So let's start with Margot's first point:
- a number of people have asked what will happen to my blog when I leave the Commission and whether other Commissioners will blog during the next mandate. Well, I will write again on this topic before I leave but I will say at this stage that blogging is very much an individual choice and takes a lot of time. I will be recommending to future Commissioners that they should certainly think positively about it.I think that indeed blogging is a good way for officials to communicate with the public, because it can a) show their human side and they can b) transmit messages and subtexts that might not pass a traditional media filter but that are actually important to understand their point.
But it is true that blogging, if taken seriously, is time consuming, because it actually means interaction both within your blog but also with discussions outside your blog. And knowing the time constraints of top officials I understand if they don't blog (although Carl Bildt is the best example that it is possible). And better not to blog than to let your PR people blog in your name or to use your blog as another means to send out quasi-press releases (which some Commission blogs definitely do).
My compromise proposal would be: Allow the "lower ranks", people working in the Commissioners' cabinets or within the DGs to blog or to use Twitter or other means of web 2.0 communication, and to use them in their own name, with their own personalities, not pretending to actually be the Commission. You still get a personal view on the Commissioner's work, without forcing her or him to engage in all the nerve-wracking activities that come with the use of social media.
- on what will happen to the communication portfolio: President Barroso announced last week that Viviane Reding would be responsible for communication and citizenship as well as justice, fundamental rights and gender equality. Putting communication and citizenship together makes sense, it is something I have argued for before and I am pleased the President acted on it.In my personal opinion, communication does not need to have a particular portfolio or DG. It is important that communication is seen as a true horizontal task, not something delegated to a specific portfolio.
What the Commission and other EU institutions lack is the ability to communicate among themselves, and you might better employ a communication coordinator than having a bureaucratic structure in the form of a full portfolio. External communication could be coordinated by the Commission President's communication service and executed by the PR people of the individual portfolios or DGs.
- there were a number of comments on the Citizens Initiative, many of which indicate precisely why we are having a public consultation – there are a lot of details to be sorted out. Some of you had very sensible suggestions – please make sure you contribute to the consultation! For the rest, yes the Commission will be obliged to make a proposal which will be put to the Parliament and Council. But no, petitions relating to the location of the seat of the Parliament or the UK leaving the EU are not issues on which the Commission can act.This a good reminder that we all can contribute to the consultation procedure on the European Citizens' Initiative until the end of January.
- on the so-called ‘climate gate’ affair: I think the best replies came from George Mountbiot and George Marshall in the Guardian:I leave that to you to judge.
- Finally, Julien Frisch criticises the procedures for choosing top posts in the EU and I agree with him. I think horsetrading behind closed doors does the EU no favours. I see no reason why candidates should not declare themselves publicly and be questioned, whether by the public or by parliament. Why should candidates for the post of Commissioner, for example, not have a public hearing first in their national parliaments?First, the particular comment Margot is referring to was on the fact that Ashton was not presented earlier, making a public debate on her qualities impossible, and thus damaging the idea of promoting qualified women into top posts. My questions were: If the Socialist leaders had been convinced of her qualities, why not proposing her earlier? If even Ashton was surprised, how can the public be be convinced? And it gets even worse if you read the backgrounds provide by Jean Quatremer.
Second, regarding the proposal to present candidates for EU Commissioner to national parliaments I am not sure. It could be that this raises transparency, but it could also be that it raises national elements to the debate although Commissioners should be chosen according to merit and European orientation and not to internal national criteria. Having the candidates present themselves to the national public might put even more pressure on them to "represent" their nation.
Yet, since this European choice criteria still look like fiction, having national parliament hearings would at least reduce the impression that member states send unqualified Commissioners, people national leaders want to get rid of or that they want to provide with a last top post before retirement. The candidates would at least need to go through a public selection procedure that anyone could comment on, reducing the ability to send "anyone".
Another proposal I have read elsewhere (don't remember where) was that member states could openly propose two or three candidates so that the Commission President could balance her/his Commission according to qualification and gender and also forcing the Commission President to publicly explain why s/he picked certain persons. Now, Barroso can only explain why he put someone into a specific portfolio but he can always say that the person itself was sent to him.
In a choice situation, these choices could be publicly debated, and the European Parliament also had a basis for its deliberations when hearing the Commissioners.
And since democracy is all about choice and about public debate, putting forward candidates for all top posts ahead of their (s)election will be a crucial element in raising awareness for European democracy, a democracy that doesn't just present its results but that confronts the public debate, a debate that will hopefully become transnational and pan-European instead of being limited to a small number of European enthusiasts dancing on the head of a pin.
Well, this has become a long post, but since we don't know whether any new Commissioner will actually blog, we should use these opportunities for an open debate - hoping that this will not remain unheard but will be taken up by the European institutions to make European communication more open, more direct, and with a stronger will to interact.