Mon Oct 24th, 2005 at 07:57:04 PM EST
(cross-posted at the LocustWatch blog)
LocustWatch was originally conceived as a legislative watchdog. It has also been described as (with European Tribune) an open-content think-tank and as a propaganda-debunking outfit. All of these roles are closely related because of the unique nature of the EU legislative process.
EU legislative initiative is vested in the European Commission. To quote the Commission's own basic facts (emphasis mine):
Although the Commission has the right to take any initiative it considers appropriate to attain the objectives of the Treaties, most proposals are a response to legal obligations, technical requirements or to a specific request for action from another institution, a Member State or from the interested parties.
What this means is that the European Commission expects to be lobbied
for new legislation.
The mood in the European Tribune is that there is a neoconservative/neoliberal campaign to subvert the European Social model. The campaign seems to be two-pronged: on the one hand, there is a seemingly coordinated media effort to convince the European public that the "continental" system is in need of "reform" to bring it closer to an ideal Anglo-Saxon free-market model; on the other hand, there is a political effort at the highest level, involving US-friendly conservative political parties and think-tanks (such as the newly-formed Committee for a Strong Europe), to "reform" the European Union. What we think we have discovered is that the arguments in support of this neocon agenda at the heart of Europe is backed by media arguments which distort or cherry-pick statistical data in order to support a pre-established policy objective. This seems to be the neocons' standard operating procedure in the US. One of European Tribune's spontaneous editorial lines seems to be to fight them on the statistics.
Fortunately, the Treaty of Amsterdam contains wide-ranging freedom of information provisions. To quote:
Article 255 of the treaty establishing the European Community, implemented through Regulation 1049/2001 of 30 May 2001, grants a right of access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents to any Union citizen and to any natural or legal person residing, or having its registered office, in a Member State.
It is in fact possible to obtain access to draft legislation as it makes its way through the European Commission's internal process, before it is released for the consideration of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The Commission is, in fact, required to solicit input from EU citizens (as stakeholders). Quoting again from the "Basic Facts":
A draft for a piece of legislation -- a regulation, a directive or a decision -- is normally prepared by the leading service only after internal consultation of all other services concerned in the Commission and external consultation of national authorities, interested parties and stakeholders.
This means that it is impossible for the neo-con lobby to achieve its goals by stealth. Also, regardless of the level of influence that the neo-cons may exert over the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament has proven itself to be a staunch defender of the public interest. A case in point is the foiled directive on software patents
So, how does LocustWatch fit into the picture? LocustWatch has the potential to hinder the neo-con agenda at various points of the process:
- In the media, reacting to neo-con editorials, op-eds, background articles and news stories (including reports on the activities of neo-con politicians) by means of press releases, op-eds and letters to the editor.
- In the European Commission's internal process, taking advantage of public consultation periods to refute neo-con statistical spin, and raising awareness of the issues in the media.
- During the co-decision process, networking with allied Members of the European Parliament and submitting documents to the consideration of parliamentary committees, and again in the media.
Finally, how can LocustWatch and European Tribune feed off each other in this process? European Tribune, with its larger community and more open process, is ideal for flagging issues to be investigated by LocustWatch. European Tribune diaries will often contain preliminary analysis of, and links to, primary sources. LocustWatch can, in turn, release summaries of its own working papers as European Tribune diaries for purposes of peer-review. Issues detected in EU internal documents and draft legislation can be exposed in European Tribune diaries to raise awareness and generate feedback. Finally, European Tribune can provide a pool of willing participants in letter-writing campaigns to Commissioners and MEPs. European Tribune has the potential to evolve into an open-content think-tank and produce policy proposals. The accumulated expertise of LocustWatch regarding the EU legislative process will be helpful for pushing European Tribune's policy proposals when the time comes and they are generated.