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How the EU Parliament works

by Sven Triloqvist Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 05:03:42 AM EST

The pre-launch version of a website that has been created for the Swedish People's Party in Finland is now available for your review. It will be publicly launched later next week. We are still tweaking it. And we still have to set up the cascading styles for print out. But we should be ready with the fully functioning beta by Tuesday (including the link to the SPP main site in English).

Promoted by whataboutbob


Background
I first proposed the idea of such a website here at ET in June 2008. There were many useful comments; for which, thanks. I continued to study official EU sites in my spare time for a couple of months after that, and collected and collated what I thought were the key official descriptions. But even with severe winnowing it was still something like 14.000 words and seemed like an impossible and unrewarding spare time task.

Then some other parts slipped into place. I began consulting with a new gonzo coding company on other fairly radical community/political projects, and another group of close colleagues in Sweden and Finland secured a long-term contract to examine the communications process (among other aspects) of the Swedish People's Party. I then wrote a proposal for the website as part of their EP election campaign which was enthusiastically accepted. The SPP was also persuaded that the website would not be heavily branded as their own. In Finnish media, (in Swedish and Finnish) their involvement will be quite clear, and these are the direct audiences. The English version is their contribution to better understanding of the EP and how it relates to the other EU institutions.

Here's the link to the beta version: How the EU Parliament works

How the EU Parliament works' is intended as a very simple overview for a general audience, with the one-page design conveying the idea that the EU as an organization is `graspable'. In this simplification, a lot of nuance is lost. We also don't address Lisbon. This is the EU as it is before the next elections for the EP. We do have a proposal for implementing an expanded Stage II, but that will depend on the attention that this first version gets. While this new site may not be a perfect solution, it is amazing that the EU has not seen the need for a simple overview of this type.

The texts and buttons can all be found by search engines, so after 2 weeks of indexing by these engines we hope to appear prominently in search lists - especially when searched in Finnish and Swedish. There are 3 language versions. The translations are complete for these, but we are still awaiting proofreading from the party, before opening them up. The Party will make the site available to social liberal partners in their EP group for local translations, if there is demand. I am still waiting for an answer from them on putting it out under a CC licence.

From the point of view of the Swedish People's Party - a pro-EU and pro-Europe party (though with plenty of criticism of how it works) - they need to reach out to Social Liberals in Finland beyond the language barrier. The party is going through some changes: perhaps one might call them generational changes. The party will almost certainly lose its single EP seat. The expansion of the EU has cut the number of MEPs assigned to Finland from 14 to 13, and the PR numbers do not favour this party. But this site is one example of their commitment to the EU, getting out the EP vote, and thinking about a greater bottom-up openness.

Responsibility for any factual mistakes can be laid at my door.

Display:
A small point of practicality assistance missing from the beta version at present: hover the cursor over a button to reveal a short description - click on the button for a longer description in a pop-up text box.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 04:48:56 AM EST
Small design note: if you click on the button and leave the mouse where it is, the short description will stay in front of the pop-up. I'd put it behind.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 07:23:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. I will point that out to the coders tomorrow.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 07:36:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
excellent project, tidily executed.

anything to make the processes less opaque will exponentially increase public support, period.

you don't even have to put 'for dummies' in the header!

if this initiative had been rolled out to every nook and cranny of the EU before the last vote, there would have been a lot more 'oui' and a lot less Libertas, imo.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:09:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nicely turned out, in spite of the minor glitch mentioned above.

And thanks. I've found much of the posts and commentary here a bit confusing, not knowing there was a Council of Europe (and a European Council), and who was president of what body, etc.

A long term goal might be to chronicle the inevitable growth and change that will occur as the institutions grapple with more issues.

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

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 11:11:22 AM EST
I am sure there are more glitches. That's the point of beta versions ;-)

What I would have liked to include were photos and names of the key people in these organizations, and some comparative basic info on the 27 countries. We are however planning an open wiki site that would be cross linked with texts in the map, and that would enable the development of of more detailed overview.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 11:22:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be nice if clicking on the EP representation was how you got to the country info ... that is, even in the graphic, the EP delegation "represents" the country.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 12:31:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I don't quite understand?

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 12:32:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... box on the EP parliament. You click on the circle that says "18" that has Sweden underneath it, you get the population of Sweden, its entry date into the EU, the name of its national parliament, structure, how many people in it, yadda yadda yadda.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 12:45:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. Yes, this is envisaged for Stage 2. At some point though the information will become too fine-grained for a simple map - which is why we are working on the link to a wiki.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 12:57:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes ... a "more" link in the pop-up box, and the background info can get as detailed as desired.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 01:14:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is more text to come before we launch. There will be clickable headlines under the pictures that take you down to the relevant section of text in the scroll (you can also freely scroll to it).

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 01:18:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oho - now I checked, those are already implemented. The meistercoder was obviously working yesterday ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 01:21:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you seem to have joker in your IT team. When you hold the mouse over Germany you get 99 red luftballons. :-)

I assume he is refering to this. :-D

by Fran on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 02:24:13 PM EST
I know ;-)

But is always nice to know that coders are human after all...

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 02:33:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Human coders? Have you anyone on the staff who you lock in a closet all day, release him at night when the last of the staff turns the lights out for the night, but who leaves you wonderful code when morning comes?

I've known people like that. I was almost one of them myself :)

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

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 10:47:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Last time I was there, one of the coders was joking about how he had to climb down from quite a high balcony to get out of the building during the early hours ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 06:57:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A one-page genius!  Thank you, Sven, for giving me probably the most practical visual aid for my talk to the uninterested locals.  

May I use it, please?  I will proyect it on the wall, intertwining the EU vs national agendas and the final EP list approved just yesterday.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 04:10:37 PM EST
Thanks metav! Yes, of course use it. It will be public soon anyway. I am very happy that you have found an immediate use that is absolutely in line with the reason for creating the site - to inform in a way that is easier to grasp, and, most importantly, help give people a reason to vote.

Higher voter turnouts increase the legitimacy of the EP - whoever people vote for!

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 04:28:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Looks nice! The popup window when you click on a button could either be larger or resizable (just to drive the coders nuts with a feature request), so you wouldn't have to scroll too much for the longer text passages.

Any chance you guys are considering a Russian translation?

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 04:17:37 PM EST
That is a smart idea for SFP.

We toyed with different-sized boxes, font sizes etc and finally compromised on this, and the sub-menus (under the picture of eg the EP button) These subs jump you down in the text.

I am waiting for someone to design a keyboard with a scroll wheel on it ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 04:23:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I could have sworn I have seen such a keyboard somewhere (dunno if it was a scroll wheel per se, but some sort of similar mechanism).

Not to get too side-tracked with SFP strategy here, but it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world to make a play for the Russophone electorate. Granted that I can't really speak to the ideological make-up of the Finnish Russian community and that about 50% of them only have Russian citizenship and so are unable to vote in EP and Eduskunta elections. Last time I surveyed the matter, only the Green League had decent information available in Russian (and Estonian for that matter, the fourth most spoken language in Finland); Kokoomus has a one-page summary available, but its buried somewhere under the misleading title "EU Languages".


"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 06:40:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your suggestion was welcomed at a meeting with SFP this morning, and the search is on for a cost-efficient translator! Thanks.

I also believe there is an audience in Russia itself that would welcome simpler info about the EU.

About the keyboard scroll wheel - this is standard, of course, on musical keyboards, and special keyboards for 3D and engineering etc. The best place for it maybe on the mouse?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 06:55:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have some affiliations with a translation company with experience in EU documents in particular, I can send you a link per e-mail if need be (note: I didn't think of the company until just now, I'm not astroturfing or creating artificial demand for their services or anything ;-)

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 07:42:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The verbal descriptions of the Council of the EU, European Council, and Council of Europe could be sharpened up a bit to highlight the differences between them and avoid the inevitable terminological confusion.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 06:46:34 PM EST
I like the design a lot.

I'm not quite so keen on some of the text. I think a lot of people won't understand words like 'judiciary', so if the aim is to reach a general audience, anything that looks even slightly wonkish should be replaced by much simpler language.

It's not all bad by any means, but I think it needs to be shifted down a couple of reading comprehension notches to become accessible.

Also, I'm assuming that the '13 MEPs' under Finland is a one-off and not something that's going to stay. ;)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 05:58:41 AM EST
Also - is this how the EU works, or how the parliament works? Because a lot of the extras aren't really part of the parliament.

There's no reason they shouldn't stay, but I think 'How the EU works' is punchier and more memorable - and also the kind of thing that can be used in schools from primary level upwards.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 06:01:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That was my original title, but it was changed to reflect the aims of the party EP campaign.

In Stage II, if we get to do it, my original title will be used. I will insist though, that the EP remains visually at the center. That is not how the EU bureaucracy sees it, and it probably does not reflect the shifting power centres within the whole organization (as I've addressed in previous diaries).

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 06:50:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.

I agree about some of the text and the present result is a partial compromise with the party EU experts - who tend to go for official buzz words that they feel happy with. The problem is that the search for simpler definitions often leads to longer texts because words like 'judges' or 'legal system' or 'courts' don't quite fit the actuality.

The simpler answer is that getting the 14.000 words 'short' version down to 4000 was a challenge, and I ran out of time. But I hope it will be a work in progress. I'll start doing interviews early next week (oh noes I'll have to get up for the frickin' morning TV!) and then we'll see. The party will, I think, be happy with whatever positive attention they can get in the media, and will be ready to invest more if a) we oick up a couple of major newspaper articles, b) some TV soundbites and c)  site visitor tracking shows genuine activity after the peak of the launch.

'13 MPs' was a marker - it will be gone soon ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 06:44:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fair enough. I know how hard it is to write something simple and short. ;)

At the possible risk of losing some of the focus, it could be useful to expand the concept a little and explain how government works.

I suspect not many people know that a generic democratic government is supposed to have three (more or less) independent branches.

Instead of changing the text you could maybe hyperlink to a somewhat extended glossary with fill-in details.

The problem with the current version is that it works for people who already understand the concepts - but most of the population doesn't. I think making that information accessible and central rather than incidental would be a win, and it would extend what you've started to do here with the anti-talking points which debunk the sceptics.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 07:23:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is a very good idea! I had been thinking on similar lines during the project, but it was necessary to simplify to get it done in time before the election campaign began.

I also think that is the sort of project that ET could undertake. I'll certainly be mentioning ET in any interviews, to explain the genesis of the idea. I am hoping (perhaps wishfully thinking) that the EU bureaucracy might notice this site, see the potential, and commission a new version. The only difficulty I see is in telling the EU they can have nothing to do with it except pay, otherwise it'll be a catastrophe!

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 08:30:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I'm free, and my consultancy rates are reasonable. :)

I think you'd probably tell the EU that it would be more efficient to do the first version in-house with their guidelines (rather than designing by committee.)

After that - if they can agree about what they don't like and why, that would be the time to start valuing their input. ;)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:23:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and we have talked about cooperation for a long time.

There is another possible solution: find a media sponsor (who might be in general agreement with our political aims). I would still keep the information neutral in total, but compare pros and cons as honestly as possible. Making it too overtly political would limit the audience. In the short term (next election and Lisbon) getting people interested and voting is the main task.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 10:35:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You included a button for the Council of Europe, maybe you should also include something about the European Court of Human Rights.

By the way, I thought that he European Council will become an official body of the EU with the Lisbon Treaty. Is this the case?

by rz on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 08:39:18 AM EST
There are other parts missing - this current version is a compromise angled toward the EP campaign. Stage II would include more - after the election.

The European Council (Summit of heads of state). You are correct about Lisbon - and the text will state this. The original rollover text was shortened without my permission, and will be reinstated.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 08:46:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW the EU itself does not include the Human Rights body as one the main institutions.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 08:47:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is actually why I would find it interesting if you would include the Court. It is really confusing to understand what bodies that have "Europe" in their name are actually part of the EU. I like it a lot that you include the  Council of Europe, and explain that it is not a part of the EU.

Now, wouldn't Lisbon make the rulings of the ECHR
binding? I thought so. Or would decisions about the Human rights convention, that is included in the treaty, be done before Court of Justice?

In general I think you have created a great tool to understand the EU. Well done.

by rz on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 08:55:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
rz:
Now, wouldn't Lisbon make the rulings of the ECHR
binding? I thought so. Or would decisions about the Human rights convention, that is included in the treaty, be done before Court of Justice?
Council of Europe - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The European Union is expected to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). At their Warsaw Summit in 2005, the Heads of State and Government of all Council of Europe member states reiterated their desire for the EU to accede without delay to ensure consistent human rights protection across Europe. There are also concerns about consistency in case law - the European Court of Justice (the EU's court in Luxembourg) is treating the Convention as part of the legal system of all EU member states in order to prevent conflict between its judgements and those of the European Court of Human Rights (the court in Strasbourg interpreting the Convention). Protocol No.14 of the Convention is designed to allow the EU to accede to it and the EU Reform Treaty contains a protocol binding the EU to join. The EU would thus be subject to its human rights law and external monitoring as its member states currently are. It is further proposed that the EU join as a member of the Council of Europe once it has attained its legal personality in the Reform Treaty, possibly in 2010.[22][23]


Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:20:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks!

I am not up to speed on ECHR (though I should be).

A similar diagrammatic view of Lisbon might have helped avoid some of the negative (uninformed) criticism of it.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:22:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Like it.

however - colour coding. The different colours are not immediately obvious (for me) and Council of Europe f.e is to similar to other colours. There could be a colour that is even more distinct.

What is the reasoning behind the different colours?

by PeWi on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 01:13:42 PM EST
The  main colour is EU blue. The Council of Europe is grey to show its separateness. All the other colours were selected a) to group them and b) because the colour range blue/green is less aggressive, based on the must have EU blue. But it is partly a matter of taste, and partly experience of how to present things.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 01:29:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Other smal bug.

When you click more than once on the European Union, European Parliament, the window opens again. (obviously exact overlay, but if you click three times, you have to close it three times as well)

Obviously Council of Europe does not open in its own area like the other three.

Oh, this is on a Mac and Omniweb (and Safari, Firefox, iCab and Shiira)

by PeWi on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 01:21:22 PM EST
I've discussed that with the coders. IMO it should be simple to have a <click on> cause any other window to close. But we still have a couple of days of tweaking.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 01:26:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suggest you invent a council, let's call it the Europe Council, devoted to researching the names already being used by other councils before any new council is allowed to name themselves.


"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky
by poemless on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 01:35:36 PM EST
It should be the Council of European Councils.
by rz on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 03:03:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In terms of info:

Council of Europe. You may want to add that: it has 20 other European countries as members (the observers bit is confusing without it), that it mainly deals with human rights, democracy, and the rule of law (see website), and that the European Court on Human Rights is a CoE institution.

European Council. The last sentence would be better if it read 'The European Council meets at least four times a year...'

Economic and Social Committee. Should be on the same organisational level and in the same size and colour as the Committee of the Regions as it plays the same role in the legislative process (giving advice). The description it too positively coloured, but that is my preference and perception of the institution (I think it's corporatist and am somewhat sceptical about the value of engagement of the social 'middle field'). I'd give a more functional description.

Court of Justice: Needs to be more prominent. The ECJ should be the same size as Commission and Council.

Council: Missing a description of 'comitology'. See the wiki, which is decent. Obscure but vital.

Banks: ECB should IMO come first. Might be better to give it a different colour.

Overall: you might add something on international institutions (e.g. OECD/UN) to replace the Economic and Social Committee at bottom left.

(I add that my mind sometimes works legalistic and that my political preferences might be different from the party you're working for, e.g. they might love the Economic and Social Committee -- but at least it needs to be inside the circle as it's an official EU institution, otherwise the information hierarchy is inconsistent)

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Apr 23rd, 2009 at 10:30:35 AM EST
The Economic and Social Committee needs to be next to the Committee of the Regions as advisory organs to the main 3.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 23rd, 2009 at 10:33:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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