Posts tagged ‘internet’

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.


March 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm 1 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?


June 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm 2 comments

It’s time to go .crazy!

If you have felt a burden upon your shoulders your whole internet-enabled life and it recently seemed to dissipate, leaving you feeling light and free, then Public Affairs 2.0 has just discovered why (thanks, of course, to another blog – Digital Daily). ICANN – the mysterious group who is actually the internet not on computers – has just unrestricted the part of the web address after the dot.

Yes, instead of being limited to .com, .org, .net,, .aero, .info, you can now be .whateveryouwant. Go .crazy!

A note of reassurance to our faithful reader(s): The fee to register a ‘top level domain name’ is in the “low six figure dollar amounts”, so you will not see this blog move to .publicaffairs any time soon.

For companies moving into the digital world, this adds a whole new set of complications. Many people are so accustomed to the .com that they will add this to any web address (e.g. – the .com is unnecessary). So on one hand, there is no immediate reason to use a new domain. On the other hand, it is important for companies to preemptively buy the top level domain name, regardless of their plans to use it, so that they can protect brands. Furthermore, as the use of microsites explodes to deal with specific issues, companies will have the weigh many more options for names.

And for the average web consumer, the new morass of addresses will continue to make the web increasingly confusing. One thing is for sure: we will soon need a new search engine, far smarter than Google, to organise the internet.

June 30, 2008 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

Burma and the net

Are we witnessing a digital revolution in Burma? Clearly the bravery of those protesting and risking their lives to press for an end to the rule of the junta in Burma is the driving force and necessary condition for change in Burma. As recent history teaches us, democracy can seldom be forced on a country by external actors. It has to grasped by those in the country, if democracy is to be more than an empty shell of institutions and legal niceties that are not observed. However, external pressure to deprive dictators of support from third countries is clearly a necessary condition if regimes are to fall under pressure from our natural desire for freedom.

It is therefore interesting to see how the internet is being used this time around to help make the second condition a reality. It is of course a cheap, quick and effective way of disseminating information and, due to social media tools, of grouping together likeminded people for a cause. For the world to apply pressure on Burma, information on the situation on the ground is needed. Due to reporting restrictions imposed by the junta, most reports coming out of the country appear to be coming via the internet. Not only does this reporting restrict the room for manoeuvre of the generals but it applies pressure on our own elected representative to act.

Secondly, pressure groups have been mobilising support for the people of Burma online. In addition to the sites of established free Burma pressure groups, an online petition has sprung up at with around 180,000 people already signed up. Activists in Europe and the US have teamed up on the Facebook group “Support the Monks’ protest in Burma”, currently a shade under 80,000 members. On the group you will find the latest reports on the situation on the ground, updated every few minutes by members, as well as a checklist of activities you can do in support (including wearing a red t-shirt today) . Over the weekend, there is a long list of protests planned and a 24 hour hunger strike suggested for Monday. Companies investing in Burma are also under the spotlight as are of course the Chinese, generally perceived to be the main prop for the military in the country.

Clearly the generals and the people have Burma will have the final say in how this plays out, but internet activism may have a role in conditioning the position taken by the developed world.

September 28, 2007 at 11:28 am 2 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

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