Posts filed under ‘European Parliament’

Join us at the Personal Democracy Forum, 2012!

On Thursday, May 31 we’ll be in the European Parliament, taking part in a captivating brainstorm on how tech – and tech-savvy citizens – are transforming governance, politics and civil society.

Why don’t you join us?

Now in its ninth year in the United States and its third year in Europe, the Personal Democracy Forum brings together top opinion leaders, politicians, technologists, and journalists from across the ideological spectrum to network and exchange ideas.

Next week’s event – Finding Europe’s Public Place – is set to put the impact of technology in Brussels under the spotlight, evaluating its role in the European institutions, diplomacy, lobbying and journalism.

Speakers will examine how interactive communications technologies are now being regularly deployed to address critical civic problems, and make governments more efficient, transparent, and accountable. They’ll also discuss whether these technologies are bringing Europe any closer to the as yet elusive public sphere.

Also on the agenda: the invaluable role social media has played in supporting democracy movements all over the world.

The Personal Democracy Forum invariably attracts highly distinguished guests – and this event is no exception. Ambassador William E. Kennard of the US Mission to the EU,  Facebook Europe’s Erika Mann and Peter Spiegel of the Financial Times are just a few of the speakers who’ll be sharing their insights on the day.

Register now to secure your place for this thought-provoking and invaluable event.

See you there!

Catherine.

May 22, 2012 at 2:01 pm 1 comment

Budget chickens come home to roost

The European Commission is struggling to justify an increase of nearly 7 per cent in the EU payments budget for 2013.  The timing could hardly be worse, with national budgets feeling the full force of austerity, governments facing fierce opposition to spending cuts at home, and the Dutch being forced into new elections as coalition consensus crumbles. No surprise, then, that presentation was a major preoccupation at this week’s Commission meeting.

As you might expect, member states which are net contributors were quick to express their indignation at the Commission’s draft budget, which would rise to €151 billion for commitments (up 2 per cent) and to €138 billion for payments (up 6.8 per cent).

But of course everyone is to blame: governments, Parliament and the Commission. Yesterday’s chickens are coming home to roost. Long-term spending programmes from past budgets must be paid for, and a backlog of liabilities has accumulated which must either be cleared, or pushed further into the future.

The roll-over of unpaid bills from 2011 to 2012 amounted to €11 billion out of a total payments allocation of €129 billion for the year. It would hardly be good housekeeping to allow these liabilities to increase further, quite apart from the pressure on member states which have made investments under EU programmes and are then denied reimbursement to which they are entitled.

In presenting the Commission proposals President Barroso stressed that the funds to be committed for 2013 programmes would only increase by the rate of inflation, and I could only find one budget line, “Intermodality between Transport Means” where the proposed commitment has actually been cut. Another cut would be a 5 per cent reduction in Commission staff numbers over five years, but total administrative costs would still rise by 2.8 per cent.

Agricultural spending, including direct payments to producers, continues to take a third of the total budget, but the proposed increase would be less than the rate of inflation.

The budget proposals are of course founded, first on the belief that spending on European programmes will deliver more sustainable growth than spending at the national level, and secondly that they play a vital role in redistribution from wealthier to poorer regions.

On this basis, research, innovation and the structural funds would receive the lion’s share of new commitments. The allocation for the EU’s external relations would go up by 5 per cent. This includes additional resources for Europe’s diplomatic service, a proposal which has not been well received by Baroness Ashton’s home country.
The 2013 draft budget is an attempt to put greater emphasis on growth and to encourage European integration. But with a European population which is much more sceptical about the virtues of greater integration the argument does not have the traction which it once did.

This year’s budget discussions promise to be more bruising than ever, because long-term budget ceilings must be agreed for the years 2014 to 2018 (or 2020), together with the means of funding them. A financial transaction tax will no doubt be pushed as a supplement to the EU budget, combining with the UK rebate issue to ensure a fractious negotiation.

Just as a footnote it is worth recalling that the EU budget constitutes just over 1 per cent of gross national income of the 27. Figures for per capita payments or receipts in 2010, helpfully compiled by Laissez Faire, give some insight  into how EU citizens are impacted by the EU budget and how this may reflect national negotiating positions.  No wonder the Dutch are sensitive!

Michael

April 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm Leave a comment

The Power of Reding

I’m a big fan of the FT Brussels Blog. Today’s headline in particular caught my eye: “Women take over the Berlaymont.”

It outlines the growing attention around European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding’s latest crusade: increasing quotas for the percentage of women in the executive boardroom.

The European Parliament advised EU businesses last week to increase numbers of women in their boardrooms by next year or face a mandatory quota of 40% by 2020. While their recommendation is still non-binding at the moment, should voluntary efforts to increase female representation at the highest levels of EU businesses fail by next year, they encourage the European Commission to table legislation to make it binding. And here is where Commissioner Reding steps in.

As the FT points out, she has a tough job ahead. While some countries such as France, the Netherlands and Spain support binding quotas – Norway already has them – some expect the UK and others to resist. Social legislation has always been an uphill battle in Europe and this will be no exception. Yet if anyone can do it (I’m agreeing with the FT here), Viviane Reding can. You can keep track of the pledges she is collecting here.

As a colleague and I just discussed, were we policymakers, we’d be more eager for the social benefits that enable women in the workplace to come through (wide spread access to good childcare, proper maternity & paternity leave, etc). But obviously this isn’t enough.

Bottom line is, I have a general mistrust of quotas – but I more or less support any initiatives that try to even out the playing field…

But let’s open it up: what do you think?

Jess

PS – Looking forward to following what groups that regularly talk about such issues in Brussels think about the initiative, including the European Women’s Lobby and WIIS Brussels.

July 12, 2011 at 7:20 pm 1 comment

Everyone loves a good story

The other day I attended an event on the Future of Mobility and Transport in Europe and a quote from an MEP, who was on one of the panels, got me thinking about ‘storytelling’ in public affairs. While discussing Intelligent Transport Systems, the MEP asked fellow participants whether they have ever thought – while having breakfast – where each of the items on the breakfast table comes from, and what journey they have made. What’s the supply chain of a jar of marmelade, where has it been and by which modes of transport? Were there any regulatory barriers on the way or were its travels facilitated by the existing legislative framework? Such a simple example or story can bring a discussion on transport to life, as it links the world of the audience to the issue.

In fact, one of the many challenges we face as public affairs consultants is talking about inherently technical (and dare I say, sometimes unexciting) topics to policy-makers. However, usually they have anything on their mind but the very detailed requirements of products A, B and C that can potentially have far-reaching effects on a client’s business – and ultimately, citizens. And when you’re looking for someone to advocate on your behalf, there are certain issues that will always gain support and others that, well, don’t. As an MEP, would you, for example, want to be the champion of a ‘single administrative electronic document for the im- and export of goods to/from the EU?’ Not a very imaginative topic perhaps, but incredibly important for anyone who supports the completion of the single market.

Following up to James’ post regarding the use of position papers (see: Time to throw away the trusty old position paper?) and the need to tailor material to what your audience cares about, rather than drafting everything from your organization’s perspective – I’d like to add the need to tell more stories. (Note: stories, not fairytales ;)). There has been a lot of buzz on this particular point in the PR realm and it is equally applicable to PA, see some excellent posts on this topic by our colleague Steffen on his personal blog (Get off your high horse – tell a decent story and Develop a content strategy to succeed in public affairs). Some of the perks of storytelling include:

  • It’s an easy way to avoid using overly technical or business jargon .
  • The exercise will force your organization to think out of the box.
  • Stories can create emotional involvement in an issue.
  • Stories provide the opportunity for a more personal and targeted approach.
  •  The method is refreshing and allows you to be creative – and your material will be more appealing as it stands out from the crowd.

Obviously with the usual caveat that on most occassions – straight up technical information, facts and figures are still desirable, but it is worth bearing in mind that real-life examples and stories can make your ‘characters’ come alive.

Kirsten

July 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm Leave a comment

The MEP survey: six months on

It has been nearly half a year since we published the MEP survey into the digital trends of the European Parliament, looking at how MEPs go about communicating to their constituents and others, and how they conduct their research. The findings remain highly relevant to anyone communicating in the policy arena in Brussels, highlighting in particular the need for integrating online channels with well-trodden offline tactics like face to face meetings and traditional media relations. After all, if half of MEPs are reading blogs every week to research legislative issues then the validity of a  blog seems less questionable. And if 93% use a search engine daily as the starting point for their research, then presence in search engines quickly becomes a “must-have”. Likewise, if two-thirds of MEPs are on social networks, surely it’s worth exploring how to use such tools to provide relevant input and perhaps even engage?

If you wish to revisit the survey or indeed see it for the first time, click here for the full report. Embedded below is a presentation of some of the key findings, and for an analysis of the findings, I’d recommend Steffen’s posts here and here. As ever, if you have any comments and questions, please fire away!

Rosalyn

June 14, 2011 at 11:11 am 1 comment

It’s not normal that Europeans go looking for serious debate and see MEP’s cucumber

Image courtesy of European Parliament

From our bent bananas to nutritious and safe Spanish cucumbers we love our fruit and vegetables here in the Brussels bubble. So much so it seems that our elected representatives are intent on waving them at us in the European Parliament, as Francisco Sosa Wagner MEP (non-aligned, Spain) showed yesterday. Well, it makes for a good photo doesn’t it.

But what’s the best thing to be waved in a debate in the European Parliament? Here’s some of the other things we remember being brandished by our elected representatives over the years:

  • A bunch of carrots
  • A tin of tomato puree
  • Scoobie strings
  • Safety helmets
  • A pornographic magazine
  • A box of pizza
  • A birthday cake

It’s not quite a top ten list as yet. Perhaps you have favorites to add? 

James

June 8, 2011 at 12:10 pm 3 comments

Twitter turns five

Last night – at 8:50pm GMT – Twitter turned five years old and it got me thinking.

I openly admit to boycotting Twitter when it was launched (echos of protesting “I don’t care what Betty ate for breakfast” spring to mind). But I equally admit to being a convert five years later.

Some thoughts on why

1. Twitter can help sort the headlines from the fun stuff, and the urgent news from the background material.

A useful tool in tracking the latest news out of Libya or Japan, Twitter can also draw your attention to an article you might otherwise have missed by browsing a webpage. Case in point: I only came across the Financial Times’ rave review of EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva through their tweet of it:

@ftbrusselsblog: “The Accidental Commissioner http://on.ft.com/hAk8fG”  (She is also on Twitter @k_georgieva)

(Fun stuff: It also alerts you to the fact that Robert Redford is coming out with a new biography and perhaps the most hilarious review of a Parisian restaurant I have ever read: @Vanity Fair

2. Twitter brings together people with similar interests and can be a tool for identifying key communicators on a given issue.

Twitter is great for communicators. But it is also great for listeners. While searching for who was tweeting on Twitter’s birthday, I came across this from European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek:

@jerzybuzek: “Happy 5th birthday to #Twitter – one year+ for my account, essential way for me to communicate”

Buzek –or the person who manages his Twitter account- averages some five tweets a day and talks about everything from current events to internal Parliament decisions. But he also takes an obvious interest in anyone who responds to his tweets and regularly responds. True to the 2011 EP Digital Trends study, the EP is waking up to social media.

3. Twitter can bring on the funny – but more importantly, the creative.

Reducing a message to 140 characters can be challenging, but it also encourages communicators to have a clear and attention-grabbing message. It is a great tool for creativity in sectors that might not immediately be considered creative – just ask mutual fans of logistics and Salt-N-Pepa:

@cwarroom RT@makower: “Ship it. Ship it good: RT@EDFbiz: Carbon Data Driving Freight Decisions

Funny. Informative. And a reference to a 80s music “classic”.

Point is, as Tris Hussey of the Vancouver Observer keenly observed, “For something that was so geeky when it started out that even geeks didn’t know what to do with it, Twitter sure has taken off like a rocket.” And I find it useful, both professionally and for the fun stuff.

Where will Twitter go from here? The Guardian gives a few interesting indications: “40% of tweets originate on a mobile device […] with 5.3 billion mobile phone users in the world, and 90% of the world’s population in reach of a mobile phone network, Twitter has a far better chance of reaching everyone first…”

Jess

[Just starting out on Twitter? Here are some tips on how to get started.]

 

March 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm Leave a comment

How the European Citizens’ Initiative will shake up the Brussels bubble

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a new instrument whereby the European Commission has to put forward legislative proposals to respond to a petition that has gathered one million signatures within a year coming from at least 7 EU Member States. Although some organisations such as eBay or Greenpeace have already started ECI-like petitions, the first “official” ECIs are expected as of February 2012 in order to allow Member States to take the necessary measures to implement the new scheme.

Much has been said and written on the European Citizens’ Initiative. Discussions however have mainly focused on whether it would be a success or a failure, the potential risks of the instrument – more than the opportunities – and what its impact could be on the EU decision-making equilibrium. Few commentators wondered whether there had already been pan-European petitions that reached one million signatures, and if there had been, how they managed to do so. We had already raised this point in the panel we organised in October at the Personal Democracy Forum with MEP Marietje Schaake, Julius van de Laar from Avaaz, and Euroblogger Jon Worth.

As we like the ECI so much, we have pursued our analysis in our brand new FH paper, looking specifically at how pan-European petitions have managed to gather one million signatures in the past, how the Internet has helped them do so –our favourite topic- and what the first European Citizens’ Initiatives might be about.

[10 April, 2012: In light of unintended perceptions of our services around the ECI, we are revising our paper to clarify our offering. We stress that our support on the ECI would not extend to organising citizens’ initiatives as this is not in line with the Commission’s rules on the ECI. We apologise if the paper appeared to state otherwise. We shall be uploading the updated paper asap but please bear with us, it’s Easter.. As ever we would appreciate any input from readers.]

Yes we are making predictions! Let’s see in two years from now if we got them right. I’m personally very curious to see how the European Citizens’ Initiative will evolve. Will it be overexploited or hardly used at all? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure: it has the potential to change the well-established dynamics of the Brussels bubble and take us out of our comfort zone.

Laurence

March 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm 1 comment

Reviewing our MEP digital trends survey: fewer bloggers, more Facebook and Twitter users. Why (and so what?)

In our recently published survey on the online habits of Members of the European Parliament, we found that:

  • 69% of MEPs use social networks (mainly Facebook) up from 33% in 2009
  • 34% are on Twitter, up from 21%
  • 29% write a personal blog, compared to 40% in 2009

So we’re witnessing a shift towards the snappy interaction of social networks, and a move away from the more content driven blog.

I’ll look at two things here: i) what might account for this trend; and ii) some ideas on what the trends mean in practice.

Why the shift away from blogging towards social networks and the like?

It’s not hard to see why Facebook and Twitter appear more enticing than blogging:

  • They both have ready-made audiences which may likely include MEPs’ constituents. Why bother with blogging, which is more time-consuming and does not have a ready-made audience?
  • In that vein, Twitter and Facebook may just seem easier to maintain, given that there isn’t much content to produce. At first glance, writing 140 characters definitely seems a breeze compared to a full-on blog post.
  • Election frenzy is over. Back in 2009, MEPs running for re-election were presumably eager to do everything in their power to showcase themselves to their electorate. That incentive is obviously reduced beyond election time.
  • The EP’s social media team has been extremely successful on Facebook (their blog is also successful, to be fair). Presumably a shining example to MEPs?
  • Facebook is all the rage. 500 million and users and that. Everyone’s talking about Twitter too. So presumably a fair bit of bandwagon hopping has taken place.

What does it all mean?

This is the trickier question. What does all this mean in terms of MEPs’ communication with constituents and others?

On the surface, it seems like good news: MEPs are eagerly adopting tools that connect them to people at the click of a button and provide Europeans a channel to engage in the political process through dialogue with decision makers. Indeed, some MEPs like Marietje Schaake and Sophie in ’t Veld, or Commissioners like Neelie Kroes (no coincidence they’re all Dutch) are engaging in conversation and using Twitter to ask questions and learn, and presumably thus improve their ability to do their job.

However, in another sense, the figures are misleading. Another finding in the report shows that MEPs who blog and tweet think “expressing views directly” is more important than “engaging in dialogue” (by a margin of 60% and 30% in blogs and on Twitter respectively). Clearly, listening, learning and conversing play second fiddle, and you could ask: what’s the point of telling people stuff if you’re doing so in a Facebook feed or in 140 characters? Not much.

As for the drop in blogging, personally speaking I think it’s a shame, although understandable: I know from experience just how hard it is to maintain a blog. However, blogging is a fantastic medium to express views and opinions in more detail, and some MEPs reach large audiences through their blogs, like Dan Hannan and Holger Krahmer. Is the fall in blogging a trend? No, I suspect we’re in a consolidation phase, where the MEPs who appreciate the medium carry on and others who like the idea of blogging give it a go, but where fewer experiment because it’s in vogue.

Another thought is that blogging is a way to kick start conversations on Twitter or Facebook. Which begs the question: if MEPs are not blogging but are instead using Twitter and Facebook, yet many are not engaging in dialogue, what are they using the tools for? Probably to post press releases, or to state that they’ll speak an event and other such information.

In conclusion, although the findings indicate that a number of MEPs are using the channels to engage, we should take them with a slight pinch of salt. Having said that, the trend is for more MEPs to start using the tools “properly” and I have no doubt that the more they see others gaining from engagement, the greater the appropriate adoption rates will become.

Equally, I have no doubt that I’ve missed some observations, so – as ever – please feel free to add, expand, agree or disagree in the comments below. Thanks.

Steffen

February 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm 7 comments

How do MEPs use the web? FH’s 2nd European Parliament Digital Trends Survey

Our survey of the digital habits of Members of the European Parliament is now live at www.epdigitaltrends.eu.

The findings show that MEPs are increasingly using digital channels to reach out and to inform themselves on issues of importance. In parallel, the survey also indicates that personal contact and traditional media remain essential, highlighting to anyone engaging in communications that digital is not replacing established modes of communication, but living alongside them.

Here are ten key findings:

  1. 69% of MEPs use social networks whereas previously only 33% used social networks extensively.
  2. 29% write a personal blog, compared to 40% in 2009.
  3. 34% are on Twitter, up from 21%.
  4. 57% of Twitter users say the greatest benefit is ‘expressing views directly’ while only 28% chose ‘engaging with people through dialogue’.
  5. 30% of those who blog and 33% who tweet use two or more languages (English being the predominant second language).
  6. 99% use search engines every week, 93% every day.
  7. 80% are looking for simple summaries of issues when searching online.
  8. 78% think specific issue websites are important when informing their opinion on policy, more than the organisation sites.
  9. 90% name coverage in national media as an important source of information, 51% of those very important.
  10. 86% state that position papers from stakeholders are important, while personal contact with stakeholders is still the most important channel for interaction at 93%.

When we last conducted the survey, we were at a pivotal moment: digital in politics seemed to have gone mainstream following the French presidential campaign in 2007 and, in particular, Barack Obama’s successful campaign in 2007-08. Eighteen months on, given that enthusiasm from across the pond had abated and the European Parliament was no longer in election frenzy, we were being asked if 2009 had just been a blip. It’s great to have the figures to confirm that the trends we first detailed in 2009 have persisted, and that MEPs are increasingly connected.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be analysing a few of the findings in more detail e.g. the rise of Facebook vs. the fall in blogging. I hope many of you will be involved in the ensuing discussions, and please, fire away with comments and questions.

Steffen

January 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm 7 comments

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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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