Saturday 30 May 2009

Virtual Political Clashes

There have been a few web-based political clashes recently, mostly PES-related. All of the European Parties are being denied the "oxygen of publicity" during these elections, but there are a few sparse glimmerings of something approaching a political political campaign online - though sadly "sparse" is the key word here, and many of the online battles are far less interesting to read than the "Letters to the Editor" pages in newspapers. A little more passion or vision, please?

The PES have gone for a cross-group attack (though still quite focused on the EPP) in their "12 Terrible Candidates" press release, attacking its rival groups on the basis of the kind of fringe membership they have. It hasn't entirely worked, with the Economist (which I read via Julien Frisch) criticising the PES for including the former Minister for Justice of Romania, Monica Macovei, in their list. Macovei has a good reputation for fighting corruption, and her inclusion in the list has perhaps reflected more on the Romanian branch of the PES than on their EPP rivals. The EPP has dismissed the list as another aspect of a populist campaign by the PES in similarly combative language.

On the ELDR front, Poul Rasmussen has criticised the ruling ELDR-aligned government in Finland for its response to the crisis and for simply copying the policies of others:

"...why is the liberal Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, just copying the inaction of conservative leaders such as Merkel and Sarkozy when it comes to fighting the worst economic crisis for generations? ... [T]he tax cuts that he has enacted are just not enough. According to current estimates, by next year 250,000 people will be unemployed in Finland."
The Finnish PM has defended his government on the ELDR site, saying:

"...fiscal policy is in Finland one of the most expansionary in the OECD area. Discretionary stimulus measures amount to over 3 per cent of GDP in 2009 and 2010. For example, infrastructure investments are higher than ever. My government is committed to increasing resources for labour market policies as needed. Most recently, this week, 61 million € were added to labour market activities. Similarly, we have taken several measures to help municipalities in their financing difficulties.

At the same time as we are handling this acute crisis, we look further ahead. We need to manage the huge debts we now take without burdening too much our children. Therefore my government has continued efforts to improve our educational and innovation system, taken initiatives to lengthen working careers and launched a new growth project, among other things. Unfortunately Mr. Rasmussen's Finnish colleagues have not been very helpful in these efforts."

It's a political battle of sorts (though Rasmussen didn't advance specific policies in his blog post; he just supported his Finnish allies), but how relevant is it? Has it made an impact? I doubt much has been made of Rasmussen's attack in the Finnish media (though I may be wrong), but the engagement of the Finnish PM shows that the European Party-level could have some relevance to the campaign. Does anyone know if the Finnish PES party has played up this PES attack on the government?

Rasmussen has also been attacked by ELDR over some comments on the Estonian government's handling of the crisis, with the ELDR claiming that he wants Estonia to remain out of the Euro by increasing its debt (and breaking the criteria).

In the end I think that it will take a big effort of the European Parties' respective leaderships over the course of the next EP to raise the public awareness of their groups and themselves. It is nigh on impossible to generate a political campaign out of thin air, and despite the possibilities the internet opens up for politics, without the mainstream media reacting to a European political debate, there's almost no point in having one. Or in trying to generate one.

[Out of the 3 major EP political groupings - EPP, PES and ELDR - I think that the PES has made a good effort online (it seems the most active to me out of the 3), with ELDR's website not looking too bad, even if it's campaign is quite sketchy. The EPP-ED's site is functional, and the EPP have set up "Dialogue TV".]


  1. Eurocentric,

    I looked around a bit. By attacking prime minister Matti Vanhanen, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen gained some visibility in Finnish mainstream media through the rebuttals by Vanhanen.

    Rasmussen's visit made bigger waves in the Social Democratic press, on the European election web pages of the domestic SDP, and on blogs of candidates and supporters.

    All in all, no big deal. All political electioneering is made of trading "insults", and this was but one.

    But the PES leader engaged in campaigning along with the national party and trade union leadership is, in my view, a positive sign of alignment between European and national parties.

    I subscribe to your view that the PES has become fairly active on the blogging arena (although repeating the same message through different blogs is ... repetitious).

  2. Thanks for that!

    Trading insults isn't my favoured form of election campaigning - I prefer policy debates - but it does give the campaign more theatre and hopefully makes it more interesting for voters. Hopefully more revealing about the policy positions and leadership qualities of the candidates too.

    It's good to see that the PES's campaign is having some effect outside the sometimes sterile world of the internet. I haven't commented much on their online campaigns over the election period because there didn't seem to be much there worth commenting on - have I overlooked their campaigns too much? I've felt that there isn't much there to comment on, which is a sad indication of the lack of a true European debate.

  3. The campaigns and candidates remain fairly national in scope, or even limited to smaller constituencies.

    With thousands of candidates and campaign groups out there, I have used the multilingual blog aggregator as a proxy for how much or little the campaigners feel part of a European event (despite the language and state borders).

    Only a minuscule proportion do, despite the possibility to reach expat voters and gain visibility at European level, although registration is free and takes about half a minute to complete. The same goes for national parties' campaign blogs.

    And these are the parties and people who want to represent us in Europe, supposedly more knowledgeable than the ordinary voter.