The humiliating first steps of Myparl.eu
Euro MPs belong to an exclusive club which never has more than 736 members. The most effective way for them to communicate is still to pick up the telephone and arrange a meeting in one of their parliament’s bars or simply to chat on the benches of the National Assembly auditorium.
Despite this, the European Commission decided in 2008 to finance the initiative Myparl.eu, the cost of which was estimated at €4 million. This social networking website, similar to MySpace, was to be for the exclusive use of European delegates, and benefited from the participation of our friends at Euractiv.com, along with leading European communications agency Mostra, which has overseen countless campaigns on behalf of the Community’s institutions. The aim behind the initiative was to make it easier for members of parliament to communicate with each other, and they were expected to use it as a forum for debate for a limited time - 20 months at most - specifically in the run-up to the 2009 European elections. Ultimately, only three MEPs logged on to create profiles on the site, making it a complete failure : the project was axed before it reached completion. And now ? We’re left wondering how on earth somebody ever thought it would be a good idea
Some more dubious projects
Tweet Your MEP : Are we really ’all of a flutter’ for this latest craze ?
Launched by Touteleurope.eu on 22 September 2010, amid much hype, Tweet your MEP allows Twitter users to communicate with members of the European Parliament through a single social networking site. Supported by the French-based Hippocrene Foundation and by the King Baudouin Foundation in Belgium, the project was developed in partnership with the European Twitter portal ’Europatweets’, a user-friendly site combining a selection of Twitter feeds from around Europe, all in one place.
Spurred on by the success of Tweet your Senator in the United States, Tweet your MEP is a portal for social network Twitter’s 200 million subscribers to submit questions to Euro MPs, who must then reply with messages no more than 140 characters in length. Over a third of European MPs already have Twitter accounts, but these are used to put across their statements and points of view to their followers rather than to engage in actual discussions with them. The bold, yet somewhat uninviting, visual style of the Tweet Your MEP interface groups together questions and answers so as to create the appearance of a debate between the public and politicians, in a variety of languages (English, French, German and Dutch).
Whether or not this site is a useful tool is questionable, and this issue has been highlighted by many commentators online. The point to be made here is that Twitter users move in fairly small social circles and focus on their own field, such as journalism, activism, and a number of professional areas. Barely two million people in Europe have a Twitter account, and only a tiny number of those show an interest in European issues – it would be a rather large leap for those users to decide to enter into conversations with Euro MPs, with a message limit of 140 characters, and using an unfamiliar interface. Besides, there is yet a fundamental issue to overcome. Where is the benefit in creating a platform which reproduces tweets that are already available on Twitter itself ? It is therefore generally understandable that there are doubts as to the future of Tweet Your MEP. The site was launched five months ago and yet the home page is still rather lacking in content : the two most active members of parliament (Sandrine Bélier and Frédérique Ries) appear to have submitted just one response, and Daniel Cohn Bendit, listed as the third most contacted politician on the site, has only received two questions.
EUtube – about as exciting as an institution can get !
With two thousand pages being viewed every day, video-sharing site YouTube is one of the world’s most popular social networks. And now the European Union has its own YouTube channel, opened in 2006 under the name EUtube. The channel features 312 “informative” clips which have achieved viewing figures of almost 17 million in five years, amounting to an average of around 10,000 hits per day over the same period. These videos, which are filmed and edited in a studio, are intended to promote citizens’ awareness of how EU institutions are run and to provide a platform for a handful of European politicians to showcase their ideas and plans on matters such as energy, health, transport and climate change.
Video is arguably the format most capable of attracting the public’s attention, but EUtube often comes across as a tool of the media, concentrating on official propaganda (see for example the clip we featured several weeks ago under the impersonal title “The European budget in bite-sized chunks”). The clips posted are often somewhat stale and lacking in appeal, as if they were intended for the entrance halls or waiting rooms of official buildings rather than for the general public. What more could we expect from videos representing an institution ?
On occasion, though, the Commission appears to be seized by a sudden desire to get people talking and dives right in to a controversial topic. It has not hesitated to create a whirlwind of hype around a select few of its clips – such as the 2007 advert for the programme Media, a sequence of images showing “the most famous orgasms in European cinema”. This clip did indeed get viewers to sit up and take notice : it received over 8 million hits, representing a third of the overall figures for EUtube.
Coming soon : Citzalia, the new virtual world of the European Parliament
The company European service network has been commissioned by the European Parliament to develop Citzalia, a project that could be described as ’Second Life meets Farmville’ and costing €366,000. The aim behind the site is to create a virtual representation of life inside the European Parliament building in Brussels, recreating the buzzing atmosphere experienced every day by 7,500 workers and visitors.
The point of this exercise is no more, or less, than to bring this institution closer to the public and show how it can be of use to them. Designed as an online game, Citzalia offers visitors to the site the chance to create their own avatar, which they can then use to walk around the virtual environment and see how it works. Whilst there, they can find many interactive sources of information and can even stop and talk to Euro MPs on the spot or write articles to be published subsequently in Citzalia’s virtual newspaper. Although the appeal of a virtual world is debatable given that real-life communication with the Parliament is already hard work, it’s certainly too early to pass judgement on the matter as the initiative has not been fully launched yet. Beta testing for Citzalia began at the end of February 2011, and it seems the project is not completely doomed to failure if it can offer users the opportunity to participate in a genuine scenario and an adventure that has a purpose of some kind. There are many other fun websites out there, but this one perhaps has a little something extra.
But it’s important not to expect more than that. We must be sure to hold no false hopes of this site becoming a real tool for democracy, or for bringing EU citizens closer together.
The Pros and Cons of Facebook
The new trend with Facebook : keeping an eye on privacy while simultaneously building up an impressive friend list EU institutions are sometimes rather apprehensive in their approach to social networking, as exemplified by the warning displayed on the European Parliament’s website stating that, “whilst social networks appear to be relatively useful in terms of rapidly disseminating information, they are not always able to offer the levels of reliability which we may expect from them and cannot be considered as part of the professional media.” Members of Parliament are thus encouraged to show ’prudence’. However, 58% of European MPs are currently on Facebook, and they have more than 900,000 fans between them. The European Parliament also has its profile page, which already has 140,000 fans and receives on average 150,000 hits for each item posted.
The Facebook pages of the remaining Community institutions, though, have a total of only 50,000 fans between them. By way of counter-comparison, the White House currently boasts around 900,000 fans, while the United States Congress has barely 20,000.
Finally, to compare the incomparable, Barack Obama’s Facebook page has well over 18 million fans while President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy has just under 4,500, although the latter’s profile is an informal rather than official one. His Twitter feed, however, is rather more interesting to follow.
EU Career Raconteurs, to tempt young EU career hopefuls
Fancy a taster of the jobs on offer at the EU institutions ? Does the hushed ambiance of the Brussels corridors of power hold a special appeal for you ? The EU is offering up the experiences of 16 European civil servants who describe the most attractive aspects of their professional lives and the plus points of life in Europe’s capital. Through their respective blogs, a dedicated Facebook page which already boasts some 1,872 fans, and a Twitter account which already has (all of !) 150 followers, these EU administrators discuss their careers from an international perspective and try to paint a picture of themselves which goes beyond the stereotype of the dull, faceless Eurocrat.
Jam-packed with photos of their day-to-day work, videos and links to specific sites for every type of EU career, these accounts give the officials chance to describe what their work entails (although we might want to take them with a pinch of salt).
The EU Career Raconteurs initiative, launched in April 2010 by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), does not appear to have been backed by any significant funding, nor by a specific plan, other than creating Facebook pages and updating them. It may be modest in scope, but its aims are realistic given the means available – something which cannot always be said for the EU’s attempts at communication via the Internet. It is one of several projects, which underlines the fact that social networks are now widely used by the EU institutions. Unfortunately, however, due to a lack of updates, regular interviews or any real consistency in terms of objectives, EU Career Raconteurs is not very user-friendly and as a result has few visitors. Interpreting for Europe, because our language is translation
This is a very good example of how to mobilize a dynamic community and make the most of what Facebook has to offer. With over 11,000 fans, the Facebook page on the careers of translation and interpreting at the European Union, created by the interpreting services of the various EU institutions, is one of the EU’s most effective – and unquestionably one of its simplest and most economical – online tools for exchanging contacts and good practice.
A light-hearted focal point for the professional circle of the EU’s translators and interpreters, it simultaneously gives rise to spontaneous explanations of how the EU works and provides interpreters with practical examples. Contributors to this forum are often able to shed light on some of the most abstract and specialised topics in interpreting, making debates surrounding these issues comprehensible to those with less experience. Multilingual in nature, Interpreting for Europe opens the door for the interpreters the EU will need in the future, giving them a first-hand look at the lives of thousands of their counterparts who are already working within the institutions. Interpreting for Europe also exists to encourage people to consider interpreting as a career
The European political parties´ new tactics : to be confirmed
MyEPP, online preparations for the 2014 European elections are under way
After winning the last two European elections, the European People’s Party (EPP) is already developing a communication strategy which (it hopes) will bring it further success in the upcoming ballot in 2014. With this in mind, in May 2010, the EPP, the largest European political group, launched its social network myEPP, run by Ravi Singh, the US communications guru who was in charge of the online Obama campaign in 2008. It is worth noting that, unlike France’s ruling UMP party (which is shutting down its networkLes Créateurs de Possibles [The Creators of the Possible]), the EPP still believes in the potential of dedicated social networking sites.
Aimed at party activists first and foremost, as well as sympathisers and especially voters, the goal of this political social network is to promote ‘electronic democracy’. Evidently, the site is made up of ideas, but it also consists of files, contacts and political initiatives for encouraging people to make donations. You can actually make donations online through the site, and all of the money goes directly to party funds.
It is hoped that the network, which was created using the tool Ning, will have a presence across a variety of popular platforms, including YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, and will be able to attract members to myEPP. Party supporters are invited to start discussions in the EPP’s 20 languages, upload photos, give each other virtual gifts, post links to articles and forward requests to “generate awareness about the people’s political project”. Using a similar strategy, Barack Obama collected $500m for his 2008 US Presidential campaign. The EU, however, has very strict rules governing the ways in which European political parties can gather funding and imposes limits on how much can be received. Although the site is not without its users, they are somewhat thin on the ground. Admittedly, it is still a bit early to be launching the 2014 campaign.
EuropaBarCamp or the new wave of discussion
There is nothing hotter in the world of social networking than the participatory workshop-events known as ‘BarCamps’, a concept which was born in 2005 in Palo Alto, in the heart of the Silicon Valley. European politics has its own version, the socialist EuropaBarCamp. The initiative was set up in 2010 under the impetus of the Italian Gianni Pitella, the EU’s number one social networking geek, who also happens to be a Vice President of the European Parliament.
The idea is to attend a ‘non-conference’, which no one is watching or listening to. Everyone contributes high-quality information, either on site or online, to be shared among the ‘campers’. The event can take place simultaneously across a variety of sites and cities around the world to exchange information on a subject which may have (although not necessarily) been decided on beforehand. The discussion can last up to several days, and the participants often spend the night together (all in the name of the experience, you understand) at a location provided specially for the occasion.
A good Internet connection is vital for properly engaging in the intense discussions, which also include sharing files and news or free software over the Internet and through a Wiki. Currently exclusive to Italy, the four EuropaBarCamps which have taken place so far were on the following topics : ‘We are the makers of Europe’, ‘Social Europe’, ‘Business and Innovation’ and ‘The Third Sector’. In the words of the organisers, the goal of these network-based trans-European meetings is to “give a voice to young people and those who are cut off from political debate who want to tell us what’s not working, what needs to be improved, and what needs to be promoted and given attention in Europe today”.
The best of the lot
eTwinning, a tool which transcends the walls of the classroom
Out of all the EU’s experiments conducted through social networks, eTwinning is the most ambitious venture, boasting 121,876 active members and 4,528 current projects, and in practical terms the one most in tune with citizens’ actual needs. It has nothing to do with the publicity, personal branding or political public relations which pervade the majority of EU initiatives. In the Toulouse local authority alone, for example, 494 schools and educational establishments participate in eTwinning.
eTwinning is aimed at primary- and secondary-school classes throughout Europe. Through this collaborative online platform, teachers from all across the continent, and even the south bank of the Mediterranean, can contact each other, exchange ideas and plan activities for future partnerships. Once they have found a partner and decided to set up their project, the teachers can register it on the eTwinning portal.
They can then access the collaborative tools on the eTwinning virtual space, in addition to the eTwinning label, which they can print out and put on display in their school. Finally, to keep everyone up to date with their progress, they can even post messages in a TwinBlog specially created for their project. Full marks ! For once, the European Commission and Comenius, the EU’s programme for schools, have come up with and funded a creative, clear-sighted and effective initiative – a tangible example of how people from the four corners of Europe can be brought together.