Wednesday 10 June 2009

Commissioner Wallström blames others for EU elections fail

Right. These were European Parliament elections, so one might say that it is not the European Commission's task to get people to vote.

But it is very poor by Margot Wallströme to blame others for the failure to communicated the European Union while refusing any responsibility by her institution:
A hunt for someone to blame will also no doubt start and some will look to blame the Commission, which would be absurd. The main responsibility for persuading people to vote lies with the political parties.

The Commission has displayed more modern thinking than many others in recent years by embracing Youtube, MTV, actively engaging womens organisations etc. It has engaged people in debate and discussion and has been responsible for Plan D and Debate Europe. It is for others to learn the lessons for the next few years.

Political parties in Europe need to learn how to use modern methods of communication and campaigning and that European issues need to be a permanent part of the domestic debate.
She says the hunt for someone to blame will start soon, and she is the first to do it. Bravo!

I know she has been in a defence position over the last weeks, but this paragraph of her latest post is so disappointing because it shows that Margot does not have any ideas how to make things better. It shows that there is no strategy how to help national actors to be more aware of European politics. It shows that the attention crisis for the European Union is a crisis based on all institutions and actors involved.

But it also it shows that the Commission does not want to take any responsibility, and this is blatantly wrong.

Sorry Ms. Wallström, but this article of yours is a proof why many of us who are fans of the project called "European Union" will become more and more critical of the people handling it - and we will make ourselves heard!


Nosemonkey said...

Hmmm... If the Communications Commissioner isn't to blame for failing to communicate, then who is?

The trouble with Wallstrom is that although her heart has often seemed to be in the right place, and she's had a few nice ideas, and has made some progress on the web front, but just hasn't been able to get anything really significant done. The EU's online offerings have improved considerably over the last couple of years - but only in comparison to what they were before; they're still rubbish.

Wallstrom puts this down to institutional resistance within the Commission - but a more forceful, determined person would surely have been able to force more wide-ranging and effective changes through.

(Then again, the EU did only have £18 million to promote the elections, apparently. That's a pathetically small amount.)

Ralf Grahn said...

Perhaps it is a good idea to start looking at root causes, as Margot Wallström suggest, but beyond what she writes.

Real choices, personalities and EP powers - understood by the EU citizens - would raise the awareness about the European Union and create a measure of European level debate.

Add a uniform electoral code and Europarties worth the name; we would be nearer to really fascinating European elections.

Ask the heads of state or government what they are going to do.

Josef Litobarski said...

The more I read, the more annoyed I grow that European parliamentary groups didn't put forward seperate candidates for President of the Commission BEFORE the elections.

Little (or not so little) things like that encourage people to view the EU elections as mid-term national elections.

Margot, whilst trying to communicate the EU and promote the elections, had everything working against her. I can understand her frustration.

Perhaps she should have voiced it more BEFORE the elections. But would that have done any good?

Eurocentric said...

I'm afraid I tend to agree with her here. The Commission is in a awkward position where it needs to strengthen the EP if it's to strengthen its own legitimacy to act. Lower turnouts and no real competition for the EC Presidency by the Europarties isn't (mainly or significantly) her fault.

The Commission has little legitimacy in the eyes of the public to act/engage with the public in trying to garner support for elections or for the EU itself. Any such PR is always slapped down as propaganda (no matter the merits of it), and one woman/department cannot fight an election for everyone. The election was supposed to be a contest between parties, so it's they who should have been fighting it.

Institutional changes do need to be made, but the parties need to campaign more continuously to build up their profiles and engage citizens.

Margot said...

Sorry if you got the impression that I was starting some kind of blame game but in the first dozen or so interviews I gave on the night of the election results, the most frequently asked questions were variations along the lines of 'So, you are the Commissioner responsible for communication, doesn't the low turnout show that you have failed?'. So in dealing with this in my blog I was trying to nip in the bud this kind of absurd thinking. If I were to blame for a low turnout wouldn't that mean that I should also get the credit for the higher turnout in eleven countries, including a record high turnout in Sweden?! I don't think so!.

Nosemonkey mentions a budget for the elections. In fact the Commission had no specific budget line or extra money but we did put some money and a lot of energy into raising awareness. We redirected some of our existing annual budget for general communication because we fully supported the Parliament in identifying the elections as one of this year's inter-Institutional priorities. That included organising hundreds of events and debates in the Member States, a campaign on MTV for the first time ever and a pan-European blogging competition just to name a few.

Polls show that people knew the elections were happening so in that sense we succeeded. Persuading people to actually cast their votes is not something the Commission alone can do. I am happy to assume responsibility for my activities over the last four and a half years but persuading people to vote in the European elections is the remit of the political parties and the people standing in those elections. And yes, the PES should really have put forward a candidate for Commission President!

I am quite proud of some of the Commission's achievements in the last few years: getting both the European Radio Network and the website up and running, with a TV network to follow next year. I think these can be important steps forward in trying to create a European public space. Extensive citizens consultations have also been pioneered under Plan D and Debate Europe and these also represent a new step for the Commission and one which I hope will be carried forward over the next few years. However, an area where progress was slow was in getting Member States to agree that we should cooperate very closely on Communication. Management Partnerships are only now getting off the ground and even then only in about half of the Member States. The next five years need to see that change if last week's results are not to be repeated in 2014.

Julien Frisch said...

Dear Margot,

thank you very much for you comment, it is very much appreciated that you take the time and effort to react and to clarify!

In fact, I saw your blog post exactly as a reaction to those many interviews, but the way you formulated sounded very much like an attempt to defend the Commission by blaming others which didn't sound very convincing to me.

Following your comment, I have some questions:

Is there any hope that the member states, including national parties, will get any better in the future? How can the Commission foster their involvement in taking the EU more seriously?

And where do you see the main task(s) of the next Communications Commissioner? (Plus, do you think the member states will be able to put forward somebody who will be able to fulfil these tasks?)

mathew said...

I think Margot makes a few good points here.

On the other hand, it is the Commission which actually runs the programmes and develops the policies of the EU.

If the Commission cannot clearly enunciate how these policies and programmes add value - i.e., why acting on a European level is better than acting 27 times - then who else is going to do it?

The least the Commission could do is publish this 'Subsidiarity Justification' on EUROPA. That would at least give those of us active in social media something to point to when someone asks "But WHY is the Commission meddling in this?".