Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Cheering crowds? Barroso’s EU “State of the Union” address

In the United States of America with a population of 310 million (Wikipedia), President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address drew 48 million television viewers, according to USA Today.

With the same 15.5 per cent of the 501 million population of the European Union, about 78 million EU citizens would have followed the “State of the Union” speech by Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

Before the “big speech” I remarked on the constitutional difference between the powers and the election of the President of the USA versus the position of the European Commission in the “institutional triangle”. In the USA, the State of the Union speech is enshrined in the Constitution, while in the European Union you have to struggle to find a legal base. (I am still waiting for clarifications promised from the European Parliament.)

When the chiefs of the EU Commission and the European Parliament felt the pressure to draw a decent crowd among 736 MEPs, they panicked.

In How many presidents does it take to run Europe? (7 September 2010), The Economist’s new Charlemagne noted how Nigel Farage, of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group and UKIP, seized on the constitutional differences and the viewer numbers between the USA and the EU.

The European Parliament’s press release, State of the (E)Union: The Europe of today and tomorrow debated in the EP, mentions no figures for viewers on the EP’s own channel europarltv, nor did I find any statistics regarding the session elsewhere on the EP website.

We can only speculate that EP Live may have experienced a peak of viewers because of the hyped name and the critical discussion preceding the “State of the Union” address, but how many thousands would we speak about?.

Despite the absence of cheering (or jeering) crowds, “Séance en direct” is an important public service, giving EU citizens online access to the plenary sessions – live or recorded - of the European Parliament in the original language and 22 other language channels. Agendas and documents complement the supply, which guarantees a certain level of transparency in EU affairs.

Ralf Grahn