Could blogs be the salvation of the European Union? It’s an interesting prospect as we approach the Brussels Spring Summit to be held on the 15th and 16th of this month. A year on from the French and Dutch ‘no’ vote, and a year into the ensuing crisis that this caused, these ‘weblogs’, which allow their authors to write and debate on the widest variety of themes now represent an alternative to the unending ‘pause for reflection’ on Europe’s future called by European leaders one year ago. Let us therefore conduct a short analysis using economists’ SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) methodology.
By definition ‘blogging’, the leaving of online messages (or posts) and comments, encourages expression and debate between internet users. This is clear from the strength of reaction to the European Commissioner Margaret Wallström’s blog, or the success of the Euro-sceptic blog EU Referendum. Some sites, of course, do require registration, but participation is open to and easily accessed by all – there are already 8 million blogs in Old Europe today, and anyone can create one free of charge. Robert Toulemon, a lively 80-year-old ex-EEC functionary has one. And Europe is a topic that impassions many blogs, even those that aren’t explicitly dedicated to it, such as Beppe Grillo’s in Italy and Johan Norberg’s in Sweden.
Weaknesses: exclusivity (ideological and linguistic)
Still, blogs are not yet the miracle cure for the current European crisis. This crisis is a democratic one, caused by the rupture of relations between private citizens and unreachable, unknowable decision makers. Unfortunately many blogs can be rather exclusive, like the intellectual boys’ clubs of days gone by. In 2005, for example, whilst responding to some Euro-sceptic messages posted on EU referendum I was aggressively ejected from the forum due to my ideas not being sufficiently orthodox. Wallström’s blog too, though a seemingly more open forum for debate and discussion, still censored 7-8 comments in a year.
In a more general context, blog-sceptics like French mass-mediologist Dominique Wolton argue that blogs can form a net between commentators ‘that excludes the smallest fish as they slip through the gaps. Society, by definition, includes all its members’. Moreover in a European debate, despite the subject matter being of interest to all, it’s impossible to get everyone to talk when we all speak different languages.
Opportunities: Invigorating the European debate
Despite their weaknesses blogs are growing in force; three million new blogs were created in the first four months of 2006 in France alone. And that’s not all. Given the apparent reluctance for any official debate on the EU constitution, there now exists a void to be filled by the blogger with their criticism of the EU, with the vitality of their ideas, and with the understanding of public opinion that only a private citizen can have.
Threats: the deafness of politicians
Everyone’s listening to them, but how many European leaders have ever left a comment or a post on a blog? Is it too optimistic hope that the ‘no’ vote to the European constitution may have triggered enough alarm bells to motivate politicians to reconnect with public opinion?
This article offers its content in seven languages. The final verdict on the potential for blogs saving Europe from crisis? We’ll leave it to the readers.