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.