So the EU is going to get an equivalent of Facebook (Daily Telegraph, EUObserver). Well, no, it’s not that – it’s a social network of sorts, but it’s not a rival to Facebook (although you could use Facebook to do something similar).

Myparl.eu promises to be a system to allow MEPs to interact – with each other, with national MPs, and with Brussels stakeholders (NGOs etc.) only to not interact with the outside world, although all the information on the site will be available in public. So it’s look but don’t interact – perhaps theirparl.eu would be a more appropriate title for the venture?

The idea has drawn criticism from Tim Worstall and England Expects, some thoughtful analysis from Brussels Media, and an exasperated response from Stanley Crossick. Stanley: I too am annoyed by the British press, I’m happy to rebut any myth, but I just don’t get it with this project.

But let’s look at the wider issue for a moment… Getting MEPs to use the internet to debate with each other is not a bad idea per se. Problem is that with Myparl.eu or whatever else (Facebook, Bebo etc.) parliamentarians are not going to do it – for a number of reasons. Most MPs and MEPs in my experience never want to go near a PC unless they can absolutely help it, if they do go near they don’t know what to do, and then – perhaps most importantly – what incentive would MEPs have to use something like Myparl.eu rather that whatever else they are currently using?

In short, Myparl.eu does not appeal to the narcissist MEP – they have better ways to shine in front of the general public.

So why is the project happening at all? It’s in some twisted way easier for MEPs in Budgets Committee and Member States in the Council to approve the €3 million for such a project than it is for them to actually relate to and use the thing itself. Just look at the problems Gordon Brown has with Youtube – it’s just not a natural part of the psyche for most politicians.

There’s also an additional problem with all of this… If you ask Brussels-based media firms to deliver a website for you then the chances are it will be rather inward looking. Euractiv, one of the two partners in the endeavour together with Mostra, is like some large octopus in the EU media environment, hoovering up cash from, and influence within, the institutions. Does Euractiv actually have the guile to make something like this a public success? Brussels Media points out the firms have delivered on the spec in the tender, but who was there, at what stage, to say hold on, will this thing actually work? Did DG Communication, Mostra or Euractiv ever really ask themselves that?

Look at it like this: I’m committed to European integration, I live and work in Brussels in the internet sector, and I’ve done a fair few web projects for politicians in the past and I’m distinctly not impressed with this, so who is jumping up and down with joy? Perhaps Euractiv’s accountants based in London (look at the WHOIS for myparl.eu) – I’ll leave you to work out why.

(NOTE: aspects of this post have been re-written since the original draft in light of the comments given, and reading other blog posts about the idea. I’m now Number 1 in Google for people searching for Myparl.eu so it’s important for everything to be right… 🙂 )

13 Comments

  1. Pingback: Pep-Net - Pan European e-Participation Network » Blog Archive » The end of MyParl.eu

  2. >Could someone please enlighten me as to what the benchmarks for Myparl are? What exactly is this new tool supposed to achieve in 20 months?

    Having worked on lots of consultancy projects I’d suggest a 50-70% gross margin 🙂

    Personally I’d put it down to check box/cheque book procurement, lack of real nouse on behalf of the procurers and someone being well positioned to get the project rolling.

    But I probably shouldn’t be saying that publicly.

    Matt Wardman

  3. Curious

    And…. I’ve just checked WHOIS (see Jon’s original post). The domain Myparl.eu is owned by… a private individual of Euractiv fame. Hm.
    So we have a publicly funded project here – to the heavy tune of four million euro – and whoeversincharge has given that single individual the right to even pull the plug on this project if and when he feels like.
    Just what’s going on here??

  4. Curious

    Could someone please enlighten me as to what the benchmarks for Myparl are? What exactly is this new tool supposed to achieve in 20 months? Who and on what specific grounds would determine its success or failure?
    Would the evaluation of the project be based on MP and MEP participation figures? If so, are they really using taxpayers’ money here to boost parliamentarians’ computer literacy? If not: what else? The 2009 European elections will take place no matter what. Some MPs of the 11,000+ out there will use this tool, others won’t. Who can tell? And who really cares?
    I’m afraid the folks behind Myparl may have their sights set elsewhere. Let’s see: the price tag on setting up a platform (one single platform!) is not in the million euro range and it costs no euro to make MPs talk (it of course may, but let’s just hope it won’t for now…). The real value in such a network is the people who participate. Myparl will most likely have to hire at least one warm body in each EU capital to push the project forward. The project, I understand, lasts 20 months. What will happen to these people – hired with public money – when it’s all over? I really hope the private companies behind Myparl have a clear obligation not to hire any Myparl staffers themselves for several months after the expiration of their contract…
    Mind you, one of the companies involved is busy setting up an EU-wide network for its own communications purposes. Would it be far off the mark to presume that these publicly paid national contributors would come in handy with such expansion plans?

  5. Pingback: FreshNetworks Blog » Blog Archive » European Parliament builds online community

  6. Howdo,
    Guilty as charged on the UKIP front. Though I hope I don’t always come across as negative for negatives sake.

    Jon I agree with you about the growing power of a few particular media players. It feels that whatever rock you turn these days you will find Mostra snuggling down. Euractiv with its blogactiv platform is a little bit odd as well.

    The claims of Independence in Brussels based media outlets seem to be in direct proportion to the percentage of their income that comes directly from contracts and advertising sourced from the institutions.

    MyParl.eu is doomed because those who want to be involved in this sort of thing already are. The others if they involve themselves at all will be doing it by remote via their staff, who are already overworked.

    The problem that you flag up about the ability of MEPs or national parliamentarians just repeating party lines is very real. Whips office’s will not be happy with honest and open debate.

    The basic idea of politicians from different countries talking about subjects of mutual interest and thus maybe discovering new perspectives is great. But why like this, why so much money?

  7. Jon,

    I agree with you that England Expects has useful information at times, although the style reminds me of turning every EU ‘worm’ found into a ‘boa constrictor’ size monster.

    Jo,

    You wonder about accessibilty, and so do I. Since their parliament is going to be open for citizens to read, nothing says that the parlamentarians are going to be more forthright than on other public forums.

    But the special forum (and from a private blogger’s viewpoint huge budget) tend to create something of a yachting experience: the ones who own and use yachts and the ones who are mere onlookers.

    Somehow getting the EU’s citizens on board seems to be an unworthy distraction.

  8. @Olive: I’m actually happy it’s an open source system they will be using. That at least means they will commit more money to content of the site and making it work.

    My favoured tool for this sort of thing would be ELGG though.

  9. I think it’s fair to say that Facebook etc. do not give politicians a chance to say what they really think on some issues beyond the party line, because it’s such a public forum.
    This must be a real pain for lobbyists who want more direct engagements because they stand a greater chance of being persuasive one-to-one.
    But I’m not clear that myparl.eu would do anything more to increase their access either. So that’s either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your view of how representative lobbying groups are of the wider public view on whatever issues.
    Did you hear that Gordon Brown is actually telephoning people who write to him to explain more about the policies he is pursuing? Interesting – and would have more personal impact for the person receiving the call than the departmental line justification you receive if you respond to a petitio on the no10 website. but would it be any more illuminating?

  10. You can beat Euractiv with their “weapons” : you too,
    make yourParl.eu in 5 minutes with Google !

    http://sites.google.com/

  11. it’s worst than you say : it seems that the €3M MyParl.eu is actually a free Google OpenSocial Network ( http://code.google.com/apis/opensocial/ ) !!!

  12. I think England Expects is written by a UKIP supporter… I don’t like the conspiracy theories either, but they have useful information sometimes.

  13. Jon,

    I read England Expects, but found them to be too dismissive, almost as if antyhing ‘tainted’ with Europe would have to be bad.

    But your first reaction seems fairly balanced. Perhaps the EU should learn to look beyond MEPs and MPs when they should explore ways to interact with citzens.

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