Just a few days before the European Parliament elections in Germany (polling day there is Sunday 7th June) there’s an interesting story brewing about the liberals’ (FDP) lead candidate Silvana Koch-Mehrin – I’ve posted a little about this before. It’s one of those interesting cases where a politician getting things wrong online can provoke a vicious counter-reaction – it’s about time this happened in German politics where the political class is arguably even less web-savvy than elsewhere in Europe.
The story started some six weeks ago when the website Parlorama published attendance records of all MEPs. This showed Koch-Mehrin attending 41% of plenary sessions, one of the lowest attendance records of any MEP. Her reasoning? The birth of two children duing the election period, hence lower attendance in the EP as MEPs have no proper maternity leave arrangements. Problem for Silvana is that a couple of other MEPs have also had babies but still managed much higher attendance than she did – Angelika Niebler at 84% and Lívia Járóka at 78%.
To make matters worse Koch-Mehrin issued a legal threat against Parlorama (and the statistics that were also presented in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest dailies) and this has led to a major dispute over her attendance record, with the Ruhrbarone blog calculating a figure of 62% attendance when adjusted for maternity leave, with Koch-Mehrin herself sticking to 75% attendance. More in German here.
This has got a bunch of bloggers – among them Jan Seifert, Hajo Friedrich and Netzpolitik – adequately annoyed to start to look at other aspects of Koch-Mehrin’s behaviour – the fact that she earnt more than €80000 in work parallel to her work as a member of the European Parliament and has removed financial declarations from her website (Jan’s blog), what money she claims for travel (she lives in Brussels but her election posters claim she’s a Kölnerin), and the fact she has not been a rapporteur in five years in the Parliament (Hajo’s report), and even allegations of dirty tricks in blog comments posted from the FDP party headquarters (Ruhrbarone). All of this has culminated in a FAZ article entitled ‘Wie fleißig ist Silvana Koch-Mehrin?‘ – how hard working is Silvana Koch-Mehrin?
In short Koch-Mehrin has behaved completely the wrong way here. There is much more to the job of a MEP than attendance at plenary sessions of the EP – she could well have just said that. A post on her website to that effect would probably have done the job. Complaining about the statistics provoked a strong counter-reaction, made it look like she was covering things up, and this has dented her reputation still further. So as well as being the place for her 800 closest friends the internet is proving the tools for a tough examination of her behaviour.
I’ve just come across this excellent report from NDR German TV’s Zapp programme about the Koch-Mehrin case, that includes some excellent comments from Hajo Friedrich of Europa-Transparent, details of more legal threats against SWR, and a cringe-worthy line about Koch-Mehrin’s performance from Guido Westerwelle, FDP party leader, right at the end of the 9 minute piece. If you speak German then watch it – excellent in that calm, forensic German TV way.