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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The politics – citizen relationship - Quan hệ giữa Chính trị và công dân

The politics – citizen relationship - Quan hệ giữa Chính trị và công dân

How politics affect the everyday life of citizens
The Greek terms for “politics” and “citizens” are derived from the word “polis” that constituted the form of state structure in Greek antiquity. “Politics” implies that it concerns the “management of public issues” (Aristotle) within the frame of a state organized social structure, while citizens are all members of this organized social structure.
It is therefore clear that the citizens and politics are intertwined and their interaction is necessary.
Politics is often confused with power. This belief is misguided. In a democracy, the citizens administer power through their vote to other citizens (the politicians) in order to exercise it for the benefit of the whole (state). Such a policy is applied through the state, which essentially is an organized system for practicing politics.
Justice, for example, is one of needs of a state. Citizens choose the politicians and the Premier, who appoints a minister of justice who in turn supervises the normal function of a justice system (courts, judges, defense) so that when a citizen who is wronged seeks justice it can be distributed. That also means, of course, that if a citizen acts in an unlawful way then the same system he supports will condemn him in order to secure the proper function of society.
This is a simple example of a citizen- politics relationship. There are actually many domains where the citizen is influenced, directly or indirectly, by politics and where a bad policy can have a negative effect on the citizens while a good policy can have a positive effect.
Foreign Relations and Defense
Defense has always been one of the most important reasons of organizing a state. An organized society can support a regular army to ward off offensive actions. Maintaining the peace, however, entails the personal participation of the citizen in the defense mechanism (military service) and his economic contribution through taxation in order to acquire weapons.
Maintaining the peace today lies heavily on foreign policy; alliances, diplomatic relations and even the diplomatic resolution of crises. An incorrect foreign policy, as during the Asia Minor Catastrophe, can lead to disastrous consequences.
Economy- Development
Another important sector of direct influence of politics on the citizen is the economy. Considering that society functions as a system, then if that system has economic shortcomings or external debts, those debts are automatically conveyed to the citizen in the form of income reduction or purchasing power reduction. To the contrary, if the economic policy produces economic growth then the citizen benefits indirectly by receiving better payment for his work. Furthermore, a correct economic policy can ensure the successful confrontation of sudden international economic crises. The economic policy influences other aspects of the citizen's life as well, like:
  • Equal distribution of wealth. Through taxation politics can influence (and even eliminate) social injustice, by taxing higher incomes and large properties and remitting taxation or even financially supporting the economically weaker groups.
  • Financial protection. In the economically liberal capitalistic system, if a specific protection policy is not established, then the capital can easily deceive the citizen by taking advantage of his needs, for example by lending him money with very high interest. The role of politics is to control lending institutions and establish a balance between profit and debt.
Education and culture
Education and culture offer a good life quality to the citizen, one of the main goals of forming societies. A system that practices an inadequate policy in education can produce citizens with limited culture, occupational and decision making skills, as well as limited ability of spiritual enjoyment, resulting essentially to citizens who are prey to a consumer-driven culture.
Social security- Civil protection
An important role of the state is to protect the citizen against unpredicted situations (diseases, natural disasters, etc.) or to provide for him when he is unable to work. An inadequate policy on social security can lead society to a dead end contrary to a policy that prepares for unforeseen circumstances and creates reserve funds to insure the security needed by citizens.
Public Works and Transportation
Public works and transportation are fields with great impact on the citizen's lives. A correct policy will allow citizens to be able to move from one place to another safely, with ease and speed, securing him greater development and free time, as well as a better living environment.
Energy- Environment
Modern society is dependent on energy for its development, as well as every day life. A correct energy policy can provide the sufficient amount of energy needed at a relatively low cost. The environment on the other side, although it may not directly affect the citizen's life, it has long term consequences that are very hard to be reversed. Politics, through environmental protection, affects greatly not only the citizen but future generations as well.
Public Safety
In a faceless society it is necessary for the state to protect the people and their property from criminal acts or natural disasters.
Modern societies can't ensure employment for all on their own. Various economical and political changes (e.g. reduction of industries due to low demand, inflow of immigrants) can result to the loss of employment for large social groups. A correct policy can and should take care of the unemployed but moreover to provide employment for them.
Commerce- Production
The state can protect its citizens from profiteers by controlling the acceptable amount of profit on basic commodities, preventing the formation of cartels (A combination of independent business organizations formed to regulate production, pricing, and marketing of goods by the members) and promoting healthy antagonism. It can also help producers and merchants by providing subsidies, promoting their products and exportations by signing bilateral agreements with other states.
Research- Development- Technology
Development, as a mean of economic robustness, is also an objective of society. Development can be served in many ways through politics: through research (e.g. for new or improved production methods), through technology and through the financial support of independent initiatives by the citizens.
All of the sectors mentioned above, as well as several more, point out the fact that politics has a great influence on the citizens' every day life. Therefore, a policy that supports the capital is bound to work against the citizens' every day life to the benefit of the profiteers. On the other hand, a policy based on excessive social security benefits is likely to lead the economy to decay.
Contemporary political risks
Modern day politics is threatened by three main factors:
  1. the scientific and technological revolution (cloning, genetically engineered food, new medicine, nanotechnology, information systems on confidential informations and privacy). The source of uncertainty and risk is our ignorance on what will be the “Next Big Thing”, the next wave of technological innovation and its consequences on productivity and contemporary production methods and services. However, the same technology that produces this risk also provides us with the means to control it.
  2. the globalization, the expansion and completion of markets which produces greater opportunity but is accompanied by new risks and causes new dilemmas. In developed countries there is immense skepticism concerning the consequences of competitiveness in the chain of commerce, taking into account the expansion of outsourcing, the low specialization routine labor in the fields of research, innovation and new products and services. Modern politics must deal with a great variety of matters, from the uncertainty of the price of oil and the fluctuation of the dollar exchange rate to the dangers emanating from the 9/11 facts in the United States. The greater amount of uncertainty comes from the fundamental imbalance of world economy as the U.S.A. and China are racing, Russia rises again, and Europe and Japan seem to be stuck. To reduce the potential risk Europe must make fundamental changes, the U.S.A. must built up stocks, China must increase consumption, reduce its dependency on exports and to limit its monetary and commercial aggression. Resorting to protective measures would be a very bad strategy against uncertainty.
  3. the personalization processes in modern societies that force people to be responsible for their own actions, to experience new opportunities and risks more directly, to plan early on his own risk assessment concerning his studies, lifelong education, mobility in his line of business, the inevitable career changes, the variable forms of insurance and investment. All f the above signify risk over and over again.
Politics cannot simply observe the increase of risks in modern society. It must become an active factor of creative expansion of risk extension. Politics must arouse competition, extend the markets and the financial sphere, use financial tools in exercising government policy to a greater extend, import risk management to new areas of the economic and social life, new areas of public and social responsibility.
Politics and especially independent regulatory mechanisms must look closely beyond the traditional institutions of risk management, like banks and stock markets, towards the new financial products for risk compensation by commercial, transactional, banking and other activities, the widely known derivatives. The goal of a flexible regulation in this sector is to provide more and safer choices to investors and not to asphyxiate them due to bureaucratic control or a risk management plan that essentially multiplies the risk and can turn it into a weapon of “mass destruction”. A combination of financial products must be developed and promoted to insurance organizations, ordinary people, and stockers-investors. Of course, certain pension funds like Nestlé’s and several others have increased their investment percentage to hedge funds with good returns so far. Actually, the risk in the financial world (banks, insurance companies, trust funds, hedge funds, etc.) is transmitted here by sectors, like banks, characterized by high control levels and large costs but better knowledge of risks, to sectors with less control and knowledge and less costs, like hedge funds.
Politics must encourage innovation and experimentation so that a new generation of mixed financial- insurance products can enter the market and not only will they counterbalance the risks from sudden increases in the price of oil or rate of interests or the fluctuation of exchange rates but cover a number of social issues as well, such as the loss of employment by a technological innovation or the relocation of a company abroad or by the reduction of real estate values in a certain area or the unfortunate outcome of a business plan in high risk areas. What is really needed is a radical transformation and a unprecedented expansion of the insurance sphere with new financial tools and a democratization of financing so that it does not only concern an elite of international investors but ensures easier and safer access even to middle class investors and insurance funds.
Politics will expand the risk management realm, not only to the extend it liberates the services market (energy, communications, loans) but mainly if it promotes a new generation of reforms in sections of state authority, like higher education and the health care system, which will introduce market like procedures, the “internal public market”, lever competition between the now financially independent institutions, safeguard the users’ right to choose services, increase the access opportunity of the financially weaker, while the state will maintain its regulatory-funding role and secure quality standards. Every reform leads to a new risk distribution. In universities today, the students risk spending time and money often for low quality studies with no business prospective while the risk on the professors’ and institutions’ side is non existent in the existent circumstances of extreme officialdom and equation. A serious reform would enable the University and its professors to expect higher or lesser funding from the state and private contributors according to the quality of their educational and research work; that is they will collectively and personally receive part of the risk involved.
The state can generally buy services for its citizens or the financially weak in the free market under competitive circumstances or in sui generis “internal public markets” or even non governmental, non profit institutions and volunteer’s organizations. It is a passage from a squandering, bureaucratic structure of production and distribution of services to an age of state contracts with independent companies, both public and private. The attempted cooperation between state and private organizations will only be successful if the proper distribution of risk is applied. An existing international risk management model is the establishment of the emission credits purchase system, which rewards ecologically innovative companies who invest on “clean” technologies and fines polluting companies in order to keep CO2 emissions within the borderline limit of 550 ppm (parts per million) until the end of the century. When we move to reform we must also include in our proposals the analysis and management of the relative risk in advance.
A major issue for public risk management in the next two decades will be the answer to the demographic anomaly and the new form of insurance problems, brought forth by the mass retirement of the so called “baby boom” generation. This is the most easily predictable economic and social crisis in human history that can result to a new social storm, a new crisis and conflict between generations.
Politics are expected to plan the future based on the unpleasant assumption that the youth population will decrease and therefore, to increase social wealth in order to be adequate for all, workers and retired, it must lever the productivity of human labor. Europe needs an average productivity increase of 3% for a time period of 20 years. This stake must first be won in education, research, innovation and enterprise. Therefore, the key-factor for a new contract between generations is elevated productivity but it is self-evident that whether Europe can achieve such a large increase for two decades is highly uncertain and consequently complementary “security measures” should be sought in order to insure pensions. The working population must increase, the total volume of work during a persons life must increase as it has in northern Scandinavia, the cannibalistic phenomena of mass retirements must be repressed and motives must be given in order to promote new voluntary forms of flexible pensions and part-time employment. The EU must also combine the dominant redistribution system and the capital stock system of social insurance in a clever way so that the burdens and potentials are fairly distributed among generations, between the person and society. The creation of a supplementary personal insurance book on a capital stock system can also be useful. Greek citizens would be greatly interested in insurance savings-investments only if it is for their own benefit alone, only if it can be inherited by their children and with no additional –so called social- taxes. This is why the Greeks come first in privately owned houses percentages worldwide.
Otherwise, if all the required political decisions are left to be taken later on, politics will be forced to act under crisis conditions and threatened by the collapse of the insurance system it will fatefully resolve to minimum state pensions derived from taxation and from that point on only those who can afford private insurance, have some savings, investments in bonds and real estate or even children with high incomes and a strong sense of responsibility towards their parents will be able to stay afloat. Besides, family has been the primary organ of risk management throughout the history of mankind with both good and bad results.
How citizens can influence politics
Politics is a very serious business to be left to politicians”
Georges Clemenceau, French politician
Contemporary parliamentary representative democracy is defined as the expression of public rule. However, the citizen’s rule in this system is primarily confined to the governor’s (prime minister) election and representatives (members of parliament) to whom he assigns the country’s administration for four years and has no real control and access to power.
So, although we define the existing political system a democracy, that democracy is far from the political system that generated the term “Athenian Democracy” where citizens participated actively in the control and practice of power. And even though the direct democracy in ancient Athens may seem utopian today, there are certainly more capabilities for citizen participation in politics and control than the ones existing today.
What capabilities do contemporary citizens have to influence politics?
Participation in syndicates, trade unions or professional chambers.
These professional unions have elected representatives. Through them, the citizen can promote:
  • Better working conditions
  • Financial issues
  • Better offered services
  • Recognition of a profession as hard and unsanitary
  • Other labor rights
Professional unions can use certain means to apply pressure or influence politics, like:
  • Declare their demands to the public (e.g. a press conference, the Press, mass media)
  • Promote demands or proposals to the relevant authority
  • Informing political parties and members of parliament and promoting their demands in parliament
  • Participating in the social dialogue with the political leadership
  • Organizing meetings and protest marches
  • Abstaining from work- Strike
  • Sit-ins at the place of work
Participation in political parties
Citizens can choose the political party that expresses them and participate in its political groups either as a simple member or as a member of special committees. Thus citizens can indirectly affect politics.
Promoting requests directly to an elected member of parliament
The members of Parliament have offices open to the public. Citizens can submit their requests and politicians, according to their judgment, can promote them or convey them to parliament.
Expression and publication of personal opinion
Contemporary democracy defends the free expression of opinion. Citizens can publicly express their opinion in several ways:
  • Letters or articles to the press
  • Post opinions and views on the internet
  • through the mass media (radio, television), participating in panels or making complaints
Protection of citizens through independent authorities
Independent authorities are institutions established by instruction of the EU. Most independent authorities are provided by the constitution and are not directly state institutions but independent services funded by the state. Their members are chosen by common consent of the political parties and their role is to protect citizens from arbitrary actions or injustice on behalf of the state, the system or other citizens. Through the independent authorities, citizens can influence and even revoke incorrect political decisions.
The ASEP is an Independent Authority, is not subject to governmental or other control and it is provided by the Constitution. It was established by law (N. 2190/1994) and it is meant to ensure the independent and unbiased selection of personnel for public services, as well as to investigate on relevant infringements. Therefore, through the ASEP the unbiased selection of staff in public services is ensured and the citizen is given the opportunity to protest against irregularities.
The Hellenic Data Protection Authority is constitutionally established. It was created under the 2472/1997 law. Its purpose is to protect citizens from illegal use of their personal data and to assist them in cases where their rights are violated for commercial purposes (financial, health, insurance, education, public administration, transportation, mass media, etc.).
The EETT is an Independent Authority established in 1992 by the 2075 law and constitutes the National Regulator which controls, regulates and supervises: a) the electronics telecommunications market, which includes phone companies, mobile services companies, wireless communications and internet providers and b) the postal market, which includes postal services companies and courier services. Moreover, the EETT acts in place of the Competition Committee in these markets. If a citizen is wronged by a certain communications company he can file a complaint at the EETT and seek justice.
The NCRTV, one of the first Independent Authorities established in Greece, was founded under 1866/1989 law and it is constitutionally vested. The NCRTV is meant to ensure the lawful operation of radio and television stations, the observance of the constitutional rules of polyphony, quality and youth and child protection against inappropriate content, and the transparency of economic transactions of companies involved in mass media. Citizens can submit protests or complaints if they consider that illegal actions take place.
The HCC was established by the 2996/95 law and represents the institution responsible for the smooth functioning of the market, guaranteeing the application of competition laws. Its main goals include the preservation or restoration of the market's normal competition structure, the protection of consumer interests and economic development. Both citizens and professionals can object to the HCC in cases where healthy competition is abused.
The RAE was established by law 2773/22-12-99 (link in Greek). Its goal is to facilitate free and healthy competition in the energy market in order to achieve better and more economical services for consumers (both citizens and companies) and to allow small and middle businesses, which offer employment and development, to survive by supplying new opportunities for them. The RAE looks after the citizens' interests but citizens can only turn to the RAE on matters of competition abuse in the energy market or if he is interested to invest in energy production.
The Greek Ombudsman is constitutionally vended and was established by law 2477/97. This authority investigates individual administrative actions, omissions or actions by public services' bodies which violate or abuse the legal interests of natural or legal entities. It also investigates on actions or omissions of the public administration or individuals that violate the rights of children.
Anyone who believes he is victimized by public administration organizatiuns can address the Greek Ombudsman. His case will be investigated and made sure that it is settled. Within the Greek Ombudsman are counselors for special cases
(Link in Greek)
The Consumer's Ombudsman was established by the 3297/2004 law. It functions as an institution of resolving consumer's disputes without going to trial, as well as providing counsel for issues in its jurisdiction. The Friendly Settlement Commissions that exist in different Municipalities fall under its supervision. Citizens can address the Consumer's Ombudsman in cases of consumer fraud.
Acute expression of protest by citizens
If a citizen believes he has been wronged by the state or the system, he has several means to defend himself or to express himself in public:
  • Address an Independent Authority (mentioned above)
  • Address administrative courts
Administrative courts comprise the judiciary branch concerned with the control of actions and omissions of the administration. They are distinguished in:
  • Regular administrative courts, concerned with administrative differences (e.g. taxation) and
  • The Council of State, concerned with abrogative differences. The Council of State is the Highest Court on the legality of administrative actions and has become a mighty defender of citizens, public authorities and the environment.
The disadvantage of administrative courts is that they work though a time-consuming process. A case could be tried after 2 or even 4 years time.
  • Make their issue public through mass media
    It is an informal form of protest often more effective than others due to their high ratings
  • Sit-ins and hunger strikes
    They are an extreme informal mean of protest and very effective if combined with projection by the mass media.
Participation and action in Non-Government Organizations
Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are legal entities (associations, unions, companies, institutions) of non profitable, humanitarian, social and social benefit character. They are formed by groups of citizens to intervene in sectors where they believe the state is not effective, as it should.
NGOs are mainly involved in the areas of social solidarity, the environment, culture and education. There is s misguided belief that NGOs are the large humanitarian organizations (“Doctors without frontiers”, Greenpeace, etc.). That is not correct. NGOs are all citizen organizations-initiatives interested in social issues that are not state institutions. In that sense, even renovation societies can be considered as NGOs. NGOs are funded by members' donations and government funding (if the necessity of their function is accepted by the state), national, European or international programs and at times through the sale of items or services.
NGOs have been around for a long time but at recent years their function as supplementary instruments of state functions and citizens mobilization has gained great recognition. NGOs are more flexible than state mechanisms and their proper function can ensure effective, low cost services. However, due to the fact that there are no control mechanisms for NGOs, they are often accuse of fraud and embezzlement.
A referendum is a constitutionally established mean of direct democracy. Citizens are called to vote for important national issues. In some countries the referendum is often used by proposal of a sufficient number of members of parliament. In Greece, it is avoided in the pretext of high cost and possible manipulation of the citizens opinion that would lead to uncontrollable results. Therefore, the last referendum ever to be held in Greece was in 1974 on the determination of the system of government.

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