I wanted to ask why the Commissioner waited until now, three days before the directive starts entering into force until he writes a blog post about the topic. I wanted to ask why he doesn't link the the technical briefing on the topic that is available since December. I wanted to mock about the fact that Piebalgs announces that there will be a website explaining the ban - now, and not six months ago...!
I even wanted to link a EurActiv article from December, and a German language blog article from February where you learn that the Environment Committee of the European Parliament apparently rejected to discuss the issue of the light bulb ban in the plenary by 44 to 14 votes on 17 February 2009.
But then I tried to find this vote of the Environment Committee in original documents. I spent over 30 minutes on the EP's website to find the meeting, the respective documents, and the votes. I found the press release, some documents, even a draft agenda of the 17 February meeting, but not what I was looking for.
I cried out my anger on Twitter. Tayebot from the EP webeditors reacted on Twitter, giving me the link to all the meeting documents.
But even though Thibault from the EP webeditors worked on a Saturday to calm down a disappointed blogger - honestly, an impressive work ethic! - this blogger didn't find any hint to the votes in the documents, especially not the one in which the deputies decided not to decide the light bulb ban in the plenary.
And he finds that the presentation of the documents, the style of the documents, the search function regarding such documents on the EP's website are all quite catastrophic.
I imagine I was a journalist who gets the task from his editors to write a good story on the light bulb ban. He reads some other stories already written by his colleagues. He is a professional and wants to double check what his colleagues from other news sources wrote or said.
Opening the EP website, he tries to find an information on the process, he tries to get the original documents, the voting results, the MEPs involved etc. He is less experienced with EU documents than I am, and I am just a motivated beginner. He spends 20 minutes searching, without getting what he wants.
A) The story is not written.
B) The story is hearsay, it's negative, or biased at best.
It's the same with all EU institution sites. You don't find what is important when you look for it. Whether you are a citizen, a blogger, a journalist, a scientist or somebody else. Press releases don't link all the relevant documents, if they link them at all. The search functions are hidden, they are complicated, confusing, and they don't produce results that are helpful.
I spend hours searching for the right information, it's eating my time, just because I am interested in writing about the EU. I am a political European, and so I am ready to invest the time, but how many are as crazy as this?
The link between Piebalgs' late blog post and this conclusion is the general communication disaster of the European Union. The Union is strong and big in big communication efforts - and in defending them.
But why are millions spent on campaigns, if no individual looking for information on its own finds what it wants on the websites of the Parliament, the Commission, the Council?
Why are the institutions surprised if rumours spread in the Union, about the Union, its policies, its processes, if no one is able to check the stories, the rumours, etc. because you never find the original information?
Why all the the nerve-wrecking abbreviations, the COD 1774/77994 ENVI TYPO documents names that confuse everyone outside Brussels?
If there is a light bulb "rage" these days (and more and more articles are appearing in the news), this is not just because of the light bulb itself, but because it was impossible to follow the decision-making process that led to the decision outside Brussels - and it is still impossible without spending hours of research on poorly designed institutional websites!
PS.: And I don't want anyone to blame the EP webeditors, or any other webeditor of EU websites. I want that those deciding about money and other things to give these editors all the freedom and the time to make these sites better, not in a year, but now!
Update: Thanks to reader and commentator Daniel, the document proving the voting result has been found here (Word Document). The vote is documented under Agenda Item 19. But to get there, you have do really be an EU-expert!
- 14 June 2009: The EU in German blogs (1): The light bulb ban