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The Spanish government is doing a lot and knows how to make it clear
Jul 19th, 2009

I’ve arrived in Barcelona. I’ve had a walk in my neighbourhood along the Gaudi Avenue between the majestic Sant Pau hospital (below left, behind the billboard) and the breathtaking Sagrada Familia (below right, behind the billboard).

These are just two examples of how much the Spanish government seems to be advertising what they do, as -in a one-hour walk- I’ve seen two other billboards of this kind. Apparently the Sant Pau hospital work is financed by the Spanish government’s PlanE, the much advertised recovery plan to stimulate the economy and boost employment, while the Sagrada Familia work is financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund. Both billboards seem to have been put in place by Barcelona’s city council.

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Eurosocialist becomes Eurosocialista
Jul 17th, 2009

La Sagrada Familia -

La Sagrada Familia - CC MorBCN on Flickr

It’s time for Eurosocialist to take her summer vacation and go rest in Barcelona until the end of August. I’m still planning on blogging from there but probably at a slower pace. Who knows what kind of new inspiration the Catalan sun will give me!

I started blogging less than two months ago and already over 500 visitors came to one of my sites, almost as many are following me on Twitter, and 40 people have even suscribed to my RSS feed. Thanks to all of those who have read me so far. A special thanks to the ones that left comments on the posts because this blog is above all meant to be a place for debate. Hasta muy pronto!

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Social media in plain English
Jul 13th, 2009

Ever wondered what social media actually meant? It’s as simple as ice cream…

So, fellow bloggers: do you think you are like pecan ice cream or rather like pickle ice cream?

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The political culture of Generation Y aka Generation 2.0: Openness, Ethics and Humility
Jul 10th, 2009

A week ago I published a post about Generation 2.0 that dealt with the cultural consequences of the digital revolution. Yesterday, I discovered on Twitter the term of Generation Y thanks to @boriswandoren. The statement “Generation Y” is used to qualify the generation roughly born since the end of the seventies, which is the first one to have massively integrated the use of digital technologies in their daily lives. Boris Wandoren, Jon Worth and I engaged in a Twitter debate about the necessity of Generation Y values to be represented more in politics, which led Jon Worth to write a blogpost disproving the generational argument, stating that the main issue in today’s politics is more the structural difficulty of political parties to integrate “risk takers, leaders, people with drive, people with ideology, and bind them into a party structure”. Julien Frisch picked up this post, partly agreeing with Jon while arguing at the same time that there is some truth in the generational issue.

I still believe it is a matter of generation. But don’t get me wrong, I do not mean it is simply a question of replacing elder politicians by younger ones. That would be too easy. To paraphrase Jon, “it’s more important than that”. The generation question is not only an age question; it is much more relevant as a cultural question. Many young people still think like older generations while some elder people embrace the cultural changes younger generations bring in. Take the example of the 1960s cultural protest movement. Back then, not all young people were culturally liberal hippies! Some were conservative. They were the same age though. Yet looking back in history, at that moment it’s the values of the young progressive hippies -joined by their open-minded elders- that won the cultural battle.

The relevance of the generation question is more culture than age-related. So what is the specific culture of Generation Y and how does it matter? According to the Wikipedia articles I could read on the topic in English and French, what characterises Generation Y -at least in Western countries- is the following:

  • They didn’t grow up with the apocalyptical threat of the cold war.
  • They have integrated the moral transformations of the 1960s/1970s.
  • They haven’t known the world without AIDS.
  • They were young enough when computers and portable electronic devices started to widely disseminate so that they could gain an intuitive command of these technologies, much better than that of their parents.
  • They were born at a time when ecology started to raise interest in the wide public.

This list is certainly not comprehensive, and more importantly not entirely relevant to all geographies, but it is still good food for thought. Although these Wikipedia articles give a good description of Generation Y’s culture, they do not relate it to political behaviours. And that’s where we get back to the point I wanted to make.

The emergence of this new culture will have a long-term impact on politics. My guess is that Obama’s election is the first visible sign of what the political legacy of Generation Y will be. I believe that the future of politics lies in Openness, Ethics and Humility:

  • Openness because, thanks to digital technologies, the public debate has become much more open to citizen’s direct interaction, which also leads to the necessity for institutions to be more transparent. Openness also because tolerance is one of the defining values of Generation Y that believes in sexual liberties and the promotion of minority rights.
  • Ethics because in the past decades there has been a growing disenchantment about politics as a consequence of recurring corruption scandals and a perceived discrepancy between what politicians say they stand for and what their behaviours are.
  • Humility because in today’s world one can become an idol in just a minute, only to fall back as quickly into anonymity, because the world has become so complex that no ideology can pretend to have all the keys to world peace, because we live in an interdependent world where the fate of the richest is linked to that of the poorest.

There is a growing demand for a new way of doing politics. However, there is still not quite a satisfactory offer. Stay tuned: more posts coming up on Generation Y, the open society and what it means for politics.

Update on 11 July:

Boris Wandoren’s take on the topic: http://www.clermont-citygroup.eu/2009/07/11/is-it-more-important-than-the-generational-issue/comment-page-1/#comment-454

and the amazing article by Kevin Kelly on digital socialism: http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsocialism?currentPage=all

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Communicating Europe: Mission Impossible? What if the problem was elsewhere…
Jul 8th, 2009

On Monday, Forum 311 -an association of young French professionals in Brussels- organised a debate on the theme “Communicating Europe: Mission Impossible?” I couldn’t go. Fortunately, other bloggers attended, and thanks to them I could read two reports of the debate. They are quite different in style and content. While communication professional, Michael Malherbe, makes a detailed presentation of the themes that were discussed, un Européen jamais content chose to report on the atmosphere of the debate. If you can read French, you should definitely visit those sites.

Although European institutions have made remarkable efforts this year to “communicate Europe” with a view to prepare the European elections, the turnout has been yet again lower than the previous vote. This is a depressing fact for the communicators of Europe, hence the title. One has to admit that they did do their best. Consequently, they can’t help but think it is a lost cause. It has been mission impossible. Willy Helin, Head of the European Commission representation in Belgium, went as far as calling it a “suicidal mission”. What if the problem actually laid in the very expression used to solve it? “Communicating Europe”: why not “communicating with Europe”, or even “communicating with (or between) Europeans”?

At the time of the debates on the French “non”, the Dutch “nee” and the Irish “no” to the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty, each time I was stroke by the reaction of Eurospecialists from all sides. The vast majority shared the same analysis: had Europeans been more informed, they would have voted “oui”, “ja”, “yes” in chorus. Maybe. Possibly. But as with this debate, the problem isn’t there.

What is needed is not to “communicate Europe” i.e. to spread the good word of the enlightened elite to the uneducated, but to communicate in Europe, between Europeans about Europe. The idea of “communicating Europe” is didactic. Institutions provide information on what they are, but it just works one way. They send information towards recipients – the European citizens – while they haven’t even asked for it. The idea of “communicating with Europe” or “between Europeans” is interactive. The point is to foster debate about Europe. I think the main problem of the European communication is that it is institutional, i.e. consensual, depoliticised, and as such, non polemical. Consequently, it is boring. The whole problem is here.

Although I am sorry about the result of the referendum on the European constitutional treaty in France, I still think something utterly positive happened during this campaign. For once, we talked about Europe! The French have been passionate about this campaign. Everybody talked about it. Why was that? Because there were opposite sides that confronted one another over comprehensible political choices, because there were lively debates, because for the first time, Europe got politicised. I am convinced that the solution to the problem of the gap between the European institutions and the Europeans is the politicisation of Europe. That’s what my political activism is driven by.

Alright, I can already hear you say “here is another mission impossible!” Because national parties (some) are against it, because national political cultures are too different one from the other (is that really so?), because Europe is too complicated (not more than national political systems), because people are not interested in Europe (self-fulfilling prophecy?), and so on, and so forth… Despite all that, I still believe in it. Dislocating these prejudices by building bridges between national politics and European politics is precisely the focus of this blog. For there is no such word as “can’t” – literally translated into my mother tongue as “impossible is not French”. I know a similar expression exists in Dutch: “Onmegelijk bestaat niet”, which means “Impossible doesn’t exist”. Do you have a similar expression in your own language? The floor is yours!

Photo Credits: European Parliament on Flickr

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How addicted to Twitter am I after just two weeks of usage?
Jul 8th, 2009

How addicted to Twitter are you?

Created by The Oatmeal

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Generation 2.0: not just a technological revolution, it’s a cultural revolution
Jul 1st, 2009

I joined the Twitter community just a week ago. Although at first I was skeptical about this tool, the eye-opener blogposts on the political use of Twitter written by Jon Worth and Julien Frisch talked me into paying a little more attention to it. A couple of days later Bente Kalsnes’s post on political geeks in Europe convinced me Twitter was something to consider seriously. Now I am hooked. The other day I was juggling as usual between the windows of Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and my RSS reader, to name but a few, when suddenly it hit me: ten years ago, none of that was part of my life, and of anybody’s either as a matter of fact.

When I was a teenager in the nineties, just a little more than ten years ago, we had no mobile phones, and hardly any personal computers. In France, we were still using the Minitel. Mobile phones only started to widespread when I went to university. Our teachers still hardly dared to ask to hand in typed papers instead of hand-written ones. Just a few of us actually owned a computer. Ten years later, we are all emailing, browsing the web, sending text messages on our mobile phones, having hundreds of friends on Facebook, posting our ideas on blogs, and participating in lively twittering micro-discussions with people we’ve never met. All that happened within 10 years, and it has profoundly changed our relationship to the world, and especially our relationship with the political sphere.

We are witnessing the beginning of a whole new era. The digital revolution will probably be seen in the history of the public space as the most significant milestone since the invention of movable type printing by Gutenberg in the 15th century. Anyone can have access to any kind of information through a simple internet connection. Information has become a common good. It is not anymore a source of power only reserved for the educated. This is deeply changing the political equilibrium. Anyone can now influence the public debate rather easily, provided they are a little witty, and understand how to make a strategic use of web tools such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Information is not top-down anymore. Information comes from anywhere and from anyone. The public sphere is becoming more and more horizontal. This is having a huge impact on our democracies. For decades, political debates have been led by political parties, journalists, and intellectuals. Now anyone can voice their opinion on the web and get a lot of attention. There is no monopoly of the information anymore. We are just at the beginning of a new era. The tech people call it the digital society. The Commission officials call it the information society. I would call it the open society.

This evolution of society is causing a serious challenge to mainstream political parties. These organisations have heavy structures. The bigger they got, the most top-down they went in the way they operated internally. That doesn’t work anymore because thanks to the Internet revolution, the information is not the monopoly of the few. But mainstream political parties are so frozen in time in the way they operate that they have been having trouble integrating the Internet revolution. Of course, they all try and use the latest technologies, have fancy websites with all the coolest functionalities. However they haven’t managed to integrate the input these new functionalities bring in. They just don’t get it. It’s not a matter of integrating the new technologies. It’s a matter of understanding how much these technologies have created a whole new culture, a wide-open culture, based on the widespread availability of information and the possibility of all to feed the society with more.

This blogpost is just the beginning of a long series. I feel the topic of the open society is essential to understanding the changing political landscape we are witnessing. The success of the Greens in France, the election of the Pirate Party in Sweden, and all the talks on the free sharing of data on the Internet are just other indicators of that move towards a new type of society, which is leading to the necessity of thinking new ways of doing politics.

Photo 1: “Le” Minitel (groundbreaking French technology). Credits: Wikipedia Commons

Photo 2: Jump on the social media wagon. Credits: Matt Hamm on Flickr

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Just a thought: what exactly is the European-added value in the Commission pushing for smoking bans?
Jul 1st, 2009

The Commission is calling on member-states to all implement smoking bans in public places. The rationale for this action is to have healthier Europeans. Alright, I get it. Smoking is bad for you, we should all quit. However I can’t help but think: what does the EU has to do with this? What is the added-value to push this agenda forward to a European level? Honestly I really don’t see to what extent that issue is a European one. If citizens smoke and get sick from it, then it is a public health issue that concerns the social security systems, which are purely national. So, again why is the EU bothering? I understand that in the field of health, there is a need for European action to prevent the spread of viruses and epidemic diseases as they can easily cross borders. That is why this kind of policy makes sense at an EU level. But cigarette smoke doesn’t cross border, does it? Anyone has a clue why the Commission is pushing that idea forward? I am happy to debate about it and change my mind. For the moment, I think the smoking ban campaign is a good example of these policies that make little sense at a European level, and only have the negative effect of building on the image that “Brussels” is a dark force that imposes constraints on member states against their will. The EU has better things to do, don’t you think?


Photo credits: Mandolux on Flickr

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© Eurosocialiste 2010. Everything posted on this blog is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer or its clients. The content of this blog has been revised by Fabtrad (fabtrad @ gmail.com)