Dear Commissioners, stop broadcasting, and start engaging!
February 9th, 2010 by Eurosocialiste

In the new European Commission set-up, there are two nominations that make me quite sceptical: that of Neelie Kroes at the Digital Agenda, and that of Viviane Reding at Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.

First the person who will be in charge of the so-called digital agenda for Europe is a 69-year-old woman, current Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. I can’t help but wonder: is a person who should actually be retired the right one to lead Europe into the future? Can she understand what the digital revolution is all about? I doubt it. The Spanish socialist party’s spokesperson for the digital economy is a 30-year-old woman. I think that’s the way it should be because one cannot apply old methods to new phenomena.

Then the Communication portfolio – held by one of the most decent Commissioners so far, Margot Wallström, simply disappeared. Apparently, the competence for communication will be under Viviane Reding’s portfolio. I followed her hearing. Although it is not humanly possible to follow 3 hours of Commissioner hearing -and I might have therefore missed something- I’m pretty sure there were almost no questions about communication. At some point, as this blog reports, Viviane Reding mentioned that, as a former journalist her approach would be to find interesting stories to tell about the EU. Clearly she still thinks that in order to make the EU closer to the citizen, the EU needs to be better communicated. As many EU communicators, she’s wrong. The EU needs to communicate WITH the citizens and not TO the citizens. So I’m begging you, please: stop broadcasting, and start engaging!

EU leaders’ basic misunderstanding on how they should communicate is well reflected in their use of social media. I did a quick study. On Facebook, José Manuel Barroso has 337 fans, Catherine Ashton 204, Neelie Kroes 717, and Viviane Reding… well, she just doesn’t have a profile. To give you a point of comparison, I -Miss Anybody- personally have 565 friends on Facebook, and 155 fans of the Eurosocialist fan page. Surely top EU officials can do better than that! The presence of EU leaders on Twitter is even more pathetic. They simply are not there at all, at least officially, because the vacuum their absence creates has been filled by either fake accounts: such as @JMDBarroso and @hermanvanrompuy or cybersquatting: @CatherineAshton, @VivianeReding @neeliekroes.

Dear Commissioners, you can’t be serious. Communicating with citizens is actually easy to do: just go where they are. You ought to take an example from the European Parliament president, Jerzy Buzek, who has a remarkably different approach: 2.462 fans on Facebook, an official Twitter profile that has already 1.006 followers, though it opened just a few weeks ago, and he is the only one of the above to have links to his social network accounts on his Web page. Last month the European Commission’s Internet editors and webmasters published an appeal to their bosses so that they start harnessing the power of the Internet for better communication. This letter clearly shows that the Commission has competent staff on the matter. The question then is: how long will EU leaders keep on ignoring the communication revolution that is taking place at the moment?

NB: Thanks to the good work of Commission staff, a list of EU institutions’ Twitter and Facebook accounts can be found here.

UPDATE February 10th: @dicknieuwenhuis informs me that Janez Potočnik, new Commissioner for the Environment has opened a Twitter account today! Congratulations!

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9 Responses  
  • Jon Worth writes:
    February 9th, 2010 at 00:51

    I think it’s wrong to point the finger at Reding here. She has never shown much appetite for communicating the EU. She’s happiest when she’s showing what she’s done.

    No, all of this strikes me as a typical bit of Barroso positioning. Having created the Comms portfolio and having given it to Wallström he created a rod for his own back – a Commissioner determined to shine the light into some of the darker corners of EU business, to shake the cosy gentlemen’s way of working in the Commission. As I understand it Wallström and Barroso did not get on well, but the former was un-sackable, and changing her portfolio would have been damaging.

    When the new team arrived there was no obvious replacement for Wallström, it presented the ideal opportunity to drop the Comms commitment and return things to the previous state of affairs.

    Or am I too cynical?

  • Eurosocialiste writes:
    February 9th, 2010 at 23:06

    True! And I hadn’t realised but now that the Lisbon treaty is fully ratified, there is no need for the Plan D -D like Democracy, Dialogue and Debate- anymore! I sincerely hope you’re being cynical rather than realistic… sic.

  • Ryan Heath writes:
    February 10th, 2010 at 13:56

    I think it’s very interesting that you seem to disagree with Neelie Kroes based on her age, rather than any actual policy difference.

    I think it’s disgraceful to say she “should actually be retired” – that attitude is the reason why Europe faces such debt and innovation problems. Kroes has more imagination and energy than most people half her age. Besides, I would think as a socialist you would want all age groups to have the skills and access to technology that might improve their lives, and that an older Commissioner might be useful in achieving that.

  • french derek writes:
    February 10th, 2010 at 19:20

    I’m with Ryan Heath here. Neelie Kröes showed in her time as Competition Commissioner that she is well aware of the power (and defaults) of matters digital. Why so ageist? (Bien sur, ls socialistes en France préférent que l’age de retraite sera toujours 60 – mais préconise aussi les possibilités à travailler apres cet age?).

    As for Ms Reding’s wish to offer EU citizens more information on what the eU is doing, I think you show your own misunderstanding of your constituents’ awareness of the eU (if not that of other countries’ citizens). The media generally shun EU news. Probably correctly – since so much is mundane. But “good news” stories are passed off as national government triumphs, whilst painful decisions are “down to EU interference”. Perhaps you should be listening to your electorate?

  • Eurosocialiste writes:
    February 10th, 2010 at 22:56

    I always find it funny that people who are probably not socialist try to tell me what I should think as a socialist.
    Yes I think at 69 Neelie Kroes should be retired. There’s nothing wrong about being retired, there are also plenty of ways to remain active as a pensionner, ways that may be more useful to society than a full-time paid job. Don’t get me wrong, I value experience. And I don’t deny Neelie’s competence. I also respect her very much for the political courage she has shown. But, as a white person can not truly understand what being a black person is, as a man can not truly understand what being a woman is, I don’t think a 69-year-old can truly understand what digital revolution is. Neelie Kroes, Vivianne Reding and most high level politicians of their generation do not use social media, simply because they do not get it. It is not part of their culture or of their daily life. They haven’t grown up with it. Neelie will probably be good at the economic part of the digital agenda, but she certainly lacks a vision on this.

  • Joe Social writes:
    April 5th, 2010 at 19:58

    Eurosocialiste showing her true colours. discriminating people on the basis of their age. why not on the basis of her nationality, or gender? and why do you ahve to be on facebook or tweet to engage with people? it is perhaps better to actually be doing things rather than simply telling what should be done. good thing Walstrom left for pastures new. she was occupying a lot of space in the Berlaymont and her work was like a balloon… full of hot air. she will not be missed.

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