By Lina Giannarou
The team behind Vouliwatch (www.vouliwatch.gr) could not have asked for better timing. Since the launch of the online platform on March 16, the Greek Parliament has been at the center of attention: from the key omnibus bill submitted by the government and the ensuing censure motions, to the controversy surrounding former cabinet secretary Panayiotis Baltakos.
Vouliwatch is the Greek version of Parliament Watch, which is already available in five European countries: Ireland, France, Luxembourg, Austria and Germany. The platform enables citizens to monitor and evaluate the activity of members of parliament, as well as the European Parliament. Visitors can also find out about the voting record of deputies and ask them questions.
Vouliwatch is a nonprofit initiative financed by the founding members, and it aims to bring Greek voters closer to their elected representatives. Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was the first to receive a question. Varvara Orfanidou, a 77 percent disabled employee at a highway toll station in Malgara, near Thessaloniki, asked the conservative minister whether she was protected under a new law which stipulates that tollgate workers will be hired on an open-ended contract by the Egnatia Odos company which is responsible for the highway's upkeep.
Mitsotakis assured the employee that transferred employees are neither fired nor placed in a mobility scheme. “As a result, you will continue your work with Egnatia Odos,” he said.
Interestingly, Orfanidou had asked the same question several times in the past. “I sent you an e-mail at your ministerial address, I tweeted you, I e-mailed your ministry and the legal department... but I never received a response,” she said.
Also, Vouliwatch aims to explain developments in the House through posts on issues of procedure. More ambitiously, it hopes to influence the parliamentary agenda. Citizens can propose legislation in certain areas. Their proposal is then evaluated by fellow users and the most popular ideas are then sent to deputies for further deliberation.
The first few weeks of the site – which is still a beta version – have been very successful.
“Despite the fact that people are fuming over the political system – a fact which has created many levels of mistrust, such as that few people believe e-governance can help in problem solving – people were quick to embrace [the project],” says Panayiotis Vlachos, one of the architects of Vouliwatch.
Two weeks after its launch, the site had received more than 5,000 unique hits and more than 7,100 views. It had more than 3,000 likes on its Facebook page.
“It is worth investing in continuous contact with MPs' offices,” Vlachos says. Most lawmakers are reluctant because they think that engaging with the site means a bigger workload for their staff.
“They are skeptical. They say, 'We don't know the person asking the questions.' The response to this is that an individual demand can at the same time be a collective one.”