Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Could I talk to the Commissioner, please?!

Citizen-to-institutions communication still looks like a quasi-impossibility at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, and there where it happens you see mixed results - but still results on which basis we can continue working.

I have discussed the issue of European communication already two weeks ago in reply to a blog post by EU Commissioner Margot Wallström and so I do not have to go back to the discussion (see the comments) about the value of blogging and my hopes that at least one or two of the new Commissioners or their staff will be involved with the blogosphere.

But now Margot Wallström has written her very last blog post as EU Commissioner (UPDATE: Well, Margot has added a real Goodbye post) in which she mentions a few of us eurobloggers personally (thanks for the hint at Eurosocialiste and Oscar), and so we have to say good bye, sending warmest wishes to Brussels and Sweden and taking our hats off for the blogging work and insightful posts by Commissioner Wallström.

In the meanwhile, the web editors of the European Parliament are succeeding pretty well in employing Facebook for citizen-to-MEP chats, as Steve can tell in their latest blog post, and maybe other institutions can use the example and do similar things, whether on Facebook (where the crowd is) or on the EU websites (where there should be more crowd).

But there are also less stylish interactions in 2009, interactions in which you still feel the weight of formality that rules the external communication of public institutions:

Andre wrote a letter to the German Foreign minister supporting his decision to reject Erika Steinbach (see my post on that matter), and he actually got an answer from the ministry in the name of the Foreign Minister - although it is pretty sure he doesn't write himself - and strangely enough the answer is both personal in style and standard in content.

And I commented on a blog post of German MP Eva Hoegl, member of the Bundestag (German Parliament) committee for EU affairs and vice-president of the "Europa Union", and today, 9 days after the comment, I got an answer from her office manager via email, an answer that doesn't actually answer my question on the blog, but that should at least have appeared on the blog itself.

The funny thing is that I have interacted directly with MP Hoegl via Twitter these days (she made me aware of the fact that Günther Oettinger will be in the Bundestag this week), so that it is strange to get a kind of formalised answer via email on a blog post comment by the staff of someone who is already using the techniques of direct communication.

All examples show that this kind of communication is still not well established, that one Commissioner blogging doesn't mean a new communication attitude by the institution, that Facebook chats are still experiments, that direct answers from a minister are no direct answers, and that new communication styles and old communication styles even mix with the same person.

The question is: Are we witnessing moves forward, or are these just experiments that will be left aside if they don't bring the immediate results?


Joe Litobarski said...

Don't forget that Conor also e-mailed conducted an e-mail interview with an MEP recently (here)

Is the blogosphere ready to mature - and start interacting more with MEPs and eurocrats?

Julien Frisch said...

It's actually not about the blogosphere, it is about citizens

If we do it these days, it's more a pre-test for a reality where citizens who aren't as involved as some of us are now.

In this sense I am sure that many bloggers are mature enough, and MEPs and EU officials might get used to us, but I am more concerned about the next step...

Dick Nieuwenhuis said...

You have to be patient and have (some) mercy on us, I already told that in an earlier reply on your blog. We eurocrats live in a hierarchical and quite often paper based world. Full of "signing snakes" ('signataires'), "note for the attention of" or "note for the file" (ie first read and then file, please). Things are getting automated but it takes time to change people and their habits. In the social media discussions, a colleague told us that when he discussed Twitter with colleagues the first question was if the tweets had to be registered as incoming mail (we have a beautifully and complex system called "Ares" for this). And if we had had to obey the rules of replying within 2 working days first confirming the receipt and than in so many days (forget the exact number) the "real" answer.
We are still sending hopelessly big and unreadable documents around by e-mail so that after a week no one knows anymore what the latest version is/was. We are exploring Wiki's, we try Facebook (our interpreters' service did a good one there), we experiment with Twitter individually and privately, and so on. And that for an organisation that was entirely run on paper just a decade ago.
Infighting between different parts of the organisation is classical for all big organisations (public AND private) and information is power in those things. ANd than suddenly everything shares everything with everyone. Brrrrr.
But please remember it's easier to speak up as a blogger than as a staff member of a big bureaucracy.
And let me finish by wishing all those in the euroblogosphere a nice Xmas and a Happy New year. 2009 was fun so let's make 2010 even better!

Brussels Blogger said...

Dick, thanks for the nice explanations :)

I hope that 2010 will be the year when the European Commission will open an official Twitter account! (we, the bloggers could even actively ask for it!)