Posts tagged ‘European elections’
“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.
In Sweden it’s also interesting to note the proliferation of the use of social media. All main candidates, irrespective of their political belonging, are using blogs, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to interact with potential voters on the Internet. The US presidential election campaign in 2008 is a source of inspiration and all Swedish candidates are eager to imitate Obama’s success in campaigning through social media.
Swedish MEPs’ willingness to embrace digital communication channels is a factor well worth bearing in mind for anyone wanting to engage with these MEPs in the next European Parliament. More about these trends soon in an FH report about how MEPs use digital tools.
Until a few weeks ago the Swedish Piracy Party was unknown among most Swedish voters. Likewise few Swedes were aware of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament. The Pirate Bay verdict and the Telecoms Package changed all that.
On 14 April the founders of Pirate Bay, an internet file-sharing service, were sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay about 3 million euros in damages to entertainment companies for having violated copyright law. The verdict led to massive mobilization among Pirate Bay supporters in Sweden and elsewhere, claiming that the verdict was a declaration of war on a whole generation.
A few weeks later a mobilization on a similar scale took place ahead of the European Parliament’s second plenary vote on the Telecoms Package. Named in Swedish newspapers as ‘The battle about Internet’s future’, Brussels’ plan to cut off illegal downloaders from the internet (or 3 strikes and you’re out) caused outcry among Pirate Bay supporters, Swedish politicians and open citizens rights groups. All of sudden the EU was hugging the media limelight in Sweden.
This combination of events played in to the hands of the Swedish Piracy Party. From having had less than 1% support from Swedish voters, current estimates are that the party will get a seat in the next European Parliament, perhaps even two! More importantly the debate about illegal downloading and the future of the internet has been acting as a catalyst, raising the interest of the European parliamentary elections among ordinary Swedes. It remains to be seen if this interest will still be there on election day!
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?
In a meeting last week, a colleague made a comment about following proper ‘netiquette’. The large part of my experience with the internet showed that the norm in blogs and comments is to berate someone for simple errors, verbally assault anyone you don’t agree with, ridicule positions that are not extreme, or write offensive and irrelevant statements and stereotypes. Is ‘netiquette’, I asked, a word that permits otherwise inexcusable public behaviour, simply because it happens on the ‘net’ and not on the street?
In fact, ‘netiquette’ is exactly what it sounds like – etiquette on the internet. There is a long and established history of ‘netiquette’ conversations, dating back to the early days of the internet. Not only has the word been around for years, it is sufficiently common that a 2007 YouGov poll identified ‘netiquette’ one of the most hated internet words. And despite this, I had never even heard the word.
Like much that is ‘digital’, the basics of ‘netiquette’ are no different than its non-digital ancestor. However, the digital medium requires some flexibility and adaptation to new norms. For example, ’emoticons’. These contorted compositions of punctuation marks frighten me. If the Light Brigade charged off to its death at Sebastopol because of improper punctuation in Lord Raglan’s orders to Lord Lucan (or so says Cecil Woodham-Smith in “The Reason Why”), then imagine the consequences of a mis-constructed emoticon. Also, the use of CAPITALS seems to be especially offensive to the eyes. Many guides remind e-mailers and bloggers that anything written, blogged, hosted and transmitted on the internet is public. Anyone can see it, including your mother, so it is important that you are comfortable with anyone reading what you write.
CNN provides useful and concise list of ways to mind your netiquette. So does CNet. There are even netiquette guidelines in French, veuillez agréer Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués.
Many MEPs are looking to the elections in 2009, and those considering a blog to connect with their constituents would do well to follow the guidelines of proper (n)etiquette.
Whether you are an MEP or a public affairs practitioner, after a while in the Brussels Bubble, there is a tendency to go native. Arcane, albeit clearly interesting, discussions about the boiling point of paint, the details of inter-institutional agreements or the latest spat between Commission services can take over from what real people (i.e. not us) care about.
Thankfully, elections are the pin-prick that our bubble occasionally requires. And while there are those who lament a lack of turnover in certain national delegations, we think it’s worthwhile considering what the upcoming elections in 2009 could mean for public affairs tactics in Brussels and how digital may help us be better advocates in the next year or two.
Firstly, there is of course the need to take into account in your current outreach that there may be members of the European Parliament or Commission that don’t intend to return come late 2009. If your issue is not likely to see its conclusion until post-elections, do you wish to spend your limited resources on people that won’t be around when the decision is taken?
Secondly, the elections are likely to see MEPs thinking more and more of their home base, as they worry about their own jobs as much as those of their constituents. This will not only shape their behavior here in Brussels (especially vis-a-vis their national confrères) but increase the likelihood that they spend their weekends gallivanting around god-forsaken parts of their home region.
As such, PA practitioners would be advised to think about recalibrating their own activities to take this into account. We’ve come up with what we may call PA’s triple bottom line for making your arguments have an impact:
- Principles – you should act in this way because it supports your stated political principles
- Policy – you should act in this way because it will get you to your stated policy objective
- People – you should act in this way because it will benefit the people that matter to you (your party, the people who select you or of course the people who elect you)
All successful arguments in Brussels tend to hit a sweet point somewhere between the three. But perhaps in an election year, the X on the map moves a little more toward the third?
So where does digital fit into all this? Well, how about Google Maps. Ok, it’s been around a while. But it could be a useful little tool to help us visualise the local connections of Brussels based actors with MEPs. We’ve started to use it to give a visualisation (pictures always speak louder than Excel sheets) of those members, on the right committees with the right interests, who could be supportive not only because they happen to come from the right country but also the right region or town for a particular industry or company. Sometimes one forgets that industry has a local impact on local communities as well. Even MEPs come from somewhere and it’s surprising how often they come from somewhere near you.
It’s amazing what a simple tool such as this can do. Once you get down to this level of granularity, you can start thinking about targeted communications at a local level in support of your Brussels advocacy. How about getting that MEP to meet your workers (read voters), helping to get him some local media coverage in the run up to the elections, motivating local influencers to express an opinion or indeed getting a few hundred people from where he lives to write him letters.
As MEPs’ attentions return home, so should ours. Digital can help us think about it.
The Christmas holidays being over for some of us, we returned to work yesterday to a near empty office and lots of internal email traffic predicting the results of the Iowa caucus (most of which had been proven wrong by this morning). As we had already read the important emails on the Crackberry over Christmas lunch there was nothing left for it but to get straight back to work.
As such, we went on Facebook to check out who else was back at their desks out there in cyberfriend land. We were sadly disappointed. Not only have most taken the full two weeks off but our so-called “friends” neglected to invite us to their New Year’s Eve parties.
More uplifting in these dull post-Christmas days, Facebook also gave us our first glimpse of an advert for the European elections in 2009. Drum roll. We can kind of officially unveil that the first 2009 candidate to use social media advertising that we have seen is neither anglo-saxon nor a member of a “mainstream” party. Nope, he’s an Italian called Marcello De Vita and is a member of Newropeans. He has also set up his own Facebook group and is holding an offline meeting in mid-January back in Italy.
Newropeans is seeking to run candidates across all 27 Member States on a platform of democratising the EU and speaking about EU issues at a European election.The latter is novel, we are sure you will agree. You can find their sixteen points to achieve their aims on their website and you can join the organisation on their website or simply become a supporter by parting with a smaller sum of cash. In terms of on the ground arms and legs, they seem to be in a decent position due to their evolution from other organisations such as AEGEE, a European students organisation.
Newropeans are of course not the only potential newcomers to the European 2009 elections who are seeking to run across the continent on pan-European platform. While the Socialists seem to be leading the field among traditional parties, in mid-2007 the Swedish Pirates Party also muted a potential pan-European campaign. We have also heard mumblings from other potential newcomers on the right of the political spectrum in recent months.
All this online work is of course exciting stuff from our perspective and perhaps a cheap and potentially effective way to reach out to an internet generation in Europe on an election that most domestic media will not cover. However, one has to wonder whether success, however defined, will depend on each organisation’s ability to integrate digital with traditional political organising and campaigning. The future will tell but at the very least it is good to see some pan-European platforms being formed and that they are taking advantage of the technology that is out there.