Tuesday 23 June 2009

EU politics, Twitter, and the human smell of Brussels

This is not a blog post trying to jump on the hype wagon of Twitter - I just want to say some words on the relevance of Twitter for EU politics (after Jon recently posted about Twitter for politics more generally).

Let's start with history: My first tweet ever (on 26 January 2009) was
[Julien Frisch] [h]as just entered the twittersphere - you have to do what everyone else does, right?
and the reason I joined was that I started to get serious traffic coming from Twitter, as far as I could see this traffic came from feeds of other eurobloggers like Kosmopolit.

This is why I tweeted "you have to do what everyone else does". Getting targeted traffic from Twitter accounts of fellow bloggers meant that the medium I was aware of for a good year but wasn't really interested in at that time started to become relevant for me and my blogging.

I started very slowly, because Twitter is a medium that is hard to follow in a simple browser.

Only after I started using TweetDeck and then Nambu I became fully aware of the functionality of Twitter as a true complementary tool to my blog and the wider euroblogosphere, both in writing and in reading.

With regard to blogging, it has freed me from thinking about whether it is worth writing about a little detail or a minor site I found. Now I tweet it, and those who follow me can decide on their own whether they look at it or not.

Twitter is also quicker and more responsive than blogging.

During the European Parliament election evening, for example, I focused on Twitter, letting myself direct to different websites, videos, streams while following the talk of a European public discussing results, coverage, and general politics in an open and very refreshing way. But there is a more important change going on:

My perception of EU politics starts to become more dynamic thanks to Twitter.

I am following a number of MEPs, Commission officials, Swedish Presidency persons, PR people, journalists, and other involved people (like most of the Eurobloggers). But I also follow a number of hashtags (like #eu) to see what people I don't follow are saying about things I am interested in. And I get into discussion with them, whenever I think I should do so. And usually there is also a reaction.

This quadruple perspective on people actually doing EU politics, influencing EU politics, covering EU politics, and those discussing EU politics transforms EU politics into a dynamic political process. And since all Tweets are generally equal, their mixture creates an awareness-sphere compounding diverse talk into a consistent mass of political reality.

This is significant, since so far, the EU never appeared to be a real-time polity.

Things move slowly, diplomatically, administratively. And everything the machine spits out makes you feel this heavy slowness. Movement might have been within the Brussels bubble, but it appeared like movement for the sake of movement, as if many important people were pedalling without getting the bike to move. Almost nothing of that was felt outside the city.

And although this might still not change, the eurotwittersphere is making it more interesting to follow.

The heavy smell of paper files is slowly replaced by the body-odour of real people. Yes, you can also smell them stink, but at least it is not just imagination as it was before.

Content is one thing, but real people and tangible dynamics are the spices in the soup of life in general and of politics in particular.

In this regard, Twitter is a chance for real persons working in and for the EU to make the "black box" become transparent - which will not just be helpful for a more open and democratic process, but it will also help to show to the continent the human face(s) behind the diplomatic-administrative talk.

If EU politicians, officials, and administrators realise this opportunity, the EU has a little chance of becoming a better polity. But probably somebody will invent some stupid regulation to never make that happen...

Update (24 June 2009): Just found a short discussion on the use of Twitter by the Commission.


@burgueno said...

The regulation that prevents EU officials from freely twittering (or blogging for that matter) already exists: It's their Staff Regulation, articles 17 and 17a:

Article 17

1. An official shall refrain from any unauthorised disclosure of information received in the line of duty, unless that information has already been made public or is accessible to the public.

2. An official shall continue to be bound by this obligation after leaving the service.

Article 17a

1. An official has the right to freedom of expression, with due respect to the principles of loyalty and impartiality.

2. Without prejudice to Articles 12 and 17, an official who intends to publish or cause to be published, whether alone or with others, any matter dealing with the work of the Communities shall inform the Appointing Authority in advance.

Where the Appointing Authority is able to demonstrate that the matter is liable seriously to prejudice the legitimate interests of the Communities, the Appointing Authority shall inform the official of its decision in writing within 30 working days of receipt of the information. If no such decision is notified within the specified period, the Appointing Authority shall be deemed to have had no

The full text of the Staff regulations can be found here: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CONSLEG:1962R0031:20080501:EN:PDF

Eurosocialiste said...

Thanks Julien for this very interesting post. Both you and Jon convinced me to join the Twitter dance! And I understand now what it brings to the EU political debate. I think I'm already hooked, just a day after starting using the tool. Let's hope you inspire many more people with this article! See you on Twitter, then.

Dick Nieuwenhuis said...

Staff regulations tell what you canNOT disclose and that one should be careful and refrain from controversial statements.
But it's wrong to say you cannot Twitter or Blog. We also have the communcation stragey and plan D that talk about staff as ambassadors. And that allows staff to talk in public (as I do for years already).
And herefore I twitter via @dicknieuwenhuis!

Žiga Turk said...

Eh, it's a pain to use most Twitter tools from behind EU institutions' firewalls.

Julien Frisch said...


Is this made on purpose? Or just the effect of a generally restrictive firewall?


How do you handle this?

Dick Nieuwenhuis said...

I don't think they block twitter stuff on purpose. And I wonder if many of the techies in our IT dept know what Twitter is. It's just that we have a microsoft world on all our machines and the networks need to be secured. I could install Tweetdeck if I would like but I use Twitter via the browser. Fine as well.