Tuesday, 9 December 2008

European Parliament elections 2009 (29): PES, Obama, and the campaign

Apparently, the Party of European Socialists (PES) is, inter alia, discussing how to take elements of the Obama campaign onto the European level:
People wanted to know more about some aspects of the US campaign, how the Obama movement could be "exported" into Europe, some concrete ideas were presented and discussed, and the general mood was that this campaign will be an important opportunity for the PES family to present itself as the main political force in Europe.
This campaign of the European Socialists will, with or without Obama, run under the PES manifesto slogan:
People first: a New direction for Europe
which is nice but lacks some fire, some energy, because it sounds very impersonal. "People first" is a typical political slogan, but it is standard, it is dry, it is lame, because it does neither directly address the people nor does it include them.

Obama's "Yes, we can" was far more inclusive, and the success of his campaign - beside its professional organisation - was his ability to construct this message of inclusiveness. The PES slogan sounds again like top-down politics, like "We care for you, people", instead of "Let us jointly care for a new European Union". So it is typical EU, it is thought from the head, from the top of the pyramid. And that is the second thing: The PES slogan asks for a "new direction of Europe", but the elections are not about "Europe" but about the "European Union". This is a difference! The European Union's political scene has to realise that for 2009 we are not talking about this very vague concept of "Europe" but that we are entering into a campaign for a very precise polity which is called "European Union". Behind, there is the vision of Europe, and maybe the vision could be adapted, but its the Union that is mislead, not Europe.

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Under the category "Tracking: European parliament elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009.

For an overview over all articles in this category have a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

I know that this might also sound very technical to replace "Europe" with "European Union", and it might not be very nice for a slogan, but the difference is importance: "Europe" is an idea, a concept, a project, maybe even a fiction, but the European Union is concrete. It exists, it influences our lives, it regulates our food, it guarantees our freedoms, it finances projects that affect all of us directly or indirectly. So this campaign is partly about Europe, but it is mainly about the European Union.

If national and European politicians will be able to explain this to possible voters, these voters might start to realise that they are actually affected by the results of the 2009 parliamentary elections. Many might not feel attached to the vagueness of "Europe", they might not care for the vision and they might even not share it, but they at least need to realise the concreteness of the European Union and the concrete importance of these elections which are parliamentary elections, not just a game.

So coming back to the PES slogan: It is mislead and misleading in a double sense: It addresses people from the outside instead of including them, and it addresses the vision (which cannot get a new direction) instead of the real project (that definitely needs a new direction).

The slogan bores me - me, who actually shares the vision that the Union should be for everyone (and, for example, not just for elites), and it might thus also bore possible voters.

But that is not on me to judge.

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Under the category "Tracking: European parliament elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009.

For an overview over all articles in this category have a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

4 comments:

Grahnlaw said...

Julien,

What would Obama's campaign have been if it had been a pile of papers called a Manifesto, or even if this Manifesto had been available on the web?

The core of the Obama campaign was Obama, the candidate.

Do you suppose that the PES will notice and act upon this tiny 'element'?

Julien Frisch said...

Thanks for this pertinent rhetorical question! :-D

amandine said...

Let me raise some objections to your interesting – nevertheless inappropriate – criticism of the PES slogan for the coming European election.
Although it sounds very smart, the first comment is eventually somewhat naïve because it compares apples and oranges. It is true that “people first” sounds less inclusive than “yes, we can”. While this remark draws back to basic political communication techniques, the purpose of a European election is not to gather the nation as a whole behind one leader which embodies a grand project. Whether you like it or not, the EU does not fit into these national scheme and, actually, I am not sure that European citizens would be actually responsive to an inclusive and nation-state-like slogan.
Rather, “people first” is very assertive in stating one thing: improving life conditions for human beings must be the priority number one. Against the background of the current crisis, and after a whole cycle where governments have obviously put global economic competition and firms’ profits first, I think this does make much sense for most of us.
Then, about the distinction between the EU and Europe: it is much more misleading than the PES slogan : what shall Europe be in European citizens' eyes if not the EU? What is the vision of Europe if not the vision embodied and fulfilled by the EU? This campaign is precisely about the vision, the direction for the European continent.
In brief: I think that the PES slogan addresses precisely the EU’s current problems:
1/ the lack of a common and new vision for the continent as a whole
2/ a vision which puts human beings at the centre of political action
amandine

Julien Frisch said...

@ Amandine

First of all, thanks for this comment.

Let me start with this:

"what shall Europe be in European citizens' eyes if not the EU? What is the vision of Europe if not the vision embodied and fulfilled by the EU?"

I cannot think Europe without the European Union, but Europe is more than the European Union, which is a political project, a real-life polity, while Europe itself is a vision.

But these elections are not about the vision, they are elections for a semi-legislature of a supranational polity, that cannot contribute much to the greater vision of Europe because its construction does not really allow this.

These elections are about concrete things - politics -, and not much about a vision. And the electorate needs to know that, it needs to know that it is not the election of the parliament of an abstract Europe but the parliament of a real Union.

And they need to feel included, not to be patronised, because this is what the European Union sounds for many: It sounds not like a glorious vision but just like the patronising political reality...