Idiōtēs was how people in ancient Greece contemptuously referred to those who had no interest in politics, a word that has evolved into the modern word idiots. Democracy was pioneered in the country's city states such as Athens, where those recognised as citizens had the right to vote on legislative proposals and were encouraged to do so.
In a continent-spanning organisation such as the European Union, with more than 500 million inhabitants, this form of direct democracy - where citizens vote on each individual proposal - is impossible. Instead we have the European Parliament, which reflects the diversity of today's society. It represents 27 countries, operates in 23 languages, and boasts more female members than most national parliaments. As the EU's only directly elected body, the Parliament sees it as its responsibility to be the people's champion and scrutinise the other institutions.
The theme of this year's International Day of Democracy on 15 September - Dialogue and inclusiveness - central to democracy - highlights its role. MEPs' involvement with voters does not end the day of the European elections. They regularly hold surgeries in their constituencies and can raise the issues voiced by the electorate in the EP. MEPs can also be contacted by phone or email and they are in touch with different NGOs and with assemblies outside the EU.
In addition, Parliament appoints the European Ombudsman, to whom people can complain if they are dissatisfied with their treatment by an EU institution. Citizens also have the right to petition Parliament on any topic related to the EU. On top of that the Parliament was instrumental in pushing forward the citizens' initiative, which enables people to request the Commission launch legislation on a specific topic, provided they have collected more than one million signatures. The Parliament has committed itself to promoting the different citizens' initiatives as much as possible, including holding public hearings.
Representing people is also about communicating with them and Parliament is constantly looking for new ways to interact with citizens. It was the first EU institution to have a page on Facebook and is active on Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Flickr, Pinterest and Foursquare. The latest initiative is the newshub, where you can find all the latest on social media from MEPs and Parliament. So why not check out the EP and make your voice heard.
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