Category: Digital Public Sphere (page 1 of 5)

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.

Still no pan-European media. Are we nuts?

Interesting talk by Wolfgang Blau.

Wer soll uns regulieren?

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?

The end of Presseurop

presseuropIt is a sad week for the “European Public Sphere”. If this concept ever existed, Presseurop was probably a rare example of how it could look like. But earlier this week we learned about the end of presseurop due to a lack of funding. Here is the official announcement. Presseurop is actually quite a remarkable service that translates opinion pieces from newspapers across Europe (which also makes it a rather expensive service to run). It is truly multilingual – and also has quite a sophisticated comment section. If you don’t know presseurop check it out before it disappears.

But let’s get to the core of the problem of the whole service: it is an EU funded project. Now it would be easy to say that the EU should not fund websites or media projects. But it is more complex than that: It basically opens the debate about public funding for media services – think of the BBC or ARD/ZDF that also rely on public funding (often based on a fee license). Now I don’t want to compare the BBC to  Presseurop. The real question should always be whether a media service has editorial independence. I always found Presseurop balanced and – especially in the heat of the eurocrisis – a reliable source of opinions that reflected the mood across Eurozone. The problem is that as soon as you get EU funding (and that is even more so for media projects) people seem to think that you are a mouthpiece for the institution that funds you. In the case of Presseurop that is not the case,  the case of EuroparlTV shows a different picture (I know both projects rely on different funding models and follow different communication logics  – but the external result is similar: publicly available media services funded by the EU).

Two newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch – The Times and the Wall Street Journal - attacked the Commission’s funding stream for projects such as Presseurop (and some would argue that they were instrumental in bringing down the call for proposals!). The European Commission made a tactical mistake here. By publishing a call for proposals that is basically tailor-made for Presseurop – but at the same time using language to suggest that all sorts of media could be supported – it really opened itself to criticism. At the same time, we should not forget that Murdoch’s papers also routinely attack the BBC – for the same reason: public media funding. I happen to think that public broadcasters are a good thing and it may be time to think whether we need a similar structure on the European level.

The case can be made that Presseurop should be a public good – not hidden behind a paywall or run by a private company – as it provides a service that allows us to get a European perspective on political issues (something that private sector does not seem to be able to deliver). And since Presseurop merely translates articles (there is almost no original writing!) we can argue that the material is essential reading  for an  informed vote at the European Parliament election.

Now you can sign a petition here calling on the EU Commission to renew its funding. But is it really the right approach? Would it not just repeat the mistake to channel EU funding into EU media projects?

So what about private funding?

Newspapers and media organisations across Europe should have an interest in services like Presseurop. It acts as a multiplier and reaches new audiences in different countries. (and to be fair: Presseurop never reached its full potential) Obviously newspapers struggle financially and it is also hard to argue that the original article is behind a paywall or in a paid print copy – and the translation is freely available. But still, there is a case to be made to involve a range of newspapers and other media organisations – and find new funding models in cooperation with them.

Another idea is the paywall/subscription model. Obviously different media outlets have different experiences with these models. The question is also whether there is a large enough customer base that is willing to pay for such a service. Nevertheless, it should not be ruled out – if done cleverly I am sure readers are willing to support the service.

And what about the big European foundations that love investing in European projects (yes I am looking at you – NEF, Bosch, Gulbelkian, Compagnia, Körber, KBS, OSF, Volkswagen, Erste etc.) To fund essay competitions, think tank pamphlets, publications, conferences, scholarships and exchange programmes is a nice and cosy way to spend money – but why not invest in a big project that may actually reach beyond the elites?

ioerror in Berlin

Interesting talk about PRISM, Snowden, digital rights, cryptography, data mining etc.

PS: Jacob Appelbaum’s keynote at the last 29C-3 conference also gives a good overview of what is going on at the moment.

Privacy and Safety

via The New Yorker

http://www.newyorker.com/images/2013/06/24/cartoons/130624_cartoon_046_a17572_p465.jpg

4 years Bloggingportal.eu

Happy Birthday, bloggingportal!

Back

Ok, I am back. Not sure for how long, let’s see… expect some short stuff – maybe I should get into mobile blogging (to use the daily commute in London a bit more efficiently).

Just to reiterate my general problem with EU blogging this year: I work for a think tank in London on European affairs so I get a fair share of geeky EU stuff on a daily basis. And writing blog posts on EU affairs is somehow not my preferred evening activity. So what has changed? Nothing really. Just thought I should give it another try.

Anyway, I am in Zagreb this week at the EFB community conference – if anyone wants to go for a drink – drop me an email.

3loggingportal.eu

Three years of bloggingportal. And what a journey it has been. I remember sitting around a huge table in a flat in Brussels – with a certain Jon Worth and the (back then) mysterious Brusselsblogger – dreaming up something that is now known as bloggingportal. Well, resources were scarce and it took us only another year to launch the actual website in January 2009.  As I said at a conference a few years ago: “Three people, one idea, no money” (hey – I always wanted to quote myself in a blog post!)

Ironically I am blogging this while sitting at exactly the same (and now truly) legendary table in a flat in London… Well, in many ways I would not be here without bloggingportal and all the people I met through the project. So thanks a lot for all your help and support!

We have learnt a lot over the last three years – especially how not to do things. But I guess this is how it has to be. The problem is still the same: We are a bunch of enthusiastic people without a real structure, without money and without much time on our hands. It is a bit like herding anarchist and hungry cats…

So what does the future hold for bloggingportal? I  blogged about our problems in the past and called for a bigger EU blogosphere. As you can imagine not much has been solved – although EU blogging has arguably grown somehwat. To get an idea about the debate on the future of bloggingportal head over to BrusselsbloggerRonny Patz  and Mathew Lowry’s Tagsmanian Devil who all have written more substantial blog posts on the issue.

If you are reading this and you are thinking “well this blogginportal stuff may be a fun thing to do…” – why not get in touch ?  I think we do need people with fresh ideas who are motivated to invest some time in developing the website as well as the bloggingportal concept (whatever that is…). Because it is simple: The media landscape has changed, blogging has changed – even the EU has changed (well, ok this is  debatable!). So maybe bloggingportal needs to change too!

PS. I am not dead – honest. Pseudo-regular blogging resumes as soon as possible… (Reason: new job in London & flat-hunting)

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