Monday 7 December 2009

The State of the Euroblogosphere

Thursday saw the first Euroblogosphere meet-up, and, despite being plagued by technical issues and general rebellion by the internet, it went quite well. An outrage of bloggers* gathered to discuss the language barrier, how to raise interest in and expand the Euroblogosphere, and to just chat generally.

The language barrier was the dominant issue, with several ideas being floated. While English is perhaps the most commonly spoken second language, restricting any translation effort into just English would be quite limiting on the Euroblogosphere, and would exclude many Europeans from the chance of getting involved. However, it's clear that any translation effort - even if focused on only a few interesting or influential articles - would be time-consuming, and labour intensive. The Euroblogosphere has proven very capable of making voluntary efforts - such as and the Gender Balanced Commission campaign - it's hard to see how a major translation effort could be sustained. Having a funded and specially designed blogging platform to bridge the language gap would seem to be a better option, but it too raises many technical, funding and presentational issues. A voluntary newsletter or summarising effort based around struck me as the best option.

Engagement was the most interesting issue for me. Nosemonkey made some good arguments about the exclusivity of the Euroblogosphere:

"What the Euroblogosphere needs is simple - a) more of us, and b) more passion. The EU is incredibly dull. The reason we've all got such little traffic is mostly because of this - but also because we're failing to make it sound interesting. The anti-EU blogs, meanwhile, are much more fun to read - because they've got real passion behind them (even if they're mostly based on lies and bullshit) [...] Anything that makes it sound interesting and relevant. The biggest problem with the Euroblogosphere is that it's a) very small, a, and b) most Eurobloggers haven't been doing it very long - which means that most of the coverage is very, very general. Loads of posts about what it means to be European, ideal reforms of the EU. It's all too theoretical. Political theory only engages geeks - for it to grow we need to engage the man/woman on the street. This is something the anti-EU blogs do very well - albeit through lies and bullshit."

As a Euroblogger, I'm definitely on the theoretical/institutional side of things, but I recognise the value in opening up to different aspects of EU politics. If we want to encourage growth and development in the Eurobloggersphere (more readership, more bloggers, and more engagement), then as a political blogosphere, we will probably have to move towards a more normal style of political blogging. This means blogging more on the left-right, government-opposition divide in the EU, because this is both the politics that matter more in day-to-day life, and the type of politics people can identify with more, and find easier to debate. "How far should the banks be regulated and how - and how is it playing out in Brussels and in the national capitals?" is a much more politically relevant question to people than the institutional development of Qualified Majority Voting. This brings up a few interesting points, though:

1. It's easier to write about institutional politics than just politics. Yes, I wrote that right - it really is easier. It's much easier to have an opinion on the high politics of institutional reform and Commission appointments than it is to follow policy debates. Policy debates and legislation take a lot of time and effort (and the patience of a recently canonised stone) to follow. The passage of legislation is slow; it pings back and forth from the Council to the Parliament, and is hard to track on the EU websites. Following months of negotiation on aspects of the single market may not be an appealing idea to prospective (and existing) Eurobloggers. And would people read it?

2. Lack of official engagement on the web. Or indeed in the media at large. Though there's plenty of officialese statements flowing from each of the institutions, there's very little in the way of media-friendly policy statements or active MEPs on the internet. While some dedicated Eurobloggers may track down and explain some policy areas, the high level of effort involved will mean that it would remain a minority of the Euroblogosphere. But perhaps the effort of trying to open up EU politics like this would encourage more MEP engagement and the media-isation of Brussels' political language?

3. Speed. Legislation is slow, and it's hard to maintain interest over the period to report on an issue in the same way a national blogger may do in a shorter time span.

4. Bloggers. You can't get bloggers to do anything, not even if you ask politely. So how can you encourage a move towards reporting on the party-political aspect of the EU (note that this shouldn't require becoming party-political for the bloggers themselves). Perhaps some sort of common call to look at this aspect of EU politics more? It should be an area that is interesting in and of itself for Eurobloggers. We can't ask or expect other bloggers to write about it, but hopefully some will pick it up, at least partially, and add their two eurocents. So how about it? Do you think it would be a good area to write about, even occasionally?

Despite the obstacles, I think it's at least worth a try. I won't be able to properly try until after Christmas, and the idea of Europe and how its institutions work will still be very interesting to me, but I'll try to write a bit more on the daily politics of the EU. It'll take some adjustment, so bear with me on this.

Also, interaction with national blogospheres will be important too. I'm not sure how much I can bring EU politics closer to Northern Ireland's regional politics, but I should (and will) try to interact more with national blogospheres. Again, it'll take a while to get going, since my time's a bit limited at the moment.

So, do you think it could work?

* I'm hoping to get "outrage" accepted as the collective noun for bloggers, since it's the most common natural state of blogging.

There's now a Chasing Brussels episode on the topic, with many Eurobloggers debating these issues.


  1. Almost everything regarding EU affairs and politics is under-reported, so any new efforts are welcome from a general point of view.

    How much ordinary citizens - who say they should know more - are ready to educate themselves, is more questionable.

    Despite the over-sized majorities needed in the European Parliament, practically forcing some grand coalition into existence, the EP holds open debates with some differences in opinion being noticeable.

    The Council is more problematic, despite formal legislative debates in public. The real deals are done behind closed doors, and the fault lines are not party political, primarily.

    Tracking the member states' behaviour and their real motives is the field of glory for (unsung) blogger heroes and citizen journalists.

    I think that each euroblogger must do what he or she finds interesting, because writing requires time and effort, and the recompense is the feeling you get out of it.

    None of us need take a heavy responsibility for "rescuing" or "creating" the eurosphere.

    Each one can contribute a bit.

    There are European associations and organisation in every walk of life. They usually have some European level body and national members. At both levels there are individuals with at least some interest in European level questions.

    If they join or start blogs, interaction between national and pan-European blogospheres becomes a reality.

  2. Hi, Conor

    Eva has written about your suggestion on her Spanish-language blog, and I Google translated her post here:

    Essentially - she argues that the EU is about consensus-building, so there aren't really any obvious party politics going on.

  3. The EU is more than what goes on in Brussels - or things impinging directly on such. eg The site le Taurillon covers a much wider range of EU topics.

    I liked especially a recent French-language account of a young Frenchman who, whilst getting his Philadelphia driving licence, related how "European" he and his fellow EU students all felt in the US. Not French, or German, etc - but European.

    Stuff like this needs a wider audience, surely? And it needs to be available in other languages, too. Because, to me, this is the essence of what being part of the "real" EU project - as envisaged by its founders - is all about.

  4. @ Grahnlaw

    I agree that bloggers can't be forced to blog in a certain area or be expected to shoulder a burden of duty to do so, but I think that it's a good area worthy of intention that bloggers should be encouraged to write about. I'm probably going to stick to how I normally write, but I'll try to write more on EuroParty politics as well.

    With this post I'm trying to be a bit more encouraging to a different area of blogging which isn't as well served at the moment in the Euroblogosphere (though there are some good bloggers in that area, such as Eurosocialiste, who is tweeting about the PES congress at the time of writing). Hopefully by nailing my colours to this mast I'll force myself to look at the party politics end of things more, though, of course, it will always be time permitting.

    @ Joe

    Thanks! I haven't a clue about Spanish, so I would have missed this otherwise. I've got an idea for a counter-article, though (typically for me) it looks like it'll be a largely theoretical/abstract argument.

    What's your own stance on the topic? Are you in any way drawn to/interested in the EP politics, etc.?

    @ French derek

    I agree that the EU is much, much more than what goes on in Brussels, and that lifestyle blogs are just as important (and perhaps more so) in developing a common European public space.

    However, the Euroblogosphere that I'm talking about is mainly political, since it's hard to see how you can talk about direction or strategies when it comes to lifestyle blogs or other pan-European interests (football, etc.). As Jon Worth pointed out in the recent Chasing Brussels episode, the footballing blogosphere in Europe has managed to overcome linguistic divisions through its size (more people = more knowledge and time in creating links and translations), and I think that it's harder to encourage direction in these kind of blogospheres. If we come up with a way of breaking down barriers in our own political blogosphere, it could help indirectly by starting to form a template that could help in other areas.

    My main doubts come from the aim of breaking down barriers being an essential political one (since the idea is to encourage the development of a European public [political] sphere) - and it's much easier to sustain the motivation (as an overt aim or process) for doing this within what's basically a politically-centred community. Other communities like the football blogging one can achieve it more spontaniously, but I suppose the objective here is bringing to an audience the chance of exposure to a wider political debate, rather than an interest being followed up on with an effort to gain more access (we wouldn't really have to approach it from such an organised angle if that were the case here).

    Personal experiences are very important, and they do deserve a wider audience - the drive to open up the EU blogosphere should be just as much about content as well as access, though I'm not sure how we can actively encourage such personal stories - maybe you'd be interesting in blogging about this yourself?

    So... I suppose in a long-winded way I'm trying to say that time, resources and the level of mission needed limits us a bit in this area. At least for now. (We need more bloggers!).

  5. Eurocentric,

    Just a few quick thoughts.

    I see no need for eurobloggers to define themselves as "geeks". A broader view of what comprises the Euroblogosphere is welcome. Better inclusive than exclusive.

    On the other hand, there is room and need for institutional issues.

    "Solidarity" is, in my humble view, the main theme of European integration, but that does not mean that we have to sing every hymn from the same sheet. A democratic EU is based on political action, debate and differences.

    The Europarties have done little to encourage debate until now; much less than the tiny group of eurobloggers.

    Yes, there are European themes and common interests in almost every walk of life. Associations, networks, business interests and individuals could, for instance join Bloggingportal to gain visibility.

  6. Conor, I think you misrepresent the le Taurillon blog. Whilst the post I related could be defined as "lifestyle", the site - as a magazine for EU citizens - includes (mainly?) EU politics. NB posts are in all formal EU languages (important?).

    The post I mentioned matters, in that its starting point was education. For me a cornerstone in building the EU. If the citizens of the EU see few benefits in the institution then no wonder they are disillusioned. So, education matters. And the fact that, as this post pointed out, no matter how influential the EU may be, there are still some national issues (like providing EU-conformity driving licence info) that remain distinctly - well, national.

  7. @ French derek

    Sorry, I was aiming the comment at lifestyle articles in general and the niche of lifestyle blogs rather than trying to imply that le Taurillon was one (my mistake). Relating experiences of how the EU effects your life is a good thing to write about, but I think that education can best be got through engagement with what's going on politically (this does betray my bias of seeing political participation as a good thing in and of itself). It's easier to relate to the politics and to the issues if you're more engaged in debating them, etc. The lifestyle and human element is very important, but I think the main drive to be to encourage more direct involvement and hopefully more bloggers. It needn't mean excluding those kind of articles or blogs, but I think that the focus should be primarily political given the resources (and the interests of the current volunteers).

    @ Grahnlaw

    It would be great to have them on board, though if we do make a drive to get more of them linked up to, we'd probably have to change the layout so people can search thematic categories more easily ("politics", etc.). Though when it comes to translation, or the production of a newsletter, I think that given the small pool of volunteers, it'd be best to focus primarily on the political side. (By saying the "political side", I'm not limiting it to party politics, it's just that I think that's an area of debate that could do with more development and exposure).