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New Brussels platform bridges distance between voters and lawmakers

00:37 07/01/2018
One Brussels resident is working to close the gap between politics and people with a new platform that helps citizens find their way among the thousands of electoral candidates

Political disengagement has been brought into sharp focus in recent years, as the growing success of populist figures has left traditional politicians scratching their heads. But one Brusselaar is trying to fight the disconnect between politics and people with a citizens platform.

Available in Dutch, French and English, the political transparency website WeCitizens is helmed by Jean-Paul Pinon.

So what is WeCitizens?
We are a citizens’ platform that produces voting advice applications. We work as a kind of Wikipedia for Belgian politicians and have developed a political directory – the biggest database of politicians available to the public. We thought that there was a lack of tools to find your way among the thousands of candidates. We are an independent bottom-up initiative, and among our trustees are 15 associations, mainly NGOs.

Do you have any upcoming campaigns you are focusing on?
We are adapting our political directory to include additional categories such as remuneration from public activity, statistics on parliamentary activity, parenthood among politicians and others. From June onwards, we’ll propose in our monthly newsletter a “campaign” question. Our readers will see which politicians failed to answer and can send reminders with only a few clicks. We’re also able to produce voting advice applications at an affordable price, even for municipal elections, and we’re currently looking for interested partners to work with us on this.

You have profiles from across the political spectrum. Are you non-partisan?
We look for a mix of political views among the members of our boards, and all the political parties have appointed a liaison officer, who is asked, among other things, to survey our impartiality. I personally used to be a director in a Belgian federal regulatory authority, so I was trained to act impartially.

What role do you think WeCitizens can play in turbulent political times?
When there is a rift between the politicians and the citizens, the victim is the citizen. We want to raise citizens’ interest in politics by producing useful transparency tools. The first condition to establish trust is transparency, and that’s our core business. Whenever someone feels that they’re being watched, they perform the best they can. By improving transparency, we give politicians an incentive to improve public service.

In general, do you think Belgian citizens are well-informed or politically engaged?
Too few citizens are interested in politics. Many citizens are scared to engage politically, as if they fear retaliation from authorities! Civic education is progressively improving and fostering active citizen participation.

Photo courtesy WeCitizens.be

Written by Mari Eccles