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From Rome to Tehran: democracy goes online

In one of our last posts we helped you understanding the apparently complicated Italian political scenario (we hope we succeeded). Now, your burning passion for the Peninsula’s politics will find other tools to better follow what happens in the ‘boot’.

A brand new web site to track down Italian MPs’ activities in the national parliament was launched yesterday. The web site has been created by a non-profit organization (Openopolis) which already launched in the past two initiatives, one to identify your political positioning by answering a set of questions on different topics and the other one to provide a wide range of information on politicians.

The new portal will help discovering, for example, that MP Antonio Caglione (Partito Democratico), is at the bottom of the attendance rate list (only 11.33% of sessions attended) and Furio Colombo (PD again) is the most rebellious MP, voting 394 times against the indications of his party. Berlusconi’s MPs are the most reliable in terms of presence and 16 of them are above the 99% threshold.

As you know this is not the first tool of this kind that was launched in a European country and it just show how the Internet is becoming an increasingly used tool by both politicians – FH digital survey docet – and voters or the society as a whole, all over Europe. People need and want the information that traditional media is not able to provide: a few minutes after the launch of the web site, visitors started receiving messages saying that the server was slowed down because of the massive traffic.

Digital democracy or e-democracy is not the future anymore, it is the present. An example? The protests in Tehran: with the government obscuring the telecom network, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube compensate the spread out of information and someone already defined this ‘ the first digital revolution’.

Simone

June 17, 2009 at 3:12 pm Leave a comment

Regulators, consumers or industry – Who will be the future privacy king?

 As you might have seen from a recently published note by FH , privacy is Brussels’ new catch phrase.  Few are disputing that search engines, social networking sites and other Internet related technologies offer huge opportunities for consumers and the digital economy. However, some are concerned that increasing the collection and processing of personal data on Internet jeopardizes privacy.  EU Commissioners, NGOs, companies and MEPs – everyone wants to defend European citizen’s right to privacy. But as new developments unfold  who will take the lead – regulators, consumers or industry?

At a recent conference a European Commission official said: “Our ambition is clear: we want the best data protection system in the world”. In contrast with the Obama administration who has been relatively quiet on privacy (but very keen on driving other ICT issues such as cyber security and network neutrality) this aspiration could put the EU in the driving seat in global discussions about borderless personal data flows. The Commission’s clear ambition in combination with mounting pressure from stakeholders  to renew data protection rules seem to make the case for additional regulation pretty straight forward.

However, the appetite for self regulation is building-up. Several companies have already signed up to the UK Internet Advertising Bureau’s good practice principles for online behavioural advertising aiming to put the user in control when data is collected. The infancy of business models with revenue streams mainly stemming from Internet has lead to a knowledge gap between policy makers and industry. This gap offers an opportunity for industry players who want to stay ahead of the legislative curve by engaging in dialogue and adopting self-regulatory codes.

No matter if EU policy makers or industry take the lead we can count on the fact that grass root mobilization among users will continue to force companies to backtrack on their online advertising practices. British Telecom’s Phorm experiment and Facebook’s “Beacon” advertising program are just two of many examples where users have waged war against privacy intrusive business practices. 

Clearly, regulators, consumers and industry are on the lookout for new online privacy rules.  Who will be the kingmaker of future privacy regulation?

Magnus

June 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm 2 comments

Elections à la polonaise

Europe is doomed. Seriously. It must be, after all, Mr. (Jarosław) Kaczynski, our former PM, famous for having an identical twin and starring in a movie ages ago, seems to think so.  “Why doomed?” one might ask. Well, the reason is simple: Europe can be strong only if it is a Christian union and the problem, according to Mr Kaczynski, is that today it is anti-Christian and, more specifically, anti-Catholic. 

It was somehow obvious that religion would sooner or later dominate the Polish debate. Funny, however, that Mr. Kaczynski’s belief in the central importance of Catholicism didn’t stop his Law and Justice party from entering into an agreement with the UK’s Tories (who as far as I know are far from Catholic) and the Czech ODS . As for the Czech, may I please quote Wikipedia on this? (I know, I know, not the most reliable of sources but indulge me…) “The Czech Republic, along with Estonia, has one of the least religious populations in all of Europe. According to the 2001 census, 59% of the country is agnostic, atheist, a non-believer or a non-organized believer, 26.8% is Roman Catholic and 2.5% is Protestant. According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll in 2005, 19% of Czech citizens responded that “they believe there is a god” (the second lowest rate among European Union countries after Estonia with 16%), whereas 50% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 30% said that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god or life force”.” Good luck in building the Christian Union Mr. Kaczynski!

On another note – after two (according to the media – very profitable) speeches that Mr. Wałęsa did for the Irish Libertas party, there will be no more. The party tops apparently don’t want to risk having him encourage the Irish to vote FOR the Lisbon Treaty as Mr. Wałęsa promised to do in his May 24 interview with AFP.

And lastly – some Polish politicians have discovered Twitter. The two most notorious Law and Justice spin-doctors have been busy attacking the opposition on the microblogging site. As Gazeta Wyborcza, the biggest Polish daily (rather to the left of the most other media and decidedly liberal) informs us, four out of seven tweets by Mr. Bielan (MEP) and Mr. Kamiński were ridiculing their opponents. And how many tweets have they posted presenting the Law and Justice’s policy program? Zero.

Jay

June 5, 2009 at 11:17 am 1 comment

Tipping Over

A while ago tipping points were all the rage. Malcolm Gladwell’s book had captured the public imagination and points were to be seen tipping all over the place. I was reminded of this when I saw in our recent survey  that 24% of MEPs write a blog. My first reaction was, is that all? Here is an ideal way of reaching out to the European citizen, particularly the young, the majority of whom are not going to bother voting in the forthcoming election. Here is a way of personalizing the seemingly impersonal European Parliament and of bridging the democratic deficit. Why would an MEP not do a blog?

I suspect the answer to this is more apathy than antipathy, but I also expect the elections to be a digital tipping point. The world of politics was galvanized by Obama’s use of social media in his winning campaign and many of the new MEPs will have used similar techniques as they sought election. They will understand the technology, appreciate its ease of use, and be comfortably in the posting rhythm. Politicians are herd animals at heart and it won’t take long for an MEP not blogging (or tweeting) to be considered a digi-dinosaur. And nobody would want that.

Nick A

May 29, 2009 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

Ahh Italians!

“Ahh Italians!” This is the most common comment that I get when I talk about the European election in Italy with friends and colleagues.

But what do they actually mean by stressing this plural noun, “Italians”?

It seems almost that all the Italian national political habits and stereotypes can be summed up in one word; at least this is the common feeling here in Brussels.

In that “Ahh Italians” there are all the things people in Europe expect to be typical features of Italian politics: opaqueness, confusion, easy shifting alliances, unreliability, and instablity. People take them as normal, as a matter of fact. Therefore…”ahh Italians”!

Is it really like that? Is Italian politics so difficult to understand for non-nationals? Well, we must confess that sometimes it is even difficult for us Italians!

Nevertheless the forthcoming election might change something in the way Italian politics is perceived in Europe…as far as confusion and instability are concerned. In fact, when it comes to the candidates of the different parties the issue has been used, in Italy and in Europe, to add a different stereotype to that “ahh Italians”. I want to leave this issue out my post because I think it is not correct to deliver judgments a priori.

Let’s instead focus on confusion and instability. Since the last political election in 2008 the Italian political spectrum has achieved a sort of bi-polar maturity with the consolidation of both a center-right and a center-left party: Il popolo della Liberta’ (PdL) led by Berlusconi, and il Partito Democratico (PD) led now by Dario Franceschini after Walter Veltroni’s resignation.

Just three other major parties gained seats in the Italian Parliament: Lega Nord, Italia dei Valori, and Unione di Centro. The left wing (communists and greens) went through a historical defeat without gaining any seat in the two branches of the Parliament.

This situation is likely to be reiterated in the next European election. According to polls Berlusconi and his party (PdL) should take more than 40% of votes and the PD around 30%. The rest will be distributed amongst the other parties which have also gained seats during the last political election. The polls foresee another exclusion of the left wing which should not be able to pass the 4% threshold provided by the new electoral law. However, prevision can also be denied and the left wing could have some more chances to reach the threshold in a situation where the turnout is consider being really low.

Moreover the PdL is likely to become the first or the second most representative party in the EP, and Berlusconi is working hard to win the EP Presidency for Mario Mauro, current MEP. On the other hand the new PD representation in the PES will be joined by former ALDE Italian MEPs as result of what happened at national level with the creation of the PD itself. Thus the Italian representation in the EP center-left wing will grow too (voices in the PES suggested even a change of the party’s name to welcome the former ALDE representation).

The conclusion is that the Italian representation in the EP as whole will be distributed more between the two biggest European parties. This distribution reflects a national one.

Hopefully now the situation is less confusing for everybody.

Michele

May 19, 2009 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

2009: A European Odyssey (into French online media)

French Europhiles always complain that the media never report anything (positive) about the European Union. In Le Point this week, the Chief Editor argues that ” it is a well-known fact in press circles: put the word ‘Europe’ on first page or on a TV debate and you will only make readers and viewers change page or channel”.

It tends to be true most of the time. Of course, you can read once a month about Sarkozy’s reactions to the last European Council or about ‘Brussels’ ruining the business of French fishermen or farmers. But you will find it difficult to read any quality article about the Telecoms Package or the Energy liberalisation Package, although both sets of measures contain real improvements for French consumers.

However, I found out recently that the online media coverage of the European elections campaign is quite interesting. The debate even tries to go beyond Franco-French issues. I’ve read good – and sometimes funny – things about Libertas in Ireland, Berlusconi’s choices of candidates and details on the status of the campaign in several Member States.

The Internet is blooming with articles on the EU: Le Figaro has a specific ‘European elections’ section, Le Monde provides readers with lots of interesting portfolios and interactive maps. Libération gives original points of view through a specific blog on European elections and Quatremer’s famous Coulisses de Bruxelles.

Even political parties are very active on the Internet to provide attractive information. UMP and PS both have specific websites dedicated to European elections. Although I am sceptical about their slogan – “When Europe wants, Europe can”- the UMP website features a ‘Europe TV 2009’ which is quite nice and easy to navigate. Although less visually attractive, the PS website gives a lot of background information on the Socialist programme and features a list of relevant Twitter feeds.

A good starting point to navigate all these websites could be the newly updated map of ‘the European web’ set up by Touteleurope. It is quite an impressive map that registers 2046 French websites and blogs dealing with EU issues on a regular basis.

For once, no citizen will be able to argue that he was not well informed… A question remains: will it change anything to the fact that the French have always used the European elections to sanction the government in power?

Clara

May 8, 2009 at 3:01 pm 1 comment

EP Election Google Gadget

Google is planning on launching an online election service to cover all aspects of the European Parliament elections in June. If it is anything like the Google service for the US elections then it should give viewers the chance to stay up to date on the latest campaign maps, news, videos and blog posts from the election trail.

This is a step in the right direction for European politics, hopefully increasing interest in the EP elections and voting turnout in June, which at the moment looks to be very low if the Eurobarometer is anything to go by. Especially as it seems only a tiny 4% of Europeans are aware of which month these will be held, and bringing up the rear, only 3% of us Brits knew they were to be held next year. We can only hope this is something the Google Gadget can improve on.

Rosie

October 9, 2008 at 2:12 pm Leave a comment


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A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients. You will find the contact details of our team at www.fleishman-hillard.eu

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