Thursday, July 15, 2010

Under the influence?

The public affairs firm Waggener Edstrom issued their first ever study of the influence of EU affairs blogs yesterday, ranking the Open Europe blog 7th overall.

Here is the top ten:
BBC | Gavin Hewitt’s Europe
FT Brussels Blog
The Digger
Fistful of Euros
Jon Worth / Euroblog
Stanley’s Blog
Open Europe blog
Julien Frisch | Watching Europe
ECJ Blog
Neelie Kroes

The full study is available here:
http://www.openeurope.org.uk/docs/Waggeneredstromindex.pdf

We attended the launch yesterday and the discussion sought to compare the EU blogging culture with the vibrancy of political blogging in the US.

Unsurprisingly, everyone concluded that it is nowhere near as advanced and there was also much lament that the 'tone' of debate was rather tame in comparison. But more interesting was some people's assumptions rather than their analysis.

The complexity of the various institutions and the fact that there tends to be more interest in national personalities were cited as temporary obstacles to a more US-style cut-throat "democratic debate" or clash of ideas, which could be overcome with time. Someone suggested that blogging could provide the glue to create the "dream of a European public space" for political debate.

It was hard not to leave the room feeling that a rather fundamental point had been missed but it was also a striking reminder of how (some of) the people who have been in Brussels a little too long have cut themselves off from the outside world.

The "politics of EU integration" (more or less Europe) is an entirely different species to "EU politics" (how the EU policymaking machine works). Understandably, Waggener Edstrom, a public affairs firm, is only really interested in the latter because its business is to serve clients who are seeking to influence the outcome of EU policy, and this means targeting MEPs or the people drafting legislation in the Commission, for example.

The impression was that most people in the room either live in denial that there is a distinction or are simply too caught up in the 'Brussels bubble' to recognise there is a debate about the former.

The real 'clash of ideas' is to be found in the debate about the future path of EU integration (Should the euro crisis be used to further greater political and economic integration? Should EU taxpayers be bailing out other member states? etc). If the Brussels elite really want a democratic debate it should surely start by engaging with these rather more fundamental questions.

2 comments:

Jon Worth said...

I agree with your point about the direction of the event being wrong, but I felt the discussion did not even start because there was time for so few questions... There are plenty of bloggers who do not simply see things from the Brussels bubble perspective.

Open Europe blog team said...

Thanks Jon,

You're right that the discussion didn't really get going and that the most interesting EU blogging does seek to look outside the Brussels bubble.

But there certainly did seem to be a confusion, both at the event and within the study itself, of what the study was actually measuring.

We would argue that in the US or the UK, for example, measuring influence on policy and politics is more or less the same thing, or at least closely related. In the EU it is entirely different.

The tone of the event and the study didn't really address this or the most interesting question of whether that can ever be reconciled.

It was striking to us that, despite 50 or so highly intelligent, switched on people being in a room for an hour-and-a-half, no one really wanted to point this out.