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Why the Commission’s proposal is nipping the citizen’s initiative in the bud
Apr 4th, 2010

I’ve never been a great fan of the concept of the European citizen’s initiative. Having to mobilise 1.000.000 people to submit an idea for review by the Commission without the Commission having any obligation to actually act on it, I’ve always thought it could potentially produce great deception, rather than foster enthusiasm for European issues. On the other hand, in times where barely half of the citizens bother to vote to elect their political representatives, I think that any initiative that aims at fostering more citizen participation is good to take, especially when the initiative is meant to promote pan-European debates as it is the case here.

So I read carefully the Commission’s proposal for the citizen’s initiative, and as many commentators (see here, here, here, and here), I was disappointed. The general feeling is that the initial spirit of the citizen’s initiative will be nipped in the bud by unnecessary administrative requirements.

  1. The main problem to me is to require petition signatories to give their ID number. Honestly, who would give their ID number to petition organisers? I wouldn’t, and I’m not even a very wary person. First name, last name, city of residence, email or phone number should be more than enough.
  2. Petition organisers would only get 12 months after they officially register their petition to get 1.000.000 signatories in 1/3rd of member states. Surely that will favour large organisations that have established networks and permanent staff, and will not give enough time for individual citizens to set up campaigns from scratch during their free time. The citizen’s initiative is meant to get citizens actively involved in the political process, not large organisations.
  3. A citizen’s initiative would be checked for admissibility after 300.000 signatures have been collected. In my opinion, that should be done right at the beginning, or not at all. Is there really a need to have it checked anyway? Does it really matter if the initiative doesn’t fall in the competences of the Commission and/or the EU? These are not carved in marble after all.
  4. The proposal also requires that online petitions should have adequate security features. What does that mean exactly? Does it mean that petition organisers would have to purchase expensive security software to get their petition approved? Again, that would favour large organisations, and kill many grass-root campaigns from emerging.
  5. Finally, it would apparently be up to each member state to verify the validity of signatures. So a petition organiser would have to submit its support forms to 9 member states at least. More red-tape again. Less room for citizen-led initiatives.

If ever one petition manages to fulfil all the requirements, it’s not even sure the Commission would make a proposal according to the petition’s request, and the proposal would have to get the European Parliament’s and the Council’s approval anyway. So I can’t help but wonder… is there really a need for that many security safeguards -admissibility check, security software, signatories’ ID numbers and address, authentication of statements of support by member states, etc?

Both the European Parliament and the Council will have to examine the proposal now. Maybe it’s time for some citizen lobbying? Davygee on Twitter the other day suggested to set up a social media campaign to improve the Commission’s proposal. Who’s up for it?

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Dear Commissioners, stop broadcasting, and start engaging!
Feb 9th, 2010

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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So long 2009! Welcome 2010!
Jan 10th, 2010

A couple of days ago, I took part in the recording of the podcast Chasing Brussels. We were asked what we thought the highlights of 2009 were and what those of 2010 may be.

2009 has been a year of great renewal for me. For the first time, I got very involved in a European elections campaign, which was a fascinating experience. We have seen the premises of true European political campaigning at the Party of European Socialists. However the campaign in-country remained nationally focused, which was a great disappointment for European activists. In the end, the European Parliament is even more right-wing than before, and Barroso will be at the head of the European Commission for 5 more years. This status quo is quite depressing. On a more positive note, 2009 was also the year where I started to blog, tweet, and more generally use all kinds of social media tools avidly. I got involved in exciting projects such as bloggingportal.eu -the EU blog aggregator- and the Gender Balanced Commission Campaign. I’ve had the chance to meet many Eurobloggers in person or virtually on skype, chats, and Google Wave.

I don’t know if 2010 will be interesting in terms of European politics. There is no highest point in political life than the elections. After that, it’s more or less business as usual. Don’t get me wrong, lots of interesting stuff is happening in European policy-making all the time but I’m afraid it’s mostly ignored by mainstream media. Let’s see if in the 4 years to come our growing community of Eurobloggers can change this dynamic!

For now, if you have a little time, I invite you to follow the hearings of the European Commissioners-designate by the members of the European Parliament. They will take place from the 11th to the 19th of January. You can find the agenda here and view the hearings in live streaming here. I’ll be live-tweeting about it here.

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Quote of the Week: Margot Wallström
Dec 15th, 2009

“Advice for anyone thinking about blogging on EU affairs – develop a thick skin, especially if you are writing positive things about the EU”

Margot Wallström, Blogging, last blogpost as EU commissioner for communication.

Nice testimony by Margot Wallström of what it’s been like to blog in her position over the past 5 years.

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It took us one week to get a gender-balanced Commission
Nov 26th, 2009

When we launched the on-line campaign for a gender balanced Commission, there were only 4 female nominees to the European Commission. In just a week time, we got 5 more. Did we have an impact? I hope so. One thing is for sure, there was great enthusiasm with this campaign. None of us got paid to work on it. We all did it during our free time, simply trying to make the most out of our skills and networks. And it worked.

GBC1Within only one week, we got about 800 people to sign our petition for a European Commission with at least one third of women, and 2.000 fans on our Facebook page. We managed to get press articles in European VoiceEl Mundothe Guardian and New Europe. Many bloggers and twitterers, along with the European Women’s Lobby and New Europe, agreed to be public supporters of our campaign. Although PES Women President Zita Gurmai mentioned our campaign on her blog, no politician formally agreed to publicly appear as a supporter of our campaign. I wonder why. Is it that they didn’t feel comfortable with supporting a campaign promoting candidates from various political parties? Or is it that they were simply waiting for our campaign to be big enough so that they couldn’t possibly ignore it anymore?

Anyway, I was very happy to be involved in this campaign, which conveyed the tremendous power of social media, and I look forward to next one! Any idea what it should be on?

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Quote of the Week: Glenis Willmott
Nov 25th, 2009

“I would say to Catherine Ashton: Cathy, you are not there to stop the traffic. You are actually there to create the traffic system. And I know that you’ll do a fantastic job.”

Glenis Willmott, British Labour MEP, Question to Commission President

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And now, introducing… the all women’s European Commission!
Nov 16th, 2009

Let’s have a dream. Let’s dream of a fully female European Commission… Impossible, you may think? Try and think again. It’s actually so easy to do that just four random citizens came up with a list of at least one woman per country, in just 36 hours. Governments can’t be bothered to find female candidates, civil society decided to do it for them.

commissioner-squaresEU states are currently in the process of nominating their candidates for the European Commission. Each state can only nominate one person. So what happens? Not very surprisingly, most candidates nominated so far are men. This is very worrying as it seems that the 2009-2014 Commission will have even less women than in 2004-2009, a period of time when there were only 8 women out of 27 commissioners. This is not acceptable.

Over the past months, I’ve been promoting the idea of gender equality at top EU positions on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. Doing so, I was regularly confronted with comments asking the question whether or not any woman would be competent enough to take this level of responsibility. There are plenty of good, knowledgeable, competent women that can take over these jobs. We just never talk about them. Somehow men’s names always come up.

Now, there is no excuse anymore. We have found over 26 female names that hold all the qualities to become Commissioner. Let’s make it happen. Let’s have a genuinely gender-balanced European Commission this time. Would you like to make this come true? Then, follow these steps:

  1. Sign the petition for a gender-balanced Commission
  2. Politician, blogger or twitterer? Appear as a supporter on the campaign web site by sending us an email
  3. Become of a fan of our page on Facebook
  4. Follow us on Twitter
  5. Are you much more motivated than this? Then find out about all the other ways you can help us
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One of the 3 top EU jobs must be held by a woman
Oct 8th, 2009

Although the Lisbon Treaty is still not fully ratified, there has already been a lot of speculation in the media about who would be suitable candidates for the 2 top EU jobs it creates along the -already taken- Commission President post: the President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Annoyed by the fact that most of the names that are currently put forward by the media are only men, some top European women have started to react: read herehere, and thereIn an interview to TheParliament.com on Tuesday, Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström said “It is shameful that, so far, no women seem to have been put forward as possible candidates. All we hear about are people like Tony Blair and other men”. I agree with her. But I would go even further. It is actually more than shameful: I feel it is an insult to all women.

So why is Margot Wallström and many other Eurowomen so annoyed by this. Just take a look at the most recent European Council family picture I could find (here below). Let’s play a game: What’s wrong with this picture?

June European Council – CC The Council of the European Union

No it’s not the vibrant purple colour of Angela Merkel’s outfit (second raw, middle)… No it’s not the fact that Tarja Halonen, the female president of Finland (first raw, middle left), is not wearing a colourful outfit as top EU female politicians usually do… Try again. What is wrong is that apart from Angela Merkel, Tarja Halonen, and Mary McAleese -Irish President, not on the picture- there was no other female head of state (I’m not counting the queens) or government in the 27 European Union countries when this picture was taken (since then Dalia Grybauskaité was elected President of Lithuania). There’s roughly 98% of greyish/blackish suits on this family picture: that is what is wrong.

Here is a picture from a fellow French blogger that summarises the situation pretty well:

dames
Parité – CC Fred

There are plenty of talented, charismatic, competent women that could take one of the 2 top EU jobs left. Here is a list of the names that “some” journalists have put forward:

  • Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Christian-democrat
  • Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, Social-democrat
  • Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for institutional relations and communication policy, Former Swedish Minister for Culture, Social Affairs and Youth, Social-democrat
  • Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland, Former UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Independant
  • Ursula Plassnik, Former Austrian foreign minister, Christian-democrat

That’s a short list. I’m sure there’s a lot more. Any idea? Feel free to contribute!

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Quote of the week: Richard Laming
Sep 23rd, 2009
berlaymont_building_-_european_commission_headquarters

Berlaymont - the European Commission Headquarters

“You can tell a lot about a political system from the buildings it erects to house its decision-makers.”

Richard Laming, Building European Democracy, seen on euobserver.com

Reading the first sentence of this column, the image of the European Commission headquarters immediately popped into my mind, see on the right… What does it make you think of?

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Fine, he is reelected… what now?
Sep 21st, 2009

This week, I felt there was actually much ado about nothing.

It all started with the results of the European elections on June, 7th . We had been campaigning for months. There was a huge window of opportunity for the left within the context of neo-liberal crisis. All that for…  a conservative-eurosceptic-liberal grand coalition at the European Parliament. Business, as usual. All is for the best in the best of all worlds.

Shortly after, the 27 heads of state of the European Union unanimously nominated Barroso as their intended candidate to head the European Commission, despite the wide majority of commentators -journalists and bloggers alike- saying that Barroso should leave. The contrast was striking.

Anyone But Barroso campaign

Anyone But Barroso campaign

In the beginning of September, Barroso presented his political guidelines for the five years to come to the European Parliament: a 50-page long document, which is 95% copy-paste of proposals or programmes that already exist. To make it clear: if Barroso were a student and had written a paper for school, the teachers would have accused him of plagiarism, and then, at  worst, he would have been expelled from university, or at best, given a chance to rewrite his paper. But here again, despite the commentators’ criticisms, he got away with it.

On September, 16th, Barroso was reelected as President of the European Commission by an absolute majority of the Members of the European Parliament. There is nothing to complain about: Council unanimity, Parliament majority, his reelection is democratic, and unquestionable.

So business, as usual, will be ruling for five more years. Obviously, there is something wrong about all this. Does this mean trying to change things is worthless?

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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)