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Browsing posts in: EU Politics

Few people are interacting on Twitter (and those who are aren’t the ones you’d expect)

On 18 May (18 days ago) I started a little experiment. Using SocialBro I started a private Twitter list called People Who Interact. This list was automatically created – out of everyone who either replied to a tweet I wrote, or RTed a tweet of mine. The summary of the results – a screenshot from SocialBro – is here:

twitter-interactSome elements of this are worth examining in some depth.

  1. I have 14261 followers at the time of writing on Twitter, and I write 186 tweets per week (according to FollowerWonk) – so 27 tweets per day. 52.5% of my tweets are @-replies, so about 13 of my daily tweets (or about 227 tweets across the whole 18 day period) will theoretically reach all the 14261 followers.
  2. My tweets have generated interactions – either replies or RTs – from 939 different users over that period. However only 562 of those users are people that actually follow me. 377 of them are people that do not follow me – that’s genuinely interesting, and far higher than I would have imagined. However the stat among my followers is more depressing – a measly 3.94% of the people who follow me actually had some sort of meaningful engagement with my tweets over an 18 day period.
  3. Don’t trust the gender statistic in the graph above – I have debated this at length on Twitter a number of times, and no-one can work out whether these stats are actually reliable.

All of this seems to confirm my intuition that my tweets get less and less effective – that tweeting things feels like tweeting into the ether, and getting decent debates and engagement going with an audience beyond my EU politics core people gets harder and harder. I’ll keep the experiement going for a while longer to see if and when the picture changes, but don’t hold your breath – as Twitter gets more and more commercial, and less and less equal, my fear is that this problem will only worsen further.

Security theatre at the European Parliament: letting the terrorists win

This afternoon I tried to go into the European Parliament. The EU institution that is supposed to represent people like me – citizens of the European Union.

I am not a lobbyist or a journalist or an employee of another EU institution. So I could not get in.

I approached the rue Wiertz entrance to the Altiero Spinelli Building and was stopped by the security guards outside. You cannot enter, they told me, because you do not have a pass. I know, I said, I just need to go to the accreditation desk to call the MEP’s office I am visiting (I was to meet the assistant of a French MEP). You cannot even go to the desk they said*. How do I reach them, I asked? With a shrug the security guard pointed to the phone in my hand.

So what is the justification for this, keeping people outside on the street, I asked the guard. The yellow security alert he told me. So the terrorists have won, I responded, and he started to get edgy. “C’est pour votre securité” he told me.

How is this for an impression then? Here I am, as a citizen of the European Union, and the security of the European Parliament is keeping me out on the street.

jonworth_2015-May-29While I was digging around in my phone to find the number of the office I needed to reach, and a dozen or so other people were also milling around in the street, a large car pulled up and parked opposite the EP entrance – as pictured.

The reaction of the security guard?

To tell me off for taking a photo.

Tell me seriously – what is the greater danger? Me there outside the EP being barred for getting just into the building to call an office, or a car that could be full of explosive pulling up outside the building, and parking under the bridge connecting the two halves of the building.

I of course pointed out this absurdity to the security, and the response was “Vous voulez entrez dans le Parlement, monsieur?”

This is not about security. This is about giving an impression of power. It is theatre. The rules are both absurd and do not actually improve security. They do not make the EP look important; they make it look foolish and closed.

By this point the person I was due to meet had come down to fetch me, so as a final step before being accompanied inside I asked the security personnel for their names. I managed to note the name of one of them without him realising and I have reported his rude behaviour towards me, but the other guard hid her EP badge from view when I asked her for her name.

Welcome to the European Parliament. House of the people, where the terrorists seem to have won.

(my tweets from outside the EP earlier are here, here, here, here, here and here).

* – this morning I had a meeting at the Berlaymont, the most important building of the Commission that also houses all the Commissioners. There I explained to the security who I was meeting, they looked into my bag, and I was allowed to proceed to the desk. Why, if the Commission can do it, is the EP incapable of doing so?

Cameron’s “proper choice” in the EU referendum ought to mean there’s a third option on the ballot paper

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 10.40.04So Cameron is in Riga, trying to charm fellow EU leaders that British exceptionalism a reformed EU is possible. News about it here. But one phrase particularly struck me from Cameron’s words – we’re going to give the people a “proper choice” he says.

The choice Cameron proposes is his negotiated, amended, weakened relationship between the UK and the EU, or Britain should leave altogether. This is no “proper choice” for people like me who, at the very least, would prefer no watering down of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, let alone no option for those who would actually advocate further integration between the UK and the EU (a point made by PolitiCrumb and Ralf Grahn on Twitter). There are rumblings from some on the left – the GMB Trade Union for example – that may switch to advocate a No vote if Cameron’s renegotiations are too harsh on workers’ rights (see this in the Indy about the different pro and anti camps).

So then, here is an idea for a “proper choice” in the referendum. Put two questions on the ballot paper – same style as was used in 1997 to establish the Scottish Parliament. Here’s some suggested wording:

Q1: Do you want the United Kingdom to remain a Member State of the European Union?
[ ] YES     [ ] NO

Q2: Do you support the renegotiated settlement proposed by HM Government?
[ ] YES     [ ] NO

A No to Q2 would simply leave Britain’s relationship with the EU as it is. Now I am aware that a renegotiated settlement is probably likely to be more popular (the “in but grumpy” option as Edmund Edgar rightly calls it), but at least a two-question referendum would allow a voter to separate EU membership (or not) from the way that Cameron plans to taint things with his assault on freedom of movement.

What Labour’s leadership hopefuls ought to say about the EU

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 17.09.14So the Labour Party has another leadership election. Unlike in 2010, when I was still a Labour Party member and heavily involved in the process*, this time I have no vote (having quit Labour to join the German Grüne as I now live in Berlin). However that doesn’t mean I have no interest in the process, or who may win – not least because with an EU referendum on the horizon in the UK, my EU citizenship rights could be in jeopardy due to what happens in the UK.

What then, I wonder, should the leadership hopefuls, say about Labour’s position on the European Union? Here is a kind of annotated speech one of them could give.

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What precisely is this EU “red tape” that JCB speaks of?

jcb-volvoThe construction vehicles pictured above are a JCB 3CX (on the left), manufactured in Rocester, UK, and  two Volvo Construction Equipment machines (on the right), a L120F and L120E, both manufactured in Arvika, Sweden.

My point of course – in light of comments yesterday by Chief Executive of JCB, Graeme MacDonald – is that in the future the Arvika Volvo plant might be still in the European Union, and JCB’s Rocester plant would not.

MacDonald confirmed that EU countries are an important export market for JCB, but said this:

What is needed is a lot less red tape and bureaucracy. Some of it is costly for us and quite frankly ridiculous. Whether that means renegotiating or exiting, I don’t think it can carry on as it is. It’s a burden on our business and it’s easier selling to North America than to Europe sometimes.

Now let’s think of the machines pictured above. Everything from the emissions standards from the engines, to the chemicals that are (or are not) allowed in the paint on the machines, through to the coolants permitted in the machines’ radiators is determined by EU law within the EU. If the UK were to leave the European Union that would make no difference whatsoever to any of these standards, and JCB – if it wanted to export to the European Union – would have to respect every single one of those standards anyway.

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What happens if David Cameron switches to the No side in the EU referendum?

(note: this is a counterfactual – just in case you’re reading it after October 2015!)

cameron-redIt is Wednesday 21st November 2015, and David Cameron has called a press conference at Downing Street. With his face going rather puce, the anger showing in the edge to his voice, he delivers the news that pro-EU campaigners in the UK had feared: that he has changed his mind and switched to the NO side in Britain’s in-or-out of the EU referendum.

The final straw had been the European Council of 15th/16th October 2015 in Brussels. Cameron had announced the referendum would take place in September 2016 just a few weeks after his May 7th election victory, yet he had then prevaricated when it came to making concrete demands about the UK’s renegotiation of its EU membership since the 25th/26th June 2015 European Council, and at the October summit overplayed his hand. A demand for fundamental changes to EU freedom of movement had been rejected by the other 27 Heads of State and Government, and Cameron stormed out of negotiations at 1am and had refused to speak to the press. Sources close to the UK Permanent Representation (UKRep) had told the Financial Times that Cameron had been briefed on what the other Member States would accept, but had persevered regardless.

European Council President Donald Tusk, looking tetchy and strained, had told the cameras lined up in Brussels that negotiations had been “difficult” but had refused to be drawn on what should happen. Merkel, Hollande and Renzi in their separate press conferences gave very similar messages. No country should be allowed to blackmail the rest of the EU they said.

The FTSE opened 200 points lower on Monday 19th October, and in the hours before Cameron’s announcement hit its lowest point in five years.

(end of counterfactual)

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The Aarhus EU Twitter Top 30

I gave a speech about EU online communications at Danmarks Medie- og Journalisthøjskole in Aarhus last year, and yesterday John Frølich – one of the professors there – e-mailed me to ask if I could suggest 20 to 30 EU Twitter accounts that his students ought to follow. So rather than just e-mail back some names, I have made a Twitter list of the 30 accounts, and I explain my rationale for including each of them here.

My emphasis here is on friendly and engaging people – the sorts of Twitter users who, if you ask them a question, they will reply, and people who do not use Twitter just to try to show how important they are. The list could easily have been twice as long, so apologies to those who did not make it. I have also included only personal accounts, and tried to achieve some sort of institutional balance.

So who are the 30?

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Why I am not going back to the UK to campaign in the EU referendum

9152848988_09518c389e_zDavid Cameron’s victory in the UK election presents me with a personal problem: he promises to hold an in-or-out of the EU referendum. If the UK leaves the EU I have a major headache – I live in Germany and I need freedom of movement within the EU more than I need anything else that a British passport currently confers me. What movement rights Brits would still have if the UK left cannot yet be known, but for sure it will not become easier. I will qualify for a German passport in 2019 – I will apply for that passport the very first day I am eligible for it. By my reckoning if Britain’s referendum is in 2017 then it will take 2 years to negotiate exit, so by 2019 I should be OK.

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