Why are not all law propositions listed here? ¶
Demobel does not list every law that is submitted to the Chamber, this is because the one of the following properties apply to this law:
- The proposed law is hanging
- When a law is proposed, there will typically be at least some weeks until everybody has had the time to read it. Most laws need to undergo further examination in a particular commission before making it to a vote. These laws are not taken into account until the final vote takes place.
- The proposed law has lapsed
- This is the main reason for a law not being listed in Demobel: Most of them don't even make it to the Chamber for a vote. As far as I can tell, it's up to the submitting representative to ask that a law be discussed. If said represenative doesn't do this for some reason, the law just doesn't get handled. When the next elections are due, it basically automatically lapses without any interesting input from any representative. So there's little use in spending database storage on this.
- The proposed law becomes moot
- Sometimes representatives propose laws that are covered by another, related law. In that case, the law in question becomes moot ("Zonder voorwerp") and is then disregarded.
Where did you find the translated logos for the different parliaments? ¶
I didn't find them because they didn't exist until I created them.
The logos are (officially speaking) only available in the language of the parliaments they belong to. But I think that, in a country with three languages, it shouldn't be that much effort to show the bare minimum of respect for those other languages. So I made the translated versions on my own, using Inkscape.
I made a real effort to stick as close to the official versions as possible, and I think you'll agree it looks very good, otherwise you wouldn't be asking me where I found them, would you?
What about copyrights? ¶
All texts that originate from the government (the transcripts of the discussions, the info of the mandates and information on the politicians) All these texts are to be copied freely because the Belgian law puts these in the public domain:
In overeenstemming met artikel 8 § 2 van de wet van 30 juni 1994 betreffende de auteursrechten en de bijbehorende rechten, zijn de auteursrechten niet van toepassing op de officiële documenten van de overheid. De parlementaire documenten, die in overeenstemming met de Belgische wetgeving, officiële aktes zijn, mogen dus vrij gekopieerd worden. Het is aangeraden de site van de Kamer te vermelden teneinde de gebruiker zo goed mogelijk te informeren.
I don't think that me processing and presenting those documents on my website gives me any kind of copyright over them, but if they do, then I license them all under CC0 1.0, a public domain dedication.
On the page of a law proposal, you will occasionally see a scoring with an associated text under it, explaining that score. Those texts are licensed under the CC-BY-ND 4.0, becasue they express a personal point of view.
When it comes to the flags and blasons of municipalities, parliaments, provinces, ... those are by law all in the public domain, as well as their reproductions. That being said, you will often still find links under those weapons and blasons to a given author. I do this because a lot of these weapons and flags don't have a vectorised version available, and then there are some good volunteers that perform the thankless job of doing just that, bringing heraldics straight into the 21st century. I appreciate these efforts and I show my appreciation by providing their given name and hyperlink, if that data is available.
All other copyrightable works not mentioned up to now are licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0, unless specifically stated otherwise.
Are you being paid for this? ¶
Nope, I do this without any compensation. Building the website, maintenance, translating, ... All this is done by me (and me alone as well for now) in my spare time.
How do you score? ¶
I don't really have a checklist lying next to me when evaluating proposals. In general however, these are some criteria that have a large influence as to how a score is assigned:
- Scientific merit
- Some proposals have scientific consensus on their side. For example: A proposal limiting wind energy is bad, since to tackle the climate disaster, investing in renewable energy is a necessity.
- Belgian values
- Proposals that stand to protect the Belgian values are inherently good for the Belgian people, since (by implication) they protect who we are and how we want to identify ourselves. This also includes human rights, since Belgium underscribes the ECHR.
- Personal knowledge on the subject
- Nobody knows everything, and I'm fully aware of that. But we all have some topics that we know more about than the average person, be they political topics or not. If a proposition handles a subject I don't know a lot about, I tend to refrain from handing out a strong score, especially if the arguments being given are hard to verify or debunk. Of course, if it does handle a topic I know a thing or two about, then I have a much easier time of seeing who has actually read something about it, and who's just spouting nonsense. This also makes it easier to predict the implications in the long term.
- Implications of the proposal
- Most proposals are small and tackle a very specific element in society. But sometimes, a big proposal with long-term implications can also be submitted. These often require some political sacrifice (for example popularity) for the greater good of all Belgians. Or sometimes it's the polar opposite and they indebt the Belgians long-term in favour of short-term gains. Such proposals are typically scored "heavier" (in both directions) than their smaller counterparts.
- Proposals to destroy Belgium
- For decades, anti-Belgian seperatists have been working hard to destroy the Belgian cohesion. I take offense to people that say my country should not exist, and especially to proposals that try to advance the decline of Belgium as one nation. I have proposed my plan for how to create a strong Belgium that protects the Belgian provinces in their cultural identity, where the status of the three languages are safeguarded, and where Brussels is upgraded to be its own province, thereby accepting its own cultural identity in Belgium, in contrast to its current 'limbo' state. Proposals that go in the opposite direction of that will be penalized.
- Proposals against particracy
- A lot of the problems in Belgian politics have the particracy as a common cause. A lot of dotations go to the political parties and there are few rules about how they can spend that money. Proposals that ought to limit those systemic problems will often receive good scores.
- Declines in transparency or democracy
- Power corrupts, and corruption thrives in secrecy. Strong journalistic protections, independent checks and balances, democratic oversight... They're part of what makes Belgium such a good country to live in, with (relative to a lot of other countries) little corruption. Of course, there will always be politicians who'd rather not have these safeguards. Proposals that try to dismantle transparency or try to punish those that favour it (for example laws against whistleblowers) and laws that degrade the democracy in Belgium will not be accepted by me.
- Government surveillance
- As pointed out by Dr.H.C.Mult. Richard Stallman, democracy can only sustain so much surveillance. We are currently at a point where a government that's willing to do so can collect the movement of Belgian citizens with a shocking precision. Proposals that increase the surveillance capabilities of the government without proper reason for doing so will most likely receive a bad score right away.
I do not call parties by name in my score reasoning, since I don't score a proposal based on who voted in favour or against it. However, I might from time to time connect the arguments being put forward in the context of the people (or the party) that make them, if I think it's informative to do so.
Important to remember is that the score counting only takes non-unanimous votes into account, since they're supposed to show how the different parties compare to each other. If a proposal gets a unanimous vote, then that proposal doesn't add a lot of relative worth.
Your scores aren't objective, don't you think it's unfair that you decide what constitutes as a good or bad thing? Wouldn't it be better if you remain a neutral website? ¶
I never claim that my scoring is objective. Not only because they're clearly not (I make no effort to be a mere neutral voice), but also because if they were, they would be useless. Let me explain why by using the weather as a metaphor:
Objectivity means that one limits perself to what's purely factual, devoid of any philosophical interpretations. For example, when it's raining, the objective thing to say is: “we measure 80mm precipitation.”
With subjectivity, the objective fact is used to proclaim a statement. This differs from person to person. One might say “That's a lot of rain”, and someone else might say “This is just a drizzle.”
The problem with staying purely objective is exactly that lack of meaning. A fact on its own does not mean anything, it just is. It's what we choose to do with those facts that interests us. That's politics, and that's what Demobel is all about.
However, I do claim that my scoring is impartial, which is not the same as objective: Impartiality means that it doesn't matter who makes a proposal or how specific people vote for a proposal; you have to judge the proposal the same way. If somebody from party A wants to ban company cars, that would be just as good a proposal as if it came from party Z. This is why every news agency you get your news from can't be objective. And that's not a bad thing! It's good that there's different sources of information using different principles, since that gives us multiple viewpoints on the world, as long as that viewpoint is applied impartially to different people.
And even if all of those arguments don't convince you: I only score laws that have already been voted on, and it's our representatives that are the literal deciders about what laws they think are good or bad. And there are definitely some of them that do not deserve to sit there, which is a lot unfairer if you ask me.
All this information is already publicly available. What's the added value of having it here? ¶
Just because it's publicly available doesn't mean it's publicly analyzable.
The availability is a fundamental democratic principle, because we the people should be able to see how our representatives... represent us.
In practice, this takes the form of gigantic PDF documents in which every occurence is recorded in bland text. There are no hyperlinks or database relations between all the different information sources, it's all scattered throughout the websites of (again) six different parliaments. I'm an informatician and even I had to exert a concious effort to find out how all the information relates to each other, so I can imagine how other people will be put off by the sheer sight of those websites alone!
As a sidenote: I'd like to point out that the Flemish Parliament is a lot better in this regard than the other parliaments: While it still works with PDF files for a lot of documents, there's some effort being put in structuring and linking the information from different commissions and representatives, as well as the actual voting that took place. It's a start and far from what it should be, but even that puts the FWB and Walloon Parliament to shame.
Demobel's added value thus is that it allows people to actually "execute" one of their democratic rights.
Why don't you list the motions and the related questions? ¶
By the trias politica, the interpellations of the parliament to the government are crucial for keeping the government in check and accountable to their actions. These interpellations are often concluded with so-called "motions". These motions range from simple recommendations to the government, to motions that revoke the trust in (a member of) the government. Whether or not a motion should pass or not can be subject to scoring on our part.
However, in practice, a lot of democratic countries (including Belgium) do not really have a "trias politica", and instead have a "duas politica"; After the elections, the political parties try to form a majority, and if they do, they propose ministers from their own parties for the government. Effectively, this means that the political parties sort of "control" both the parliamentary members ánd the ministers in government, even when de jure they mustn't. In a way this makes sense: The representatives need to proclaim their trust in the government, and who would you trust better than the people that share such a big chunk of your own political beliefs to lead a country?
The result of this is that every time a motion is submitted, the parties that form the government also submit a "simple motion"; Article 134 of the KvV/Cdr/Ak states clearly that simple motions have priority over all other types of motions, and if it's adopted, all other motions are "caduque". That means that in practice, motions are practically always just a boring vote where the political parties in government vote to adopt the simple motion and the opposition parties vote against. It doesn't have a lot of useful information for the purpose of Demobel, so I'd rather leave the motions out by default, and only record motions that are of interest, for example, if it gets to a motion of distrust, which can result in the end of a government.
How can I help? ¶
Wauw, really? Somebody actually wants to help me with this? Didn't know there were other people as crazy as I am, but hey I'm very glad you want to help!
First off, do know that this is a voluntary project. I only spend my own money on it (primarily the energy bills and DNS costs), so until somebody comes along with a big wad of cash, I won't be able to pay anybody for per effort. If you want to help, it will have to be gratis. But I will give credit where it's due of course, doing it gratis doesn't mean doing it anonymous (unless you want that of course).
If you're still interested, great! I'm looking for help in the following subjects:
- If your maiden language is Afrikaans, Dutch, English, Esperanto (!), French, German, or Spanish, or you have an academic degree in any of those, or come into contact with these languages on a professional basis (for example if you're an interpreter), then you can help with validating the translations the AI spat out; you will check the translations and compare them with the official text, and see if they make sense, fix typos and grammatical mistakes, ... For this work, you don't need to register yourself with me; all source pages on Demobel provide editable forms where you can directly start reviewing the translations, which are then sent to me directly.
- Proposal informers
- If you're not keen on reviewing translations, yet you're still interested in politics, this might be a something for you: You take a detailed look at the different proposals and the things they seek to change. This is a labourious work: You'll have to search for relevant news articles from trustworthy sources (if available for that proposal), and see if there are scientific merits to said proposal. You will then provide that information to me, so I can score the proposals based on your work.
- Error hunters
- Since Demobel utilizes a lot of heuristic algorithms, it's likely that sometimes, an error slips through the information listed with each proposal. Your job consists of going through those proposals and comparing the info on Demobel with the info in the official documents. If everything's okay, you stamp off the proposal to validate it. If not, you point out the mistake so I can fix it.
Again, this is voluntary work, and if you decide to stop at a certain moment, then I understand completely. Really, this is the kind of work you need to convince yourself of that it's worth it.
Why no amendments? ¶
The first reason is a practical one: For propositions, there can be tens of different amendments. These amendments can range from changing, removing or adding a single word to the proposition (I'm not kidding), to removing the entire proposition altogether, and everything in between. Examining all those different little details is simply undoable for a single person like me. If you're really interested in all those little amendments, you can click on the link to the official page, where you can find all those documents. I'm sure you'll agree with me soon enough.
The second reason is not so practical but caused by the way democracy works (and partially how I implemented Demobel); for ease of understanding, let's pretend parties A, B, and C are majority parties that form the government, and parties X and Y form the opposition.
In a democracy, it's extremely common to have a government being composed of different parties, each with their own ideology; If you want to make changes, you're going to have to find a compromise with each other, a compromise for parties A, B ánd C.
This is a hallmark of genuine (and relatively strong) democracies: With millions of inhabitants, there's not a single political ideology that's shared by an absolute majority of the people, and that is made clear in every election. So if you want to govern, you are forced to talk with other people that don't share your views, and find a compromise with each other.
Elections where a single party manage to gather >=50% of the seats in parliament are indicative of serious issues in the political system of that country/region (especially if this happens more than once in a row), and are a frequent occurence in pseudo-democracies.
A, B, and C all "water down" their own ideas to find a common denominator. That's a big reason why change in democracies is such a (painstakingly) slow process; every change that does happen is one that has to be agreed upon by so many different people.
In the end, when you find that 'common denominator', you present your proposition to parliament, where parties A, B, C, X and Y can discuss it, ánd also, propose amendments.
This is where the problem begins; the majority parties (the ones that form the government) will rarely propose amendments, since an amendment implies changing the 'common denominator' the majority parties agreed on earlier. If say, party A would do that, A would destabilize the entire government, since the rest of the government (parties B and C) wouldn't be able to trust that party to hold themselves to the promise they made to each other beforehand.
This process is often exploited by the opposition parties, who aren't limited by any compromises; they can propose any amendment they want without any big repercussions.
They can propose an amendment that parties A and B would agree to, but would be rejected by C. That amendment would then be rejected (since the majority parties made a promise to choose their 'common denominator'), and then the opposition parties can then use the results of that amendment's vote to accuse parties A and B of hypocrisy. This is a hidden form of populism in action; Accusing other people of being lying elites and presenting yourself as the "voice of the people" in your own pamphlets, while ommitting important details that most people aren't aware of.
Parties A and B can't possibly win with those amendments:
- A and B vote yes
- C will no longer trust A and B; the government collapses, and X and Y can accuse A, B and C of being inept buffoons who can't even work together.
- A and B vote no
- A and B have now voted against what they themselves would otherwise agree to. X and Y can accuse A and B of being hypocritical liars and present themselves as the ones who speak truth to power.
I don't agree with this way of doing politics.
This is why in Demobel, amendments aren't taken into account; while theoretically necessary, in practice they are regularly deployed as ammunition for the opposition to shoot on the majority (especially by radical and extremist parties), even though they'd probably never do the same thing when they themselves would be in government, where they'd have to make compromises as well.
To be clear, there are a lot of amendments that are serious proposals and not just means for populism. Some of them even pass if it's a thing A, B and C forgot to include, sometimes they fix typos, and some are proposed with sincere integrity.
That also happens regularly, but unfortunately, no populist is going to have the candor to annotate each amendment with “I'm only proposing this for populistic gains”, so I can't properly discern between sincerity and populism without making mistakes.
So instead of figuring out for each amendment if it's a serious one or a way to play populistic games, I've decided to omit them altogether. Not only would including them give undue weight to a system that's not as simple as it looks like on paper, it would also skew the scoring results immensly; since those amendments are often proposing something positive, scoring them would punish the parties that decided to compromise, and would reward parties that propose amendments that can clearly be deployed for populistic gain, since I score propositions based on their merit for the Belgian people (which is an impartial argument), not based on who is proposing them (which is as partial as it can get).