Democracy at work

avote1To the polling booth at 08.00 a.m. to beat the crowds (voting is obligatory in Belgium and long queues form later in the day) for, in Belgium at least, I have the right to vote in European elections. It still pains me hugely that I am no longer able to vote in the UK, but in a sense voting in Belgium is more fun. Certainly, Belgian voters are more sophisticated in calculating the nuances and balances of coalitionary forces and, although there are so many different layers of government, politicians are, if only because of the small size of the country, closer to the people. Nevertheless, I am nothing if not consistent in my support and so the choice for me was relatively simple. The polling station was in a nearby school. Not for the first time, I admired the organisation and the efficient infrastructure that made these elections such an apparently simple and straightforward affair. Last year I read an excellent book entitled In Praise of Bureaucracy by Paul Gay, a political philosopher. One of his neo Weberian arguments is, quite simply, that democracy cannot exist without bureaucracy. The holding of elections graphically demonstrates that point (and also why, simply on grounds of infrastructure and resources, it is so much easier to hold a democratic election in a developed country). But another lesson about Belgian democracy was on show; the strength of its civic culture. On Friday evening, the lady who was cutting my hair explained that she would be spending her Sunday acting as a teller at one of the polling stations, and through her I learnt that the whole workforce for these elections is generated through random selection from the electoral rolls. Serving at the polling booth is as much of a civic duty as serving on a jury. So I was effusive in my gratitude to the people at the polling station who made my vote possible.


  1. Herbert KNAPP

    Why, oh my goodness, did alle the voters in their countries, as in our liittle Austria, take the elections of the European Paliament as elections of their own parliament or their own government.? There was no European feeling, no feeling as being a European citizen. Going on like that, there’ll never be a really united Europe, a European Union.
    With best regards!
    Herbert KNAPP

  2. Martin

    Well, Herbert, in several cases the general elections or national or regional elections were run at the same time. This might have raised turnout levels (though the average was a misreable 43 per cent), but of course it further obscured the European part of the operation.

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