Category: Digital Public Sphere (page 1 of 6)

The state of EU blogging (in one tweet)

Unfortunately I did not make it to this year’s republica in Berlin. So, here is my take on the ‘state of EU blogging 2015’ – well, it is quite telling that 140 characters are enough to summarise it:

The (slightly) longer version:

Independent EU blogging is dying a slow death – there are not enough blogs that really come up with interesting stuff on a regular basis. When I say ‘independent’ I mean blogs without any institutional affiliation. The EU blogosphere never really took off – but we are now reaching a critical point: We only have a handful of established voices –  and almost no new blogs at all. I guess it will be a slow death – and nobody will notice.

I suppose it is just a reflection of the general state of blogging: What’s the point of writing a political blog in 2015 if you can debate stuff on twitter (at least until the next big thing comes along)? Why write a blog, invest time to build up a readership if you could just use facebook? Or Reddit? Why blog if you can produce youtube videos? Why blog if you could write for one of the many political websites as a freelancer?

There is no incentive structure in (EU) blogging – the community is disappearing. Most journalists, media outlets, NGOs and think tanks are now blogging (so it’s really not a cutting edge thing to do anymore). The death of RSS also did not help. Of course there are new shiny blogging platforms such as medium – but finding good content is still a rather tedious exercise.

Yes, there are a couple of niche blogging communities – and EU topics are frequently debated in national blogs – but dedicated blogs on “EU affairs” that somehow act as transnational debating hubs simply don’t exist. And the ‘Brussels bubble’ has embraced twitter as the network of choice – at least for the time being.

However, in a twisted way blogging has arrived in the mainstream – and it has morphed into a new kind of online journalism. Most newspapers run something like Comment is free, various debating websites invite users to submit their political opinions. Quartz or Buzzfeed are children of the blogosphere. Or look at Politico Europe: 10 years ago we would have described their style of writing as “typical for blogs”.

tl;dr

‘Finding Europe’ in the EU blogosphere? – Forget it!

 

Project idea: Watching Trialogues

Trialogues have become one of the most used decision-making tools in the EU system. On the one hand they create a convenient shortcut for EU institutions to speed up lengthy decision-making procedures – on the other hand they are non-transparent, undemocratic, secret – and  create a system without a sense of accountability. The biggest problem that we – the citizens – have is that we simply don’t  know much about trialogues, as this excellent piece in the EUobserver explains:

Search for any mention of trialogues in the EU treaties and you will draw a blank. This is because despite being an accepted part of the lawmaking landscape, in legal terms trialogues don’t exist. All trialogue meetings are informal and the timing of the meetings are not known to most MEPs, let alone the ordinary public. There are no formal minutes taken. Some are over within a few minutes. Others can go on all day and well into the night.

In the coming years we may see some institutional changes in the system as VP Frans Timmermans has identified the practice of ‘trialogues’ as a problem that should be tackled. (btw:  if David Cameron was *really* interested in genuine ‘EU reform’ this would be an issue to begin with…)

The trialogue issue is about transparency and accountability. As a citizen I simply want to know who is responsible for a deal,  who suggested what compromise text  – and I want to know why certain things disappear from a legislative proposal. Yes, this is something  journalists should do – but it is also an institutional problem as we basically have no public record of trialogues, we don’t know anything about it:  What is on the agenda of those meetings? When do they happen? Where do they happen? Who participates? What was agreed?

So, to put some pressure on EU institutions to change the practice of trialogues, here is a quick project idea – combining journalism, activism as well as the willingness among insiders to share/leak some of the data. What do we need?

We need ‘Trialogue Watch’!

The aim would be to set-up a website/blog that tracks trialogues and which would provide a simple crowdsourced data set about those meetings:  date of the meeting, invited participants, topic / agenda of the meeting…

In a second step this could be linked with the respective legislative proposal and a summary of the outcome of each meeting. This would require a regular stream of leaks – and a number of journalists whose job it would be to chase participants and write up quick blog posts about each meeting. (Well, here is a problem: “on average, around 25 separate trialogue meetings take place each week“)

How to do it:  We would need a website that allows anonymous submissions of basic trialogue data (see above). For the website we would need some coders and someone who would like to host and do some website admin. Then we would need to get the data from somehwere – and this will be the problem. So yes, I am looking at you: MPs and MP assistants who think it should be in the  interest of the EU to publish basic data about trialogues (preferably also minutes of meetings) But I am also thinking of journalists who hear about a trialogue from some contacts within the EU institutions. The aim is to have some sort of calendar which tracks trialogue meetings and gives us names, topics and dates. This would allow the public to get at least a basic idea of what’s going on and who is responsible for the decisions.

The real aim?

The aim behind the project is to show EU institutions how and why they should reform the system. It could be an experiment to put pressure on EU institution with two simple messages: Look at what can  be done without you – and yes, there are people out there who care about it – so do get your act togehter.

There are several options for the EU: trialogues could simply be abolished, the EU could ‘institutionalise’ trialogues as a normal decision-making tool or they could at least  increase transparency.

So if EU institutions copy our little ‘trialogue watch’ and start offering basic data on these meetings our job would be done! (and we could move on to evaluate the content of the deals reached via trialogues!)

So – who’s in?

PS: Feel free and contact me if you are interested in getting involved (or if you know of a similar project elsewhere!) I am not sure I would have time to really work on this project but I am happy to organise a first meeting or facilitate some sort of online exchange.

Günther H. Oettinger is a political liability for this Commission

Günther H.Oettinger has a rare skill: Give him a microphone and he gives you a scandal. His cabinet must be a fun place to work – if you are into damage control and crisis communication that is. The people behind the @goettinger parody account on twitter also don’t need to come up with  funny stuff anymore – copy/pasting Oettinger’s real quotes is parody enough.

But despite all the “Oetti fun” we should not forget that his actions create all sorts of problems. I think that giving him the digital portfolio in the European Commission may have been Juncker’s biggest political mistake so far. It has only been a few months and he created all sorts of scandals – most of them a little bit under the radar of the media. However, he regularly oversteps his mandate, he does not seem to be independent from the position of the German government (Juncker has repeatedly called for a truly independent Commission!), he alienates the people that care about the development of a digital single market and his rhetoric has become insulting.

  • His EP hearing was already a disaster, very vague and painful to watch. Underwhelming to say the least. Remember, he called celebrities “stupid” because of a leak? The European Voice nailed it at the time: “Oettinger sounds like a regional German politician, which he is.”  MEPs did not have the guts to call him for a second hearing. Being the German candidate helps in these situations.
  • Once in office he started to get interested in all sorts of things not linked to digital issues: It all started with this  op-ed in the FT calling for structural reforms in France (not his portfolio, is it?) – and as we all know, placing an oped in the FT does not happen by accident. He continued his French mission a few days later with an interview  in Der Spiegel.
  • The most worrying development is however that he doesn’t seem to understand his portfolio – for him it’s always about cars. Some of his speeches are incomprehensible.
  • After having a go at the French government he discovered Greece (again, it has nothing to do with his portfolio) openly contradicting the Commission’s line in the recent negotiations with Greece. The European Commission distanced itself from these statements calling them a “private opinion” of Mr Oettinger.
  • Commission President Juncker is not amused and apparently had a frank talk with Oettinger…

Now, we are reaching the next level of political stupidity:

Mr Oettinger is walking PR disaster. ‘Digital politics’ is one of the few policy areas where you have a Europeanised discourse, it is a relatively new policy area which mobilises a lot of young people who have realised that policy change needs to happen at the European level. They are ready to engage with EU institutions on the digital issues – ‘net neutrality’ is one of the few topics that gets people excited about EU issues. But Mr Oettinger is doing everything he can to alienate everyone with patronising statements full of incompetence and rudeness.

Calling everyone who disagrees with you ‘Taliban-like’ is simply unacceptable. In national politics ministers have resigned for less…

Update 10/3/15:  This really sums it up:

The European Interest

I’ve just launched “the european interest” (@EUinterest on twitter) – a new weekly EU politics newsletter featuring a (hopefully) eclectic mix of EU analysis . ‘the european interest’ is about bringing you the best / most thought-provoking content about the EU or European political issues/debates (ideally including  opposing and diverging views). What can you expect?  Anything really, from journalistic pieces (especially ‘longform’ or investigative journalism), think tank papers, podcasts, videos,  academic journal papers, long explainers found on some obscure websites to  messy discussions on Reddit or interesting blog posts. It should be full of things you should have read… The aim is that every week you find at least one piece that makes you ‘think again’. The idea was partly inspired by this post a few weeks ago and it is linked to my interest in finding out how people discover interesting content online (I blogged about this in a slightly different context here).

europeaninterest

Some questions that were raised regarding  this project (which is btw pretty much work in progress…) – so here is a quick FAQ:

Why a newsletter? 

1.  Shelf life of content shared via social media is rather short. Tweets disappear after 10 minutes, facebook only shows you selected content. If you are not well organised you might miss some interesting stuff. Newsletters can fill this gap by giving you a nice overview of things you should have read – and you’ll always know where to find it again (hint: it’s pink and somewhere in your inbox)!

2.  Sadly,  our professional lives still rely on email inboxes  (and the integrated calendar function!)  but I think we’ve reached a point where personal routines and expectations on when to read and reply to emails  have matured.  And after a decade of struggling to manage email many people now seem more comfortable organising their own inboxes.  Simply put: we are more relaxed when it comes to email, we have become better using it as a tool. As a result many have rediscovered the usefulness of newsletters.

3. RSS is dead (unfortunately!) – at least for the casual internet user. After google reader was shut down only information junkies looked for alternative RSS readers. However, by relying on social media alone we may not only miss important and interesting content; there is also the danger to get trapped in the filter bubble. Can we really understand debates if we only rely on a handful of media outlets and a group of journalists we follow on twitter?

Will there be RSS?

Yes, maybe. (am I contradicting myself here?)

So, will there be a new website?

Yes – I am working on it!

Why should I use this  #EUinterest hashtag? 

We can’t possibly read everything. We need readers to recommend the pieces everyone should read, listen to  – or watch. This sort of crowdsourcing can really improve the quality of such a project. So feel free and contribute (and yes – you will receive a mention in the newsletter!)

Are you featuring all #EUinterest recommendations?

No, we still make editorial choices.

Why is it called ‘the european interest’?

Well, that may be a separate blog post. Let’s explain it with a few questions: What’s in Europe’s interest? What’s NOT in Europe’s interest? Is there a European interest? Why European? Is it interesting? Well, then it must be worth reading… OK, that’s enough of ‘creative writing! Not sure that was helpful, maybe we can agree on the fact that it simply sounds good?

Why is it pink?

Why not? Better than having another boring blue/yellow/grey thingy in your inbox!

What day of the week can I expect to receive #EUinterest?

This is up for discussion. I thought close to the weekend as this is the time of the week we can actually read longer pieces.  But I am open to suggestions.

Will it always be linked to the news cycle?

No, the idea is to  also feature content that may be interesting but not pegged to any debate in the media. There will also be special issues that only focus on one topic – featuring content from the last 10 years (if necessary…)

What’s the business model?

Hmm, next questions please… 😉

Is that the finished product?

No, it is work in progress. The format, length and topics  of the newsletter may change frequently.

Are there any podcasts/youtube channels about EU affairs?

Well, not as many as you’d expect. If you find a good one please share it via #EUinterest on twitter (or via email/comment). Or why not start a podcast yourself?

How do you find content?

I still use RSS quite a lot, I read various newsletters, listen to a number of podcasts and follow loads of debates on twitter and reddit.

Were can I sign up?

Here.

Great, how can I help?

Share your favourite discoveries via #EUinterest on twitter. If you want to help curate the newsletter –  please email me. If you have an idea for another (better) EU related newsletter – also email me! 😉

Any other questions?

Fell free and use the comments below…

David Cameron has gone mad

Yes, honestly. Read this!

Then a tweet made me smile:

Early signs of denial? I am afraid I have bad news, David…

PS: The virus is spreading around the world. US President Obama, German Interior Minister de Maizière and Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator have all come up with similar ideas…

What is your favourite EU affairs newsletter?

It’s Friday afternoon – and for many of  us this is also the time of the week to tidy up the inbox. But wait a minute, are there actually newsletters you enjoy reading? If yes why?  I know email newsletters are so 1990s and we are all using twitter and RSS feeds. But we still (sort of) rely on some of the old school newsletters (I do for some press reviews in the morning – and I tend to keep track of a few selected organisations for various reasons). There is even talk about “the return of the newsletter“. And having found some beautifully curated newsletters lately (nope, not in the political arena), I was wondering what the ‘Brussels Bubble’ is reading.  Are there any  well written/interesting/ well curated daily/weekly/monthly newsletters on EU affairs that are worth reading?

You know the sort of press reviews you tend glance over in the morning or the weekly policy analysis digest that is really important for your sector – or is there an interesting curated newsletter that just comes with the right mix of EU topics?  Which organisation/institution/think tank/news service/consultancy sends out the best newsletter? Do you prefer a paid service – if yes which one (if I may ask)?  Or do you rely on the internal comms services of your institution?

It would be great to crowdsource a list of “must-read EU affairs newsletters” in the comments of this blog post.  Or  – if nothing springs to mind – what sort of EU related newsletter would you like to subscribe to?

So feel to share your favourite newsletters – or newsletter ideas below!

(PS: You can post your comment anonymously)

PSS: I also came across this Quartz Global Executive Study which sort of confirms the importance of email newsletters – at least for “Executives”. They (still) use newsletters as their primary news source, the inbox is a news homepage. For these “Executives” email is also the main social network. So time to rethink the newsletter concept?

Quartz_Global_Executives_Study_-_2015-02-06_10.41.41 Quartz_Global_Executives_Study_-_2015-02-06_09.17.19

Do we really need EU reform? Or just different policies?

The most annoying feature of the EU debate these days is the claim that we need “EU reform” – and this widespread belief that a well developed reform agenda actually exists is some hidden drawer. (This post is not about the question whether there is a need for reform but it deals with the rhetorical phenomenon called ‘reform’ which is becoming a useless catch-all phrase)

Unfortunately very few ask the right questions  (journalists in particular don’t seem to be interested in the fine print) and wonder what “EU reform” actually means. Does it mean we need a new ‘reform treaty’ or do we simply want to change existing policies? Is it about the Eurozone or the EU? It is also telling that most commentators and politicians who enjoy talking about “EU reform” or the EU’s “identity crisis” fail to say what exactly needs to be changed. The underlying “analysis” often boils down to something like “everyone knows it is not working at the moment so I don’t need to explain it”. And instead of giving concrete examples of what is not working and how it can be fixed, all we hear – at least in the UK – is a series of superficial statements (something about national power, immigration and repatriation).

The reform debate is also a rhetorical trap. It is impossible to say “I am against reform” as this would imply that everything is just fine, so many just go along  hoping that they can support one aspect of “EU reform”. Even if you agree with one specific reform idea, it is almost impossible to argue “I am against EU reform but I would like to change X”.

David Cameron’s ‘reform’ rhetoric is exactly designed to have this effect. We don’t really know what he means, nobody challenges him, his analysis is guided by the referendum pledge and based on what his backbenchers want to hear:  ‘strengthening  national parliaments’, ‘stop immigration’ and remove ‘ever closer union‘.  He cleverly mixes policy and structural issues and does not make a difference between Europe, the EU and the national level. Simply put, Cameron’s EU reform is not about the EU. However, the danger is that slowly but surely the British version of ”EU reform” is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.

But let’s have a look at three core claims that are often used to make the case for “EU reform”:

1. “We need to reform the EU because the EU is not working”

Usually this statement never includes any details about what *exactly* is not working – but nobody seems to care.  Rhetorically, the claim is often linked to declining trust in EU institutions, the missing European demos and an apparent malfunction in the system. I don’t want to argue that these things don’t exist, but I think we can only approach those rather complex issues by talking about concrete ideas – and not by using a term that is neither defined nor filled with any content.

Another dimension of the claim (especially in the UK) is the idea that the EU is a ‘one size fits all’ organisation that somehow bullies member states into projects they neither support nor want. But looking at institutional realities this is simply not true. We have enhanced cooperation and a series of agreements and treaties that do not include all EU member states. The Fiscal Compact, the ESM and the EFSF, the Schengen zone and the Euro. Of course one could argue that these constructions are not perfect and a lot of things can be improved – but it is simply not correct to argue that the EU should be more flexible to accommodate the wishes of certain member states. We effectively  already have a two – or even three – speed Europe!

Last but not least, there is  an issue of policy and policy competence when we talk about the “EU that is not working”. We often hear arguments about “growth” and the missing “competitiveness” of Europe. But what exactly would be the role of the EU in this?  Do we need to change policy? Would that mean better rules to make the single market work better?  If yes, in which sector? And does this change actually concern the European level – or can we achieve improvements by changing how we deal with EU issues on the national level? These are important questions – but if we continue  to hide those issues behind “EU reform” we lose the ability to discuss different policy ideas.

2. “We need a bigger say for national parliaments/governments”

I would like to see evidence why the current system is not sufficiently developed. National governments can effectively veto every EU law.  The Lisbon Treaty strengthened the European Council by making it a fully fledged institution with  a full time president. During the euro crisis there was a clear power shift towards the member states.  So what exactly was it that you want to “reform” – and would it help to change anything?

Another debate is the role of national Parliaments.  (and there is an important debate whether strengthening national parliaments would automatically improve EU legitimacy) But also in this case it is worth looking at what we already have. Yes, it’s the yellow card procedure – but it is hardly been used. So instead of talking about introducing a new ‘red card’ procedure maybe we should think of how to fix the current system first. If hundreds of yellow cards had been issued (with minimal effect on EU institutions) it might be easier to argue for a new system. Interestingly, the only successful yellow card procedure in 2012 (latest report available) actually resulted in the withdrawal of the EC proposal. I am also intrigued by the absence of national parliamentarians in this debate: What do they think about the potential additional workload? Do they think they need to replicate the work of MEPs? Are we talking about  the role of national Parliaments in EMU issues or the role of national Parliaments in scrutinising EU policy? And above all, why do we, the citizens, vote for MEPs that are supposed to work on EU legislation – if this is now an issue for national parliaments?  The logic is simple: Many who  advocate a “strengthening of national parliaments” are effectively arguing against the idea of having a European Parliament. (and again, this essentially boils down the argument of low turnout, missing  EU demos, etc). Prime ministers and heads of governments also seem to enjoy talking about this issue (probably because they think they can use their parliamentary EU committee as an additional veto mechanism).  Funnily enough they never talk about  the Danish model where MPs give ministers a clear mandate for negotiations in the Council..

The point I am trying to make is this: By simply talking about “EU reform” we miss some of the essential questions about the future of EU democracy. And don’t be fooled, it is a framing issue:  A debate on “EU democracy” will be different  to a debate  that focuses on “EU reform” as it allows us to discuss different ideas – instead of having to argue about whether we need reform.

3. “The European Parliament Elections showed that people want reform”

This is also an interesting claim. The European Parliament elections are (unfortunately) second order elections. It is an opportunity for people to  vote against their government. It is often used as an opportunity to cast a protest vote. Most analysts would agree with that statement – but when it comes to this abstract “EU reform” the same people would argue that “the people” wanted this or that to be changed on the EU level. This is disingenuous and simply inconsistent.

In most countries the majority of people voted on national issues – so how can you claim that they want “reform”? Most parties that campaigned did not  propose any wide-ranging reforms of the EU (and if they did the ideas were very different and can’t be summarised with one word) – so how can you claim that people want your kind of “reform”? The claims that the European Parliament elections should be analysed as a “political earthquake” are also grossly exaggerated. The radical/eurosceptic vote is only marginally larger than in previous elections (and most eurosceptics basically want out of the EU – not to “reform” it) – so how can you claim that those people want “reform”? 60 %  of European did not got to vote – do they really want “reform”?

If there is anything people want it is  better – or different  – policies (although many are confused what is EU and what is national policy). Arguments about institutional reform  don’t usually feature very high on the public agenda. Of course there might be a case for a “more democratic EU” or a “more competitive EU” –  but it is far from obvious what actually should be done. And yes, a clear division between the Eurozone and the rest of the EU would be desirable. But is it politically possible?  There might be a case for institutional reform but we should also be clear about what exactly needs to be reformed and – more importantly – we need to distinguish between institutional changes (that could even be implemented under current rules) and policy changes (that require political will to change existing directives and policies).  We should not forget that the last “Reform Treaty” (the provisional name of the Lisbon Treaty!) has not been around that long and it seems to me that there is still potential to use current rules to change things.

PS: The ‘reform’ crowd often underestimates treaty ratification dynamics. Any new treaty would need to be ratified (also via referendums!) by all 28 Member States. It is very difficult to win referendums on institutional questions (as some might remember from Lisbon and Nice) and if a new treaty is simply seen as a vehicle to give  concessions to one member state (ie UK) it is destined to fail.

tl;dr

A rambling blog post on why we can’t continue talking about “reform” without saying what *exactly* needs to be reformed.

Überwachung in Großbritannien

Sehr lesenswerter Artikel von Priya Basil in der FAZ; alles was man über Überwachung und Politik in Großbritannien wissen muss:

In Großbritannien werden die Leute beispiellos überwacht – und niemanden regt das auf. Es droht die psychische, emotionale und intellektuelle Verarmung einer ganzen Gesellschaft.

Und dann ist da ja auch noch diese EU Debatte:

Wenn es nach der Regierung Cameron ginge, sollten der Human Rights Act und die Europäische Menschenrechtskonvention im Fach Staatsbürgerkunde künftig nicht mehr erwähnt werden. Auch den Begriff Menschenrechte würde man am liebsten durch das Wort „kostbare Freiheiten“ ersetzen – so, als würde man durch eine andere Benennung den Anspruch der Bürger auf ihre demokratischen Rechte schmälern können. Zum Glück ist es den Tories nicht gelungen, diese „Reform“ durchzuboxen, aber sie haben freundlicherweise „zugesagt“, den Human Rights Act abzuschaffen, wenn sie bei der nächsten Wahl gewinnen. Dann stünden die Bürger wieder schutzlos da, weil die Europäische Menschenrechtskonvention im Vereinigten Königreich nicht mehr direkt einklagbar wäre.

Die Europäische Union ist wahrscheinlich das Bündnis, das den globalen Status Britanniens am stärksten unterstreicht und zugleich enorme Vorteile bietet – und doch ist man nur widerwillig Mitglied dieser Union, wohl auch deswegen, weil die EU für Normen demokratischer Transparenz steht, die Großbritannien nur ungern übernehmen mag.

Leider findet diese Debatte über Überwachung, Datenschutz und Bürgerrechte  in Großbritannien im Prinzip nicht statt.  Es ist auch schade, dass dieser Text (der ja eine Übersetzung aus dem Englischen ist) wohl nie im Daily Telegraph erscheinen wird…

A digital EU helpdesk?

Why the EU needs to learn from online customer feedback products – and then mix it with Reddit’s AMA culture.

Here is my (award-winning!)  piece for the #talkdigital blogging competition of the European Commission.

Interesting talk by Wolfgang Blau.

Wer soll das Internet regulieren? Warum ist unsere Debattenkultur kaputt?  Was hat sich an unserem Surf-verhalten seit 2007 verändert. Interessanter Vortrag von Frank Rieger auf der #rp14.

 

The inconvenient truth about social media and #ep2014

The inconvenient truth is simple: Social media will have zero impact on the outcome of the European Parliament elections 2014. Here are 10 simple truths about social media and the #ep2014*:

1. Social media will only help a few MEPs that have already invested heavily  in their individual social media presences. Using social media  during campaigns may look good – but only a long term commitment can deliver sustainable results. It’s simple:  be authentic, build relationships and engage your audience. But: Using social media in a bad way is worse than not using it at all. Think about it!

2.  We live in an echo chamber – the bubble is talking to itself. Nobody listens to voices with a different opinion. You only follow stuff you already like. Result: Social media is not a helpful tool for complex political debates. Welcome to the filter bubble!

3. 75 % of Europeans still get their political information on Europe from TV. “The Internet” is  only the 4th most important resource for political information – and the preferred information sources on the internet are “information websites” – not social media.

4. Social media does not reach people who are already disengaged from politics. And even if there is more engagement it does not translate into a higher voter turnout. Statistically, young people are more engaged on social media but their interest / engagement in the political process is  falling – both  at the national and European level. Suggesting that social media will boost the turnout of young voters may be a false correlation.

5. The social media/digital divide: 41 % of Europeans have never used social media.

6. Twitter can reach journalists and opinion-makers. If used properly one  can use it for multiplier effects. To use Facebook effectively you will  need a proper budget to game their algorithm.

7. Data mining may not be working in Europe: Europeans have a different conception of privacy – and  there is no fundraising angle (unlike in the US). Just ask yourself one simple question: Would you send a (party) political messages to a friend on Facebook?

8.  Social media tends to punish moderate voices and makes it hard to structure political debates.  European politics is all about finding a compromise – not a strength of social media debates. But this is  also the reason why radical voices and populists embraced social media and are generally more successful using it – compared to traditional parties.

9. Is social media a tool to bypass traditional media channels? No! Early adopters and new media organizations will be the new gatekeepers.

10. #ep2014 campaigns will have a strong national angle.  The use of social media is very different across Europe so we will not see a clear picture of its impact.

* Those were my talking points for a TV talk show a few days ago. This also explains the  lack of context / nuances in the blog post – and is the reason why it is written like a tabloid story.

Some ideas for EU reform that would *really* make a difference

In the UK there is too much talk about ill-defined “EU reform” that will not make any difference. Who needs a complex new “red card” procedure when you  a) never exhausted the existing “yellow card procedure” and b) could just copy the Danish approach to control your ministers in the Council? Why do we need to talk about “benefit tourism” if it does not even exist?  How can we cut down all this red tape without knowing what laws  you are actually talking about? Do we really need treaty change just because you want your doctors and nurses to have less rights? Here are a few ideas that would *really* make a difference in how we talk about the EU:

  • EU member states: Stop blaming the EU for your own ideas. Ministers in the Council often suggest stuff but once they are back in their countries they seem surprised that anyone took them seriously. And one more thing:  if it is an idea that was previously rejected in your country – well, you know, maybe it is a bad idea?
  • European Commission: Start blaming others by putting colourful banners on the front page of all Commission proposals that reveal the origin of the proposal: “This regulation was requested by a joint initiative of the British and German governments” / “This is follow-up from the Environment Council” / “This Commission directive is the result of an intense lobbying campaign by French energy companies” / “This Commission directive was inspired by the Tobacco industry”. Call it a new “transparency initiative” – trust me, it would fundamentally transform the EU discourse.
  • European Commission: Hire a couple of journalists and create a “Bullshit Detection Unit (BTU)”: Each Commission proposal needs to pass the BTU test. This will reduce the amount of formulations that could be misinterpreted by other journalists.
  • European Parliament: Stop talking about things you can’t change.  Nobody needs your own initiative reports. They only get picked up by the tabloids as proof for some new “EU law”. Similar point about the upcoming European Parliament elections – focus on policies that you can actually influence and be frank about things you will not be able to change under the current treaties.
  • Journalists: Just stop following this guide. It was not supposed to be a manual.
  • Everybody: Every time you criticise the EU for being not bold enough/ too soft/not speaking with one voice/ too business friendly / not business friendly enough  – try and suggest an actual policy. But first try and think for one moment whether it is an EU competence and if you could get all 28 countries to agree on it.

…to be continued…

A promising start for @FactCheckEU

A warm welcome to FactCheckEU – the first crowdsourced fact-checking website for EU topics. It launched a few weeks ago and – so far – it is looking rather promising. It probably has the potential to become one of the most useful EU related websites. Go check it out and – more importantly – help them!

It is crowdsourced so everyone can contribute. And we also should remember that the quality of factchecking websites pretty much depends on the community and its ethics. Obviously both things need time to develop (so critising aspects of the website today would indeed be a bit premature) So, let’s hope FactCheckEU succeed in attracting enough contributors who are also able to do some high quality fact-checking. It is much needed – especially ahead of this year’s European Parliament elections.

Blogging, content discovery and the European public sphere

bloggingportal-5-years

This week we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of bloggingportal – our little EU blog aggregator. Obviously the tech is a bit dated by now, the design is – let’s say – suboptimal, and also the internet has changed dramatically since 2009. Five years ago twitter and facebook were not that ubiquitous, blogs were still considered to be “the future” and everyone seemed to be rather optimistic about the potential of social media for democracy, transparency and the development of a so-called European public sphere. Anyway, the underlying question here is whether we still need a service like bloggingportal? Are blogs still relevant? Do we still need a website dedicated to a form of niche blogging?

The changing nature of blogging

The “death of blogging” is obviously one of those topics every blogger loves to blog about.  But it is more complex than that: blogging may not be one of those online hypes anymore but blogs have not disappeared, they still exist. In a way, blogs have become part of the the mainstream. Blogging has been so successful that all mainstream media outlets followed the concept – either by opening  a “blog platform” or simply by creating a comment box under each article –  or by adopting a blogging style in journalism, you know, this sort of quick opinionated real-time journalism. In other words, online journalism is often like live blogging used to be. Nosemonkey has more on this.

The changing nature of journalism also had an impact on blogs and potential bloggers. If you are a young ambitious writer would you  start your own blog or would you go directly to the Huffington Post. Comment is free or medium  –  or is  writing for one of the various politically affiliated platforms a better bet (and a better career choice)? Another option would be a focus on google+, twitter and facebook. There are so many new online magazines and platforms that look for people that are interested in writing – why start a new blog and invest a lot of time in making a name for yourself?

But this quick (online) journalism is always a bit sloppy. As an audience we also  have developed a rather short attention span when it comes to political reporting. It seems that the number of clicks is more important than the quality of a story;  shitstorms replace political discourse and the new rule is: “If it is not on twitter it did not happen” (and whatever buzzfeed does is great).  And unfortunately the blogosphere loves it and many bloggers play along. But it could also provide the context for a blogging renaissance – with a focus on fact-checking,  long form and the sort of background stuff that the mainstream media is not doing anymore. But unfortunately the opposite is true – at least when it comes to EU focused blogs or even political blogs – there are hardly any new ones that stay active for more than a few months. A lack of interest? A problem of incentives?

Social media and the problem of content discovery in the European public sphere

This is not only about blogs anymore but generally about “alternative” or “non-mainstream content”. The idea of bloggingportal has always been simple: discover interesting blog content on EU affairs in different languages. Why? Because there are interesting things out there that go beyond the rather narrow interests of mainstream media. Alternative views, background stories, fact-checking and general EU geekery.

But any form of ‘content discovery’  is also a question of habits. The internet is an interesting case study of how people change their behaviour when it comes to news consumption, ‘content discovery’ and the subsequent interaction with any of the content. Is anyone still using RSS readers to scan more individual sources – or have we reached that point where most people “discover” new content only on their facebook or twitter feed?  Do we really consume news by using various sources or do we rely on one of the big news providers? And what about debates? They seemed to have moved from blog comments to twitter or facebook. We might have arrived in the filter bubble without noticing. The rise of the social media giants made it also more difficult for individual alternative voices to break into the mainstream. The early adopters have a clear advantage – more followers can mean more influence, early adopters could be seen as the new gatekeepers.

What does this mean for bloggingportal? The European public sphere seems to exist only through the lens of the various national discourses. It is a challenge for any pan-European media services to break into the national sphere. The end of presseurop was a powerful reminder how challenging  it is to make an impact – and how difficult it is to create a sustainable service.

So, this blog post included more questions than answers – feel free to use the old-fashioned blog comments to provide some answers. Is there still a need for a service like bloggingportal? Or more generally: How do you discover “new content” these days?

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