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What difference will the EP Elections make for you?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 12:03:04 PM EST

As many of you will know I have been taking part in the TH!NK ABOUT IT blogging competition promoted by the European Journalism Centre, funded by the European Commission, and intend to promote popular interest and participation in the forthcoming European Parliament Elections.

Although I hate the idea of a blogging competition, I think the overall idea is a worthy one:  Encourage a number of bloggers from every EU member state to blog together, share ideas, and hopefully generate some interest and enthusiasm for the election in European cyberspace and beyond. More recently, however the TH!NK ABOUT IT project appears to have been dying on its feet and this post is by way of trying to give it a boost.

Posts have been slow in coming in, comments have been few and far between, lively discussion rare, and if the number of ratings/votes is anything to go by, the readership hasn't been very high either.  Participants don't have access to the server stats on hits etc., so it is difficult to be dogmatic about this, but the project may be running out of steam.


In mitigation, it has to be said that it is a slow and difficult process to build up a blogging community as Jerome and other front pagers here will no doubt testify.  Two months is not a long time to to get a blog popularised, and the European Parliament election campaigns are only getting up and running.  Many of the participants are not experienced bloggers, and I have found the WordPress platform to be slow and cumbersome to work with. (The European Tribune Scoop platform may not be pretty or very adaptable, but at least performance is not an issue).

However, it seems to me the greater problem is simply that that most people don't find the European Parliament Elections to be a very exciting topic to be blogging or reading about.  There will always be a class of political junkies who are fascinated by the machinations of every election, but most people care about politics only insofar as it makes a difference to them and to their daily lives.

Which brings me to the title question of this post: What difference will the EP Elections make to you?  Because if we can't provide an convincing answer to this question, we face an uphill struggle in generating enthusiasm and a higher turnout in the elections themselves.

The contrast with the US Presidential and congressional elections couldn't be clearer.  There you had clearly defined and contrasting leaders heading the respective campaigns, very different policy platforms and cultural norms being promoted, and a sense that there was a war over the future direction of the USA being fought.  

Whatever you might think about the big business, big media, and party machine dominated nature of the process, and the reductio ad absurdum of complex issues being reduced to simplistic images and sound-bites, at least there was a sense that the result of the election might make a major difference to the future direction of the USA and to people's daily lives.

In the EU, by way of contrast, we have had considerable controversy over the Lisbon Treaty - a Treaty deliberately written in part to be as complex and incomprehensible as possible - and which has only been put to popular vote in one member state - a vote soon to be reprised in the hope of getting a different outcome.  But at least there were some passions raised and considerable debate and differences between different sides at the Parliamentary level.

But what debate are we getting in advance of the forthcoming European Parliament elections?  The re-appointment of Barroso as President of the EU Commission appears to be a foregone conclusion without a realistic alternative candidate on offer and almost no popular debate.

Whereas in the US there is huge popular debate about bank bail-outs and stimulus packages, what role has the EU parliament played in leading a similar debate in Europe?  What power does it have to actually do anything?

And is the outcome of the election going to change anything?  If anything, most of the early action seems to be coming from fringe Eurosceptic and nationalist groups like Libertas and the proportions of seats won by Conservative, Socialist, Nationalist and Liberal groups seems unlikely to change dramatically.

Does this mean that Europeans don't want change, or that they don't care?  Or worse still, that they don't think the composition of the European Parliament will make a difference to their lives?

Many observers have stated that in fact we don't really have European elections at all, but 27 national ones fought largely on local and national issues.  In Ireland, at least, the election is likely to be a damning verdict on the performance of the Government in creating a boom and not managing the subsequent bust very well.

If neo-liberal deregulation and neo-conservative warmongering is widely seen as the cause of the current Global crisis, would it not be logical to expect a widespread swing to Socialist and Green parties offering a dramatically different platform particularly as conservative and liberal governments are in power in most member states?

But there is a difference between voting against certain candidates because you are angry with your national Government, and voting for a party or candidate because you believe in what they can achieve in the European Parliament.  So what are the achievements the current parliament can point to?  A reduction in mobile phone roaming changes has been widely touted as a major achievement and should appeal to younger voters and the denizens of cyberspace.  But is this really a reason for voting in a European Parliament election?

What has been striking by its absence has been an EU response to the current global crisis.  Where is the EU stimulus plan?  Where are the EU proposals to revamp the lax Basel 11 regulations which (in part) led to the current banking and financial crisis?

I plan to interview any EP candidates in Ireland who will grant me an interview with a view to publishing what difference they plan to make if elected, and more particularly, how they think the European Parliament will make a difference to ordinary people's lives in the coming few years.  I would be interested in similar reports or interviews any readers here can produce of interest in and hopes for the European Parliament elections in other member states.

I hope it will make for riveting reading.  I remain to be convinced.  But you have to commend the EJC and European Commission for trying... As usual I will cross post this Diary at the TH!NK ABOUT IT site in the hope of promoting some cross-pollination of users and ideas.

Poll
What difference will the EP election make for you?
. 1. Very little if any - I won't be voting 0%
. 2. A chance to register a protest vote against my Government 14%
. 3. A significant opportunity to change the future direction of the EU 57%
. 4. A game changer - the election is vital for the future of the EU 0%
. 5. Other - please state in comments 28%

Votes: 7
Results | Other Polls
Display:
Apologies for flippancy, but the main difference to me is that I am seeing something of the inside of party politics due to working with one them on the EP elections in Finland. It is not a terribly pretty sight. Marketing pros see what's wrong fairly quickly and are usually supported by the younger denizens of the machine because we are saying what they have been thinking, but were afraid to say.

A party is always evolving as the generations change, but it is top down and therefore very slow. The top level people are like the generals - always fighting the last war.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 01:58:56 PM EST
Nothing flippant about it, but what ARE the marketing pros saying?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 02:30:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean in an particular party. I only have experience of one.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 03:19:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you can say without revealing, how  the last war?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 02:49:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well obviously the last election - and I can't say too much, but this is not the time to be standing young inexperienced candidates. There was a 'fresh intake' at the last national elections in all parties, but that doesn't mean 'fresh' will work again and especially in a different type of election and a different economic situation.

The problem, as always, is that the only reason a seasoned politician will stand for the EP is a) they are poison at home b) they are blocked in advancement at home 3) they lost their MP seat, 4) they are single.

In one way it is not the people who are uninterested in the EP, it is the parties first, who then influence the disinterest by putting up useless candidates for the job to be done.

There should be a lot more scope for virtual parliamenting and committeeing. Do we really need to fly all these people about every weekend and once in the week?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 03:17:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sven Triloqvist:
4) they are single.

Is the parliament a good place to get laid or pick up a partner - what does your market research show?

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 03:23:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well last time I had mussels and chips in a back alley off the square in Brussels, I could sense a great deal of hanky-panky ;-)

'Follow the money' is advice that I am sure intelligent professional escorts heed. 'Follow the conference' is another.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 03:34:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They are known for their aphrodisiac properties...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 27th, 2009 at 06:15:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well in Ireland the Government is focused on cutting back public services to reduce the public sector deficit at a time when last Quarter GDP declined by 7.5%.

They say they have to do this to balance the budget and restore competitiveness, but the balance of payments deficit has just hit a four year low with a rising merchandise surplus, so competitiveness doesn't seem to be our biggest problem right now.

So we appear to be applying classic neo-liberal remedies at a time when neo-liberalism has caused many of our problems in the first place and has been discredited internationally...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 03:19:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Finland's economic problems are different. Firstly Finland has a triple A+ rating, so it can borrow quite a lot. But secondly there is a range of industries that face radical technology-driven changes in market demand on top of falls in demand due to declining economies - paper for one. The paper industry is not a big employer though.

The main employment problem is in the construction and renovation business, and I think money will be borrowed to ensure they continue at some survivable level - especially for infrastructure projects that will pay off eventually.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 03:30:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Doesn't sound like fighting the last war to me!

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 26th, 2009 at 03:41:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Charges for True Finns Councillor Over Racist Blog Comments

The True Finns councillor allegedly wrote that Islam and its religious institutions were linked to paedophilia. The blog also reportedly suggested that the tendency to mug passerby and to live off of state benefits were characteristics of particular nationalities or genetic groups. The charges are to be laid in Helsinki District Court.



You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Mar 27th, 2009 at 03:42:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently Mohammed liked to lie with v. young virgins.  And don't pensioners like to live off state benefits where available?  Come to think of it, don't we all?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 27th, 2009 at 06:18:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Timo Soini, leader of the anti-EU True Finns announced at a party meeting in Helsinki today that he would be a candidate for the EP elections - and serve there if elected!

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Mar 28th, 2009 at 08:52:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Weird the way these Eurosceptics all seem to wnat to be part of the EP... Do they go around the building shouting "I hate you, I hate you!"?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Mar 28th, 2009 at 09:03:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, they take the money and run.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Mar 28th, 2009 at 09:26:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Among supporters, is there ambivalence to the whole EU idea? (Assuming there is no such uncertainty among euro-skeptics.) Is it just the end of the EU honeymoon of the 90's? Is there a lack of mesmerizing political talent in EU politics? Are people presently focused more on pocketbook issues with the economy the way it is?

Our last presidential election really meant a lot to many of us here. Obama could not have been elected had it not been for the anger over Bush's War, and the lies his administration told to ignite it. I haven't seen anything like this since Nixon was forced out of office in the 70's.

I don't even know if the European Parliament (any such institution is one I'm all for, btw) has enough juice to conduct policies that could get Europeans up in arms. That could be another factor. Is the EP merely a debating society?

<----- snip

As for WordPress, I like it. After trying two other blogging apps (drupal and typepad), I set up my own installation as well as took advantage of the free WordPress.com installation for another which I use as a backup. Traffic at both blogs is extremely modest, but has been picking up in the past month.

One caveat: I never use the Visual editor. I know html and css so that's ok by me as I get to overcome some of the formating quirks that different WordPress themes can throw at you. Otherwise, I'm quite happy with my combination of WordPress and Imageshack. The last time, but one, that I upgraded, I wound up having to uninstall and reinstall. I never lost any of my posts, but setting up categories and my blogroll was a pain in the ass. I had set up a fairly extensive hierarchy and had lots of links prior to that upgrade, but even that has been fixed. Now there's a one-button click that does all the upgrade for you automatically. The open source crowd that put together WordPress has and continues to do a fine job.

Give it time.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Fri Mar 27th, 2009 at 01:21:17 AM EST
I think the WordPress issue may simply be a case of insufficient bandwidth/server capacity - and not a software issue, but I need to talk to the thinkaboutit techy to conform that.

As for the EU, I think the biggest issue is that the postwar generation who appreciate what the EU has achieved in terms of peace and prosperity (and the contrast with what went before) have now passed on and their children take the good the EU has done for granted and focus on the bad bits - ably abetted by a eurosceptic dominated media (at least in anglo-phone countries).

Also the early idealism has been replaced by a "what's in it for us" attitude which is naturally frustrated when the interaction of 27 different national interests and numerous commercial and advocacy interests results in outcomes not to their liking.  So we have a permanent whinge fest where every complains about not getting everything they want.

Considering the above, the EU works remarkably well really...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 27th, 2009 at 06:54:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are there really 27 separate national interests? Or maybe 4 (Protestant Europe, Catholic Europe, ex Communist countries, and the English speaking countries)? I've a theory that national identity is mostly negatively defined by "who you are not." Muslims are not westerners, but they've been defined as being Islamic (by westerners), so witness the Islamic "flowering." We see today. What that means in terms of values is what counters everything the west is accused of being.

Just a thought.

If I'm not mistaken, the EU really hasn't experienced this kind of bloc formation (though from what I'm reading, it exists). So the lack of drama and interest might be a blessing.

<------

As for the bandwidth issue, it might be a database issue as well. My installation relies on a MySQL database, which was free as well. As far as I know, only Oracle and PostGre are databases which pass the ACID test, and can handle large amounts of data and transactions. PostGre is free, but requires a Unix/Linux server. I've taken to writing my posts in a text file and dropping it into WordPress to preview. But I had screen issues which required this. Works fine for me, I have no plans to experiment with anymore blog apps.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Fri Mar 27th, 2009 at 10:08:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As the EU is composed of 27 sovereign states, what divergent interests there are are articulated though that structure - primarily through the Council but also through nationally based EP caucuses.

There are no structures to articulate any divergent interests that may exist between North/South, East/West, Protestant/Catholics although states can of course form alliances on an ad hoc basis - typically on a regional basis but their can also be regional rivalries and divergent interests.  

Thus countries with a strong agriculture sector may ally in support of the CAP, countries with conservative Governments or pro-US policies/cultures may ally on certain issues.  Social conservatives may ally via the Churches, but they really have very little direct power or influence.

One of the reasons Libertas is interesting is that it may be an alliance of pro-business/nationalist and social conservatives - all of whom want the EU to keep out of their free market business affairs/national affairs and to minimise social/secular influences on their state/religious politics.

I agree that sometimes boring politics can be a blessing...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 27th, 2009 at 10:30:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I expect little difference in EP politics, EPP and PES will rule on in unholy coalition.

I am hoping that we will get in a MEP from the pirate party (FRA-law + IPRED + Pirate Bay trial + lower participation rate (effectively lowering the limit) + an election where it is perceived that it does not matter much to your day-to-day life = pretty good odds actually) which carries potential not only to change swedish politics, but also european. Not that one vote in EP matters, but the realisation that you can actually loose seats on opposing internet freedom might come as a stunning realisation.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Mar 31st, 2009 at 09:23:20 AM EST


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