Brussels Bubble dominates EU blogosphere
by Jon Worth
Leading politics blogger Jon Worth considers the rise of a new online elite in Europe and calls for greater participation
Politicians and administrators across the European Union institutions – including the commission, the parliament and, even, the council - are always looking for a silver bullet. They desire some modern means to make citizens like their political union a little more than they do just now.
''If only we could find a way to bring the EU closer to its citizens,'' is the all-encompassing slogan for the search for a solution to the collective Brussels angst. Web communications are the most recent tool in town, offering the prospect of cutting out the middleman - newspapers, television and radio - and finding a way to reach the demos directly.
Only it does not quite work that way. It is not as if there has ever been a dearth of information about the EU. Info points in the 27 member states churn out pamphlets aplenty and the Brussels press corps are fed a daily drip, drip of information from the institutions. Dozens of books have been printed about every aspect of the union.
No, the essential problem has been a systemic one – and that remains the case whatever happens in web communications. European politics is still a complicated and byzantine collection of bargains, compromises and treaties. And trying to understand how things really work requires a degree of understanding that few citizens are ever going to be adequately motivated to acquire.
The so-called Brussels Bubble, therefore, exists for a reason. Inhabited by a networked elite all armed with masters degrees and an understanding of legal base and comitology, the very nature of EU politics excludes the masses. Add to this the fact that the European Parliament, charged with representing the people, can change 1,001 tiny things - but cannot adequately influence the overall direction of integration, and the political communications environment then becomes very complicated.
So what role does web comms and blogging have in all of this? In national blogospheres, there are often strong anti-EU views expressed. Here a cool head is needed to check facts and rebut myths, very similar to the approach to dealing with inaccurate coverage of EU matters in the mainstream media.
Some web communications do not move beyond the self-promotion of the politician doing the writing. Examples of this include Viviane Reding, Herman van Rompuy and Alexander Alvaro MEP – who take the approach of just talking at the citizens, using every possible communications channel, and think everything is going to be all right as a result. Using web technologies for this purpose does not allow politicians to maximise the impact of the medium.
The heart of the EU debate online is actually now comprised of a network of bloggers and Twitter users that spans multiple parts of the EU bubble: from MEPs such as Marietje Schaake to Neelie Kroes leading the way for the commission through to independent bloggers and researchers such as Nosemonkey, Europasionaria, Eurogoblin, Kosmopolito, England Expects and Ronny Patz.
It is worth noting that these individuals share a fascination for EU affairs and each brings considerable understanding online, but they do not always agree. Indeed, the annoyance of always being branded a Eurosceptic or pro-European is one of the bugbears of blogging in this arena. The enduring anti-establishment nature of blogging means it is possible to be in favour of the EU's existence, but to propose major changes to its functioning online in a way that would never be possible on the pages of a newspaper.
Most of the people blogging about the EU are not journalists. They are researchers, parliamentary assistants, consultants, training professionals, website designers. They each have their own take on supranational matters, normally with a good record of factual accuracy, yet lacking the completeness of the coverage that would be found in the traditional media.
So where does that leave EU web communications? We are not witnessing a major communications revolution, a major shift to direct communications between citizen and the EU. Instead, we are seeing an evolution of the Brussels bubble. Interesting thinkers within this circle, armed with simple web tools, can emerge as communications actors in their own right - freed from the constraints of hierarchy. That can only be a welcome development.
Jon Worth is a European politics blogger
Germany, the disgrace of Europe. The barbarians, who forced beautiful Europe to get down Zeus. The unworthy Europeans, who in 1945 "took Europe down" from "Mount Olympus" and in 2012 relinquished "enslaved" Europe to the Phoenician loan sharks. The German traitors of Europe along with the Phoenicians from Asia may have forced Europe to get down from the "back" of the Greek "bull", but it remains to be seen how they shall pull it through with the "bull".