Daniela Vancic is the European program manager at Democracy International. She is an expert on the European Citizens’ Initiative and is the co-author of Complementary Democracy: The Art of Deliberative Listening. Before sitting on a panel for the Zócalo event “Are Elected Presidents Bad for Democracy?”—presented in partnership with Democracy International and Metropolitan Autonomous University for the Global Forum for Modern Direct Democracy 2023—she joined us in our traveling green room to talk tacos, the Obamas, and our shared democratic future.
How have you been passing the time in Mexico City?
We’ve been especially busy with the forum. This is my third one—I went to the one in Rome, Taiwan, Lucerne. So just helping out with things. But in the in-between times, I’ve been exploring neighborhoods. I’ve eaten some things that have been labeled not-so-spicy that end up being very spicy. I don’t know the names of any of these things, which is my fault.
You live in Cologne, Germany. What is one of your favorite places to go there?
I love a brunch spot called Café de Paris. I mean the food is a standard brunch. But I love it, especially for the location. It’s on a beautiful corner spot, they have great outdoor seating, and you get this very European café experience.
Where do you find hope for democracy’s future?
We talk so much about the negative parts of democracy and what needs improvement… I lived in Switzerland in Geneva for two years. This was my first up-close experience with direct democracy. I’m also from Michigan, where we also have direct democracy, in citizen initiatives. So I find hope in the citizens’ movements, especially the youth movements. I hear a lot about the European movements since I work there. But there is a lot of talk of transnational movements. In all these bubbling movements is where I find the most hope.
What do you think one of the biggest challenges to direct democracy is?
Politicians who are unwilling to work with citizens and who see [direct democracy] as a power struggle and a threat to their own power, instead of seeing it as a way to cooperate and make representative democracy more representative.
Where is somewhere in the world you would like to visit?
I would love to go to the north of Finland to see the Northern Lights. Since I grew up in Michigan, I’m a little bit of a snow girl. But I don’t experience this in Cologne, so I yearn for this a bit.
Who is one of your inspirations?
The reason I got really inspired to get involved in politics was Barack Obama. You see somebody in such a leadership role, who speaks so closely to the people and wants to get so close to the people, who seems to identify with the everyday struggle and has an open mind to learn. At 16 I joined his campaign. And, of course, Michelle Obama, because I don’t think he would be who he is without her.
Let’s play a direct democracy game. You have to vote for only one of these:
Couscous or paella?
Celine Dion or Adele?
Finally, where can we find you on a typical Sunday?
If the weather is nice, I like to be social. Or read, wind down from the long week. Or, as I travel a lot, I might just be in some random city in Europe.