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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.

Campaigns on EU issues? Focus on Spitzenkandidaten? The reality about #ep2014 campaigns in one picture

merkelEP2014

This is an official #ep2014 campaign poster.

If you think #ep2014  campaigns should focus on EU issues and not advertise national politicians you may want to sign Kosmopolito’s #ep2014 pledge.

The #ep2014 pledge

Here is a simple pledge for everyone who is running for the European Parliament in 2014.

I hereby pledge that…

1. I will only campaign on  EU issues.

2. I will always explain why a problem needs to be solved at EU level and how it can be done.

3. I will explain the role of the European Parliament in the  institutional context of the EU.

4. I will reply honestly to citizens about the possibilities and limitations of being an MEP.

Debating EU politics beyond the ‘Eurosceptic’ – ‘Europhile’ divide

I know it’s an old debate – but since I have returned to Brussels I keep stumbling into conversations that end up in arguing about what it means to be “pro EU”. Well,  I happen to think that being labelled “pro-EU”, “europhile” or “eurosceptic” is rather silly. Here is why:

  • I think  MEPs did a good job amending the #connectedcontinent directive last week by specifying the questionable “specialized services” – but I am not sure I can support the ITRE Committee and the Commission in this process. So just because I think the policy outcome is positive I am considered a “europhile”?
  • I don’t think Angela Merkel’s policy on ‘saving the euro’ has been very clever but I also realise the treaty limitations in these areas and the difficult political environment she had to operate in.  I can distinguish between the “troika” mechanism, the role of the European Commission and German and Greek politics.  So I may oppose the troika, understand the risks of eurobonds but think the fiscal compact could be counterproductive,  at the same time I may think it is a good idea to impose stricter financial regulations on banks.   Does that make me automatically a “anti-EU” for being anti-austerity or a “europhile” for supporting more regulation in a certain policy areas?
  • I think the German car industry had an unhealthy influence on the German position in the Council when it decided on CO2 emissions. So would that make me “anti-German”?  Or “anti-EU” because I think the EU’s climate policy is a failure?
  • I believe the EU – and especially Catherine Ashton – did a good job during the Iran negotiations. But I know that member states still rule in foreign policy and that it is a policy field that often relies on external factors beyond our control. So yes, EU foreign policy can be effective over time but it lacks instruments to deliver short terms success stories. Does that make me a “europhile” for believing that member states  can punch above their weight by using the EU?
  • I  don’t know what to think about TTIP. It sounds like a good idea but I also think people are overselling it and there is a real danger that consumer standards are being watered down. The process is not transparent so I criticize it – does it make me a “eurosceptic” or “anti- American”?
  • Some EU projects are useful but some projects are clearly not thought through. At the same time  EU institutions often lack the appropriate control mechanisms – and member states don’t want to invest in additional personnel. Am I now a “eurosceptic” for suggesting that the EU is not working because of the failure of a certain project?
  • The Dublin 2 regulation is not working and is creating a “Fortress Europe”,  tragedies happening in the Mediterranean on a daily basis. Of course we should change it – but member states are happy the way it is.  Nobody wants poor refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa or Syria and nobody wants to spend more money on issues like that. Plus, the immigration “debate” in most member states ruined the possibility of a policy discourse. So, is critizising the Dublin 2 regulation “eurosceptic” for suggesting that “Europe” is partly responsible for the tragedies in the Mediterranean?
  • Generally I think that a lot lot of  problems are transnational and can only be dealt with by working on the EU level – from climate change to tax evasion and  a range of cross border linkages. I think it should be easier (and cheaper) to travel by train trough Europe or vote in national elections where I pay my taxes. I think it should be easier to access health care and pension systems in countries I live in. I like to defend fundamental rights across Europe – of course  I realise that we lack instruments to ‘punish’  Hungary or Italy.  I naively believe that countries should not violate the fundamental rights of citizens it other EU countries (Hello GCHQ!). This sounds like common sense but it also  make me a “europhile” for suggesting that the EU should play a greater role in these sort of issues.
  • Many EU institutions are relatively transparent and easy to approach – except the Council. This is a problem – but it cannot be changed without the consent of the member states that don’t have an interest in changing it. Am I now a “eurosceptic” because I criticise a EU institution?

This list could go on. The question remains the same:  What am I? A europhile or a europsceptic? Well, I think it is too easy to focus on these two labels – the reality is more complex. In fact we should stop using both labels! The problem is that we perceive the EU as some sort of non-political entity unable to change. But the opposite is true. As any national political system there are different political forces at play. On the EU level we are simply bad in identifying the actor that can be made responsible for a certain policy choice. (the  irony here is that Brussels based lobbyists have a much better grasp of what is going on – so is it really that complex to find out? Questions about the quality of EU journalism spring to mind… )

Another problem is linked to competences – do we really know what EU competences are  – or do we just believe what we hear from journalists or local politicians?  We seem to mix up national and EU competences – as well the difference between a decision on the EU level, the involvement of national actors and the implementation on the national or regional level. It is Brussels, it’s all the same, isn’t it?

Just compare it with talking about national politics – criticising your government does not mean you want to overthrow the government. You simply want another government. In a federal state it is pretty normal to argue about the mechanisms how to distribute money between entities  – but again, that doesn’t mean you want to abolish the system. If you  don’t like a law you can protest against it and vote a different party next time  – it doesn’t mean you want to get rid of the political system.

The same should happen on the EU level – citizens should be able to evaluate EU policy outcomes and vote in national and European elections accordingly. (I  know this is a bit more complex – but in principle this is how it *should* be ) – and this is also how EU reform should look like. (link slightly unrelated)

The EU needs debates about different policy options. Basically the EU is here to stay – so if we want good policy outcomes we should argue about issues, proposals and counter-proposals.

PS: Yes,  I know, the line on ” the EU is here to stay” will put me firmly in the “europhile” camp…

Differentiated EU integration

Good overview of the state of EU integration – from a new CEPS report on EU reform. (click here for additional complexity

CEPSdifferentiated

David Cameron’s “EU reform” explained in 4 tweets

After blogging about David Cameron’s “EU reform ideas”  (and some ideas that would *really* make a difference) I am getting annoyed by this renegotiation debate:  Every Sunday the British elite presents another “EU reform” idea but they don’t seem to notice that a) it is not a priority for the British citizens b) it is not a priority for the rest of the EU c) most of it is impossible or to vague to achieve d) most of it shows a profound lack of understanding how the EU works and d) the government  fails to see that some things could be achieved by changing procedures how the UK government/parliament works. Anyway, this whole story provided me with the opportunity to develop a series of ‘political analysis in 140 characters’ tweets:

Why does Cameron want EU reform?

So, what is the problem?


But what does Cameron really want?

So, his ideas are vague and resemble a Daily Mail story about the EU, I’d rather keep the status quo:

Why Miliband’s ‘EU referendum policy’ is dangerous for Britain and the EU

Well, it finally happened: Today, Brexit has become a real possibility – maybe not in the next couple of years but possibly in the long term. Under a Labour government and in the unlikely event of a new EU treaty Ed Miliband promised an in/out referendum in the UK – if “new powers are transferred to the EU”. There are few problems with this:

1) I don’t think any Labour government can ever win an in/out referendum in the UK. It will be impossible for Labour to win against the Tories in opposition and the anti-EU media in the UK.

2) One can only hope that Miliband will never have to implement his “in/out referendum policy”. It’s a recipe for disaster. What does it mean to ‘transfer new powers to the EU’? Even if it’s a treaty for the eurozone only, public opinion in the UK will perceive it as another “broken promise” if he decides not to go for the referendum.

3) Ed Miliband’s referendum lock is a new level of how to blackmail the rest of the EU. Under a Labour government any new EU treaty negotiation will always be linked to “Brexit” – not the best starting point for any negotiation over a new EU treaty.

4) It is one thing to promise a referendum over a new EU treaty. Indeed, this can be perceived as a good thing (although I disagree with the idea of having referendums on these things) but linking an in/out referendum to a new treaty that transfers ‘new powers’ is utter bollocks. There are bad treaties but the in/out question will always overshadow specific treaty issues. This is neither democratic nor strategically clever. Basically you blackmail your own population: “Accept this treaty or we leave the EU” – hardly a democratic approach! (or are we talking about 2 referendums in the case of a new treaty?)

Of course this policy can pay off in the short term (= until the next general election that is) but is it a viable strategy? Yes, it keeps Britain in the EU as long as there is no new EU treaty (and chances of it happening are minimal, except for a eurozone treaty). Miliband may manage to keep the ‘Europe question’ off the agenda in the years ahead (which is a good thing!) The “EU question” is also not one of the main concerns of the British public so everything that makes Europe a boring topic is a positive development. Plus the British and international media seem to buy the line that “Miliband rejects EU referendum in 2017″. Fair enough, but what will happen in the unlikely event of a new treaty? If this becomes part of the British approach to the EU it is likely that we will never see another EU-wide treaty again. Expect more agreements that legally resemble Schengen, the Euro and the Fiscal compact. It is clear that Miliband does not want to have a in/out referendum – but why did he not say it like this? Opposing an in/out referendum and defending EU membership – this would have been a clear policy. (And, remember: there is still the ‘normal’ referendum lock on power transfers/new treaties that has been passed by the present government a few years ago)

So, what is the lesson here? Politicians always think they can ‘match’ a policy with something that sounds similar to the policy of their main rival . But this race to the bottom never works. You can’t beat the original. On the EU, the Conservatives can’t beat UKIP and Labour can’t beat the Conservatives.

[PS: I thought I’d never say this but I think I prefer the ‘in/out referendum policy’ of the Tories. Hmm…]

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…

Lessons from Frank Underwood

“Lessons in ruthlessness”, to be precise. I am sure you will enjoy this:

Here are more quotes by Frank”The Whip”Underwood.

Is EU criminal law a threat to British justice?

John R Spencer is a Professor of Law at Cambridge University. In this video (which even includes a reference to Borgen!) he basically destroys UKIP’s take on EU criminal law/justice. You may remember this debate about “corpus juris” which is quite popular in eurosceptic circles  –  see for example this article by Nigel Farage in the Independent. Suffice to say: it is factually incorrect but it builds upon a well established body of euromyhts.  Cherished by many eurosceptics in the UK and frequently repeated in the British media, or in John Spencer’s words: “Nonsense about the EU does not cease to be nonsense because it is written by an established politician or printed in a reputable newspaper.”

h/t: Hugh Barton-Smith 

Lying with statistics – feat. ECR and Daniel Hannan

Yesterday the ECR Group announced that they would not nominate  a candidate for EC president because participating in the process is considered to be too “federal”. At the same time they want to take part in one of “leader debates” in the run-up of the elections…

Anyway, in order to back up their point of view they presented the results of a ComRes opinion poll. At the press conference Daniel Hannan said: “There is no evidence of popular demand for having more pan-European elected positions”. Unfortunately, ECR’s own opinion poll tells a different story that contradicts Mr Hannan’s assessment:  39% of the respondents agree with the idea that the European Parliament is choosing the next EC president “as this will make the winning candidate more legitimate” –  27% are against it.  (p. 8)

But the opinion poll is also a text book case study in how to lie with statistics. Unfortunately some journalists and tweeps (me included!) fell for it and wrote stuff like “65 % of Europeans who never heard of…” or similar snippets. Here is the methodological note of the survey:

ComRes interviewed 1 , 200 adults from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland (200 per country) aged 18+ online between 5 th and 14 th February 2014. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults aged 18+.

So what are the problems? First of all, it is a very weak sample and it may not be entirely representative. There are also methodological problems when it comes to online surveys (who fills out online surveys?). But: 200 is a very small sample for each of the countries (other surveys would base their results on 1500 respondents for Germany alone!)  And why did they choose 200 respondents for each country despite huge differences in population size? It is also a bit unclear how the weighting  has been carried out (ex-ante or ex-post? only regarding age?)

The survey also fails to cover “Europe” and is – by all means – not representative for Europe or the EU.  So we should not talk about “Europeans” when citing the survey. The aim of the study was “to understand public’s attitude across Europe to the European Union and the upcoming European elections”. However, the study only covers 6 EU member states: So whatever results you find they only apply to those 6 countries and do not have any statistical validity for the rest of Europe.

ComRes must be aware of these shortcomings as they consistently refer to “respondents”  instead of talking about a broader category (for example “voters”, “Europeans” or “Germans”). It is a typical survey made for journalists with short attention spans. The sample design basically triggers certain (seemingly) logical associations such as “that’s what Europe thinks”, “In Europe, this is a problem…”, “A new opinion poll about what Europeans think…” – the problem is simple: All those statements are wrong, the ECR survey cannot be used to back up such claims.

Reporting Europe Prize 2014

Reporting Europe Prize!

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.

Paul Dacre received EU farm subsidies

That’s a nice story: Paul Dacre, the infamous editor of the Daily Mail, received  generous EU subsidies for his estate in Scotland. (hat tip: Zelo Street)

For those of you who don’t know Paul Dacre: Some have described him as ‘the man who hates liberal Britain‘ and called his newspaper, the Daily Mail,  ‘the newspaper that rules Britain’. One of his side projects is to run/invent anti-EU stories. Over the years a large number of euromyths and fabricated anti-EU stories originated in the Daily Mail. Unfortunately, the Daily Mail is the most read newspaper in the UK and played an important role in creating the toxic, uninformed eurosceptic discourse in the UK. Especially the campaign-style journalism of the Daily Mail which is based on myths, half-truths and the absence of facts is an example what’s wrong in British journalism. (also interesting in this context: Alastair Campbell’s submission to the Leveson enquiry)

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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