the real world, especially in the 2nd speech. Some of the responses provided to the opposition attacks are fairly reasonable, like the fact that euroscepticism will probably diminish in some areas, or mechanisms of accountability within the EU. But how this process can take place, without becoming a bureaucratic nightmare, isn’t very thoroughly tackled.

Because the ideas presented by either teams ran mostly in parallel, because the teams focused on different issues, I had to choose for myself which side I found more persuasive. In the end, I sided with Team EngagEU 2 as the winner for this debate.

Speaker points:

1st Affirmative: 19 (Content: 7; Style: 6; Strategy: 6)
2nd Affirmative: 18 (Content: 7; Style: 6; Strategy: 5)

1st Negative: 19 (Content: 7; Style: 7; Strategy: 5)
2nd Negative: 19 (Content: 7; Style: 7; Strategy: 5)

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    Team EngagEU 2

    We thank the affirmative team for their reaction to our rebuttal. In the following, we are going to reconstruct our criticism by rebutting their counter-arguments as well as refining our line of argumentation.

    We appreciate our opposition’s attempt to provide us with a clear-cut definition of what they refer to as civil society groups. Nevertheless, we remain sceptical with regard to the coherence of their explanations. NGOs are usually rather formal groups with a clearly defined goal as well as a specific set of positions. Still, criticism needs to be raised with regard to the democratic legitimation of such organisations. If the EC as a public actor was supposed to include NGOs into their decision-making process, they would need to be transparent and constituted democratically – which many NGOs are not. This circumstance turns out to be even more problematic when attempting to include informal groups without specialised positions or heterogenous protest groups. Again, we need to refer back to the question of who would function as a legitimate spokesperson in such cases, not to speak of ominous protesters erratically appearing in media.

    The affirmative team refers to the Romanian anti-corruption scandals when trying to exemplify the involvement of civil society groups in political processes. We believe this comparison to be misleading. First of all, the president of Romania has absolute jurisdiction over his state territory, the EU does not. We don’t see a feasible way of how to structurally implement such meetings on a structural and nation-wide level. On that account, it would certainly not be a practical solution to invite potential spokespeople to Brussels, which additionally does not take away from the issue of which type of group would have to be included in such debates. Furthermore, and after considering all these insufficiently answered issues, we still haven’t been provided with guidelines of how to check these complaints against the proceedings of art. 7 and art.2. From our perspective, it seems absolutely necessary to invest some serious amount of thought in moral standards, ethics and democratic integrity. If the EU would like to be identified as the protector of human rights and democracy, it needs to ensure that these principles are held high when it comes to triggering their own democratic processes.

    In contrast to their initial statement, the affirmative team has already reduced their expectations with regard to a potential decrease of Euroscepticism in the context of their motion. Beyond this concession towards our point of view, we still see the necessity of criticising our opponents adjusted direction of argumentation. It is disturbing that public perception is given priority over effectiveness. Violations of European values, human rights or the rule of law are not a public relations issues but a serious threat for the integrity of civil society on both national and EU-level. As stated above, we still don’t see how EC-presence is supposed to be established in the corresponding countries. It is for those reasons that we do not see any added value improving the decision process of whether or not to trigger art. 7. Also, we are genuinely convinced that the excessive effort necessary to do so more than outweighs the questionable qualitative improvement which may or could not be achieved. The EU cannot only support citizens and movements which have a pro-European mindset but must deal with opposing views as well. Attempting to establish presence in Member States with undermined governments may be a noble course, however, it also does take away from the topic of the motion as introduced and discussed so far. The EU, and in this specific case the EC needs to be a factor of stability which attempts to deescalate instead of playing civil society protests off against each other. We therefore are going to reinforce the statement made in our previous speech that it does not make sense to officially support the opponents of eurosceptic movements and expect those sceptic people to feel more related or positive towards the EU later on.

    Lastly, we need to express doubt regarding a reduction of bureaucracy when following our opponent’s motion. We believe that such a reduction is neither foreseeable nor likely, since they (1) did not provide a clear idea of which groups to include, (2) did not introduce a feasible way of collecting feedback, and (3) lack formulating convincing guidelines of how to evaluate and include civil society protests adequately. In consequence, we cannot agree with the affirmative team that their motion had no powerful drawbacks.

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    The Da Vinci System

    The problem not taken into account is that Civil Society Groups are never clearly organized and can be both formal and informal, but that doesn’t make the unidentifiable:
    a The groups we are referring to are made of citizens from states where the rule of law is undermined, and they can be from any social category, but not representatives of the state (therefore, not political parties).
    b Some are NGOs and have an official leader.
    c Others are informal groups and have informal leaders which gained support of their peers.
    d And others have spontaneous spokespersons arising from time to time through media visibility.
    Thus, the EC can organize public meetings in such countries where there is an open list to which different entities from the Civil Society can adhere. In light of the anti corruption scandals in Romania, the President of Romania has organized such meetings in which hundreds of leaders of small and big groups have been consulted. Therefore, the informality of the groups is neither an insurmountable obstacle, nor an issue at the core of the motion. We are confident that, if the EC could use such consultations, it can create a mechanism to integrate informal groups as well.

    Regarding the Principle of Subsidiarity and the current proceedings of article 7:
    The principle ascribes that local entities know best how to manage local issues. If treaties are breached it means that states have failed to manage accordance with EU law and the EC should intervene. Also, if human rights are not respected, the state clearly can not be trusted to manage its people.
    Bureaucratic procedures would be shorter, as the EC would face pressure from the groups they consulted to move faster. Even if they wouldn’t, we would rather have a longer, more democratic procedure, than a shorter one.
    Regarding the need of reform of article 7 as well as the possibility of the EC taking in to account social media complaints, we could be in favor of this, they are not mutually exclusive with the motion.
    Also, it is not a “formal complaint”, but it is a real discussion between two parts that want a better society.

    The motion has no powerful drawbacks, and therefore deserves being applied in order to have the following impact:
    1 In some cases, euroscepticism would decrease.
    For the consulted groups which are pro-EU this measure would transform the EC into a tangible actor which takes their opinions into consideration. Again, the greatest impact is one of public perception, not of effect. Firstly, the consulting of the groups would make people feel more empowered. Secondly, their public message will shift, in order to gain more supporters to their cause, into a pro-EU message. Thirdly, through the EC, EU would have a more physical presence which would be legitimized by the participation of public figures in the Civil Society.
    For anti-EU groups, this measure would be at worst irrelevant as they would choose not to participate. If they choose to participate in consultations, this could help the EC make recommendations which also take eurosceptic views into account as well as be a chance to directly tackle some misconceptions these groups have in mind regarding the EU.
    2 The EC presence would force states to behave.
    This is by far the most important outcome. Problematic states in the EU aren’t dictatorships. They can still change, there is still some freedom in those countries and they don’t want repercussions from the EU. The grand problem is, they continue the downfall of democracy by silencing opposing groups and they have vast amounts of power to do that. The balance of power can be shifted if there is a context in which so many opposing groups can safely express their problems and support for the EU. This will free access to information for the EC (we have seen many states trying to present a distorted view of reality for different EU agencies) and will give courage for more and more people who fear oppression to join opposing groups.

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    Team EngagEU 2

    We thank the affirmative team for introducing the motion and for presenting their first line of argumentation. In the following, we are going to react to these arguments and present our own point of view.

    To begin with, we would like to refer to the interpretation of the motion and pose a number of questions which, from our point of view, remain unanswered despite urgent need for clarification.
    (1) We would like to ask our opponents to specify what they refer to as groups in the context of civil society protests. How do these have to be constituted legally to qualify for issuing complaints with the EC? Who would function as a legitimate spokesperson?
    (2) Does the affirmative team only include civil society protests in favour or also against the implementation of art. 7? Bearing this in mind, one could come to the conclusion that our opponents solely want to hear those voices supporting their point of view. The affirmative wants to take into account the views of protest movements against governments such as the ones in Poland, Hungary and Romania. In this regard, we would therefore like to raise the question whether the democratic voices of civil society protests in favour of certain legislative proposals brought in by affected governments should not be included in this process of consideration? This is first and foremost an issue of adhering to the democratic principle of equality.
    (3) To what extent do protests necessarily have to take place in the affected country?
    (4) Lastly, we are surprised by the absence of precise guidelines the EC would have to adhere to when taking into account formal civic complaints. May it be the case that the affirmative team is not able to formulate such guidelines, or doesn’t it want to so?

    With regard to potentially lowered Euroscepticism, our opponents describe EU institutions as being too far away from the people. The EU refers to the principle of subsidiarity as a guiding principle, attempting to deal with any issue at the lowest level possible. It is a logical consequence that that EU institutions appear to be far away from certain groups of citizens. Taking this into account, civil society protests could include quite different consequences regarding euroscepticism than outlined by our opponents. In the countries where art. 7 proceedings are pending, the majority of people has voted for Eurosceptic parties who now are in government. If the EC would take into account the protest of the minority of pro-European people in those countries (the EP elections have proven this to be true, at least at the polls), this is not likely to change the minds of Eurosceptic people. Those who would need to be included would again be the excluded ones. It does not make sense to support the opponents of these Eurosceptic movements and expect them to feel more related to the EU in the aftermath. In fact, we believe that the opposite effect would be the case.

    The initial lack of specificity becomes even more pressing when attempting to evaluate our opponent’s argument that the motion would lead to a strengthened democracy in the affected member states. Again, they speak of vulnerable groups without providing a clear definition of who exactly they refer to. Content wise, we highly doubt that issuing a complaint with the EC would accelerate bureaucratic processes since we are living in times of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs etc. are increasingly used for the purpose of political communication and consequently “heard” from political officials. In contrast to our opponents, we do not necessarily evaluate an increased quantity of information regarding local effects of governments actions as beneficial. The vast amount of information would have to be evaluated under specific moral and bureaucratic guidelines. Who would be in charge of such an undertaking and how could be ensured that this process would not take longer than using already existing ways of acquiring information?

    We remain highly sceptical that civil society protests, even if they would comprise of numerous supporters, were actually able to successfully convince the EC to trigger the proceedings according to art. 7. Not only are we not fully convinced that the EC doesn’t already take into account the context of civil society when deciding upon triggering art. 7, we also doubt the profitability as outlined by our opponents. Art. 7 is often described as a toothless tiger since it merely is based on the effect of blaming and shaming. Rethinking this article and sharpening its claws would probably be better an approach to face the violation of European values according to art. 2 than complicating yet existing procedures through capricious bureaucratic proliferation. In our opinion, having the EC take into account civil rights protests when deciding whether or not to trigger art. 7 does bureaucratically not make sense at all. Therefore, we would like to invite the affirmative team to reconsider their point of view.

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    The Da Vinci System

    In 89’ plans began to integrate Eastern European countries in the EU. Some member countries warned that human rights breaches were “a likely prospect in the countries whose very recent past had been marred by massive and systemic violations of human rights”. Two decades later, it is clear that some of those fears came to life in countries such as Poland, Hungary and Romania.

    The European Commission, the safeguard of the EU Treaties, uses various assessments by different analysts to determine whether a breach of EU values unfolds in a member state. Although they can reference protests, by the motion, the Commission will officially take them into account as it follows:
    a It will allow groups involved in protests to directly issue a complaint towards the Commission;
    b When it issues recommendations it will consult civil society groups involved in protests;
    c When it determines the continuance of the breach it will follow if protests still occur.
    For all of this issues, it will only take into account protests related to Article 7 (censorship, undermined rule of law, authoritarianism and others).

    1 Democracy would be strengthened in member states.

    There is great asymmetry of power between Civil Society and the State. While the State, has a vast amount of resources to justify its actions, has control over the use of force as well as different agencies monitoring the behavior of citizens, Civil Society has limited power of action. The only thing they can do is organize campaigns, projects and protests. This asymmetry is even worse when breaches are involved. The first thing any government with authoritarian tendencies does is limit the right to criticize it. In Poland, journalists who report criminal and financial affairs and pathological situations are pursued and treated by the state as potential criminals. In Hungary, critical thinking universities are closed down. In Romania, the state authorized tear gas on peaceful protests.
    The Commission can now act as an arbiter, ensuring that vulnerable groups are heard and taken into account.
    This will also create incentives for more protests to follow when the state breaches human rights. At the moment, there is a widespread feeling in illiberal states that protests don’t solve anything. They are somewhat justified as authoritarian governments don’t care about them. The incentives would have 4 levels of impact:
    a Reporting of breaches would be faster as groups would want the Commission involved as soon as possible to deter the government from silencing them;
    b The Commission would have more information regarding local effects of government actions;
    c Civil Society Groups will have a direct benefit to use to convince others to join the protests;
    d The state, wanting to preserve its rights in the EU, especially the right to access EU funds, will limit its actions on protesters.

    2 Euroscepticism would be lowered.

    Although the EU does many amazing things that directly benefit its citizens, many people are skeptical because its institutions are too far away from them. They are seen as the bureaucrats from Brussels, having no idea what happens locally and unable to act there. Such a change would create a direct link between the most active citizens and the EU.
    We understand that some groups would still remain eurosceptic but we believe others will not. This would shift public perception, especially regarding a procedure so damaging as Article 7. Now it could be seen as cooperation between the citizens of that state and the EU in order to guarantee their fundamental rights. As more and more Civil Society Groups will change their call to action in to ”Join us so we can convince the Commission to force the state to repeal an unjust law” more and more people will come to see EU as a partner in solving their issues.
    Furthermore, now the Commission can publicly present such actions as being requested by the citizens of that state, gaining more public legitimacy for the use of Article 7.