Tuesday 24 August 2010

Online campaign challenges in Europe: Inertia and hostility

Online media, or social media, potentially cross national and linguistic borders, but both attitudes and languages present formidable challenges for Europe-wide campaigns.

Here we take a look at attitudes.

In a blog post on Europaportalen, the Swedish researcher Jakob Larsson, who works in the Institute for Futures Studies (Institutet för framtidsstudier), yesterday wondered at how sluggish media attention given to EU issues is during the run-up to the parliament election on 19 September 2010, despite their obvious importance.

Sweden is not unique. In practically all member states of the European Union political parties and media deal with political and policy issues in a national framework. This reflects voter perceptions, but it also fails to educate the public.

During the Enlightenment, some philosophers managed to propagate new ideas beyond national borders, although most people continued to toil in local communities unaware of the paradigm shift taking place.

Despite great technological advances, Europe remains almost in the same situation. European affairs are still the domain of a minority of well-informed and alert people, who understand the interdependence and interaction between politics and issues at EU level and national level. Attitudes are passive and they change slowly.

Then there are the flat-earthers who actively keep digging deeper trenches, exemplified by EUReferendum. The Battle of Britain drones on, now into its 45th day. This could be an understandable mix of history and nostalgia, were it not based on unadulterated hostility towards everything which binds Europeans together:

Fifty years of European political integration is not uniting us – it is dividing us, turning us back into enemies.

As Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Spaniards and the rest, they are our friends and allies, and deserve our respect. As "Europeans", they are Frogs, Huns, Ities, Dagos and the rest. They become our enemies and rivals. They get our enmity.

The "colleagues" need to wake up to this before it is too late. Leave us be, without trespassing on the "nooks and crannies" of our daily life and we are friends. Interfere and threaten us, and we are enemies. And they really don't want that. Look what happened last time.

A political online campaign for Europe has to contend with two attitude challenges: inertia and prejudice (even hatred).

The Campaign for a PES Primary is an example of an EU-wide political campaign, where party activists have to overcome both tardiness and hostility in order to gain wide enough support.

The Facebook campaign page has now gathered 921 members, and the grass root campaigners hope to reach 1,000 supporters by the end of August.

Not a bad start for a pioneering effort, but what (else) can civil society actors learn from the campaign?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Comments relevant to the topic discussed in each Grahnlaw blog post are most welcome. However, the number of spam comments has skyrocketed. This is the sad reason for comment moderation, so it may take a while before your valued comment appears.

It is easier to understand a language than to use it correctly. As Eurobloggers we could and should promote interaction among Europeans across borders and between linguistic communities. Grahnlaw has adopted a multilingual comment policy:

I do my best to read comments in Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.

Antonia on the Euonym blog (Talking about the EU) tells us that the European Commission in the UK arranges a Day of Multilingual Blogging on 26 September 2010, and the UK Representation has been joined by the multilingual aggregator Bloggingportal.eu and individual Eurobloggers. Join the event page on Facebook, spread the word through social media and personal contacts, begin preparing your blog posts and start learning a new language.


  1. I suspect that inertia is the biggest obsticle. If an online campaign has a good goal, clearly explained (and preferably simple), then people will judge it on its merits. By comparison, the complexity of the Lisbon Treaty meant that it could be treated and painted as a "pandora's box" by its opponents.* The primary campaign is one that I would say would gain broad support (if we consider there to be a large "middle ground" of people between pro-integrationists and Eurosceptics). The key problem is convincing people, who often see EU affairs as being largely irrelevant to them, to see primaries as important enough to give more active support than just saying "that sound's like a good idea" and thinking no more of it when told about the campaign. The campaign has done well during a traditionally slow month; I hope that they can pick up momentum as we move into September.

    *When it comes to European integration, people generally tend to be receptive and thoughtful when presented with an idea for a particular measure/part of integration, giving good points for and against. However, "Europe" is often just presented as a pandora's box, on to which people project good or bad expectations. As an former politics lecturer of mine said, political parties are designed to get people elected, not run referendum campaigns. in the same way political parties below the European level aren't institutionally well equiped to support a good debate on Europe. Having a "normalised" party politics at the European level (and primaries would be an important part of this), as well as visible and relevant civil society groups on European issues, would shape the debate on Europe into a more rational and focused one (is the theory).

    Political parties mobilise people for European issues only rarely, but civil society on European matters largely follows the same pattern. Engaged civil society groups could make a real difference to the wider debate on Europe, and the general attitude with which European issues are dealt with. Again the problem is inertia, since civil society groups on Europe would be hard to run, and would need to be creative. How can we encourage such a civil society?

  2. Eurocentric,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    The Camapaign for a PES Primary is an interesting test case for civil society organisers at EU level.

    Most Europeans (still) tend to think in national boxes and party faithful generally wait for a cue from party HQ, instead of upsetting the established order, so the laws of inertia are pretty strong.

    The PES campaign has a precise and limited scope, and it has the merit of starting with the activists' own party.

    While the PES campaign requires individual thought and action, it has great potential.

    Another ingredient in a pan-European context is the issue of languages, which I discuss in my latest blog entry.


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