With just two more months to go until the European Parliament elections, it seems that the number of initiatives aimed to attract people to vote is growing at a steady pace. Unsurprisingly, following the success of the Obama campaign in the US Presidential elections, the EU decided to make use of the Internet, thus trying to reach out to a larger and more diverse audience, that might not be at all familiar with the activities of the European institutions.
After creating a special page on the EP portal, dedicated to the elections, this week a new project was launched. This time, the target group is very well delimited- it is the “MTV generation”. And yes, believe it or not, the European Commission teamed up with MTV on a campaign entitled “Can You Hear Me Europe”, aiming to engage young people to express their views on Europe. MTV has been running campaigns on political and social issues in the US and also on the national level, in various countries. The first one on a European level, this initiative promises to be a channel by means of which European youth can get their thoughts and ideas on Europe and the EU across. The campaign brings together “traditional” media – MTV- with some of the biggest and most popular social networks (such as Facebook and Twitter), with the purpose of opening up the debate to young voters, by making, at the same time, the European arena more appealing to them, although it remains to be seen whether turnout icreases with this campaign. In other words, the European Commission, in its continuous drive towards communicating the EU better, went a step further and brought the EU debate, officially, in the virtual space used by young people in their every day life. It is not a completely new thing, as many Commissioners and MEPs have already established their presence in the blogosphere and, most recently, on Twitter; nevertheless, the “Can You Hear Me Europe” campaign shows a more focused effort, addressing a specific target group in the context of a specific event: the EP elections. As we all know, the more targeted a communication effort is, the better the results, so we’ll definitely keep an eye on the developments.
Alongside this specific campaign, it is interesting to observe and compare the multitude of (mostly) internet-based initiatives linked to the EP elections in June. While not directly initiated (but in some cases and to some extent funded) by the EU, they involve Universities or academics, “think tanks”, consultancies and journalists. The unifying point is that they all aim, on the one hand, at informing an raising awareness about the importance of the EP and of the elections and, on the other hand, at engaging people to vote. Here are some of the prominent examples:
- on the more academic side: Predict09.eu, launched this week, is a statistical tool devised by three leading political scientists, to predict the outcome of the EP elections in June 2009; EU Profiler, a project led by the European University Institute in Florence to be launched (rather late) at the end of April, is meant to help people position themselves from a political perspective, which would arguably facilitate their choice in the elections.
- on the more journalistic side: the Th!ink About It competition, whereby the European Journalism Centre (EJC) engaged bloggers from the 27 Member States in a debate on the EP elections, and EUdebate2009, a multilingual website launched by cafebabel.com, giving the chance to different actors, from citizens and civil society organisations to political parties and candidates, to have their say.
The trend shown by these developments is undoubtedly a positive one. However, one cannot help noticing that all these campaigns, even though mostly involving grassroots elements, are initiated, designed and/or funded at the EU level. And even though they have indeed the potential to develop a so-much-sought-for European public sphere, it is questionable how efficient they will be without real ownership at the national and local level. Moreover, what is needed is a public debate on the EU that will continue also after the EP elections.
Will the “normal citizen” be swept away by the fever of the first “online elections”, like in the US, or will these initiatives remain barely the online face of what is being perceived as EU propaganda?