Lonely EU Official

Incredible. Absolutely incredible. It would have been reasonable to assume that the European Commission (or indeed any other EU institution) would have thought a bit about the impact of .eu domain names, considering the fanfare with which these domains were launched back in 2006. It then would not take a genius to make sure that all possible domain names relevant for EU projects would have been purchased by the institutions for the princely sum of about €20 each.

So what about communication of the Treaty of Lisbon (aka Reform Treaty)? Surely that should be one of the main online communications projects for the European Commission? Oh no, forget it. Today, yes, today – a good 3 months after the signing ceremony in Lisbon – I managed to register treaty-of-lisbon.eu, lisbon-treaty.eu and reform-treaty.eu and the whole lot cost me a fraction over €60. Other variants have been registered by a Dutch IT firm and none by anyone in anyway involved with explaining what the Treaty is about. Kosmopolit has more in the same vein. This is even worse than the lack of communication strategy for the European Capital of Culture.

Not only for domain names, but for internet presence in general, the European Commission badly needs someone (or a team of people) to really get a grip of their online strategy. Nanne points to a paper about citizen engagement online, but who is responsible for the technical aspects?

11 Comments

  1. frustrated

    😉
    If you would be as silly as to consult some of these pages in your mother tongue (provided it’s one of the “minor” linguages) you’re in for great fun. It seems they ran their website through bablefish or something of the likes… “tell a friend” then becomes “vertel een vriend” which actually sounds rather poetic and deep in Dutch, come to think of it.

  2. Further to my earlier comment, I was cheered to read a strongly-worded motion on transparency issue passed by the EP’s Budget Control Committee. I particularly liked Paragraph 8:

    “8. Observes that the Commission’s website http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/funding/index_en.htm currently includes links to the databases of the 14 Member States providing information on beneficiaries of Common agricultural policy payments under shared management; regrets however that the information is so diverse and scattered and of such varying quality that information can hardly be found; calls on the Commission to learn from the very accessible website http://www.farmsubsidy.org/ which works very well and is set up without public funding.”

    You can read the full text here:

    http://tinyurl.com/2f3ykz

  3. Jon,

    are you honestly suggesting the Commission should buy the domain names reflecting every important treaty, policy or initiative of the EU? That would cause a complete shambles for users (for example you’d have to surf to lisbon-treaty.eu to find out about Lisbon, but change to the domain amsterdam-treaty.eu to find out about its predecessor. Or would that be eu-treay.eu, which could be confused with Maastricht? Sorry, but that does not make sense – it’s much easier just to collect all information in one single website (europa.eu).

    Secondly, it’s all very nice to suggest the Commission should reserve domain names that seem to have a connotation with EU policies or treaties. But only some of us EU citizens would regard the English domain name as a natural place to look for such information. If you argue in favour or the Commission registering the address lisbon-treaty.eu, you must also want it to register traite-de-lisbonne.eu, tratado-de-lisboa.eu, as well as the whole lot in Slovenian, Maltese, Estonian, and so on. Over twenty domain names (one per official language) for one document or policy – surely that is not a way for the much maligned Commission to shed its image as a near complete waste of taxpayer’s money? Nor would it seem to contribute greatly to transparency either…

  4. On EU domains: I think it has been one of the biggest desasters of DG INFSO recently -> hundreds of thousands of domains have been picked by domain collecting companies, which have had arranged deals with registrars (yes, and this was even legal). Just to illustrate the scale: Even against the registrar of more than 70.000 domains the registry had no chance (it has lost this case against this Cyprus company so far, as the legal base from the EU doesn’t provide any basis to act against them). The large majority of the 2 mio .eu domains have been harvested by professional domain collectors (and I am not talking about private people who invest in some domains, no big business). But all this is another story. The biggest mistake was not to auction the domains but to let registrars play a dirty game.

    On EU domain policy: In fact, the EU has decided to use only the europa.eu domain for it’s official communication. However, a pre-established list of domains have been reserved by means of an EU regulation:
    http://eurid.eu/images/Documents/Blocked_names/3%20reserved-europeancommision.txt

    I agree that you have a point when it comes to the Lisbon and maybe the officials responsible for Communication should have acted. But the list of domains to acquire could quickly get very long. A strict decision to focus on the europa domain is not that bad I think.

    On EU online policy: Yes, I fully agree. Everyone can see that the online world turns much faster than any Commission official can write an official strategy on how to deal with it. The new EU internet strategy is something to follow. Though only little will come out of it in the short term.

  5. Jon, the culture of most corporate communicators is sanitized enough to make it cry out for constructive critisism or even just explanation of real problems.

    The Commission is no exception, so you are quite right about farmsubsidy.org and other efforts of the kind. The public needs them and the EU itself needs them.

  6. Ralf – should perhaps have made myself clearer… The Commission does actually have some reasonable information online about the Lisbon Treaty. But where is the strategy to make the most of it? Further, it would not be beyond the scope of eurosceptics to register all the relevant domain names, and use those for all kinds of negative pages about the Treaty.

    More widely there’s the question of information credibility. I’m going to believe what’s on farmsubsidy.org more than I’m going to believe what’s on the Commission’s own pages and Jack – although he dislikes aspects of the CAP – surely does not want to end the EU as a whole. So the Commission actually benefits from critical yet constructive websites about its work. The Commission has been ready to fund all kinds of NGOs and charities to provide this kind of constructive criticism in the offline sphere, and now they need to build similar sorts of relationships online (although not necessarily financial).

  7. “And according to Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström the Council has refused to let her publish consolidated versions of the Treaty of Lisbon.”

    NGOs and national parliaments have done it : the Commission should feel free to do so as well. They after all are not supposed to take orders from the Council !

  8. An addition, the web pages on the Lisbon Treaty:

    http://europa.eu/lisbon_treaty/index_en.htm

  9. Jon, in the name of fairness, the Commission has put up the information pages on the Lisbon Treaty in all the official languages, although the treaty is, in a way, the jealously guarded child of the member states (IGC/Council), not the Commission.

    And according to Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström the Council has refused to let her publish consolidated versions of the Treaty of Lisbon.

  10. I cannot agree strongly enough with this. The Commission web presence is utterly shambolic. There is absolutely no consistency of overall format and style. My money for the worst individual DG website probably goes to DG Enterprise http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/index_en.htm which has mildly improved since its recent relaunch but previously was ludicrously difficult to navigate. I think DG Regio is one of the better ones http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/index_en.htm but the extraordinary thing is how each DG has a completely different web presence and style and that you might as well be looking at different organisations, not different parts of the same organisation.

    The links comment that Jack made is a very clear indication of the problem. Incidentally I read both farmsubsidy and the CAP Health Check blog and I think they are excellent and really fill a gap, particularly the Health Check blog which does a great job in making the CAP intelligible. I think DG Agri (which actually has a reasonable site) is missing a trick not linking to them, particularly the latter – surely having an interest in intelligent criticism should be a key function of any public service.

  11. Dead right, Jon.

    And it gets worse. Following the European Transparency Initiative, the Commission is apparently committed to transparency in EU funding, including the end recipients of EU funds.

    We at farmsubsidy.org have been tracking CAP payments since 2004 and our database is the main repository for data on who gets what from the CAP.

    DG Agri launched its own ‘portal’ page (http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/funding/index_en.htm) with links to member state pages containing farm subsidy payment information.

    In many cases these member state pages are sorry affairs (the 1000+ page PDF files from the Spanish regional authorities are particular highlight!), and the Commission’s portal page is now full of dead links.

    We spend a lot of time screen scraping national government sites to compile and maintain a single online database of all farm payments that have been made public. And still the web wallahs at DG Agri REFUSE to link to farmsubsidy.org, even though we have invested a lot of time and effort in creating a one-stop-shop, a searchable database of all this information.

    Christina Borchmann of Marian Fischer Boel’s cabinet gave us the following reply when we suggested including a link to farmsubsidy.org from their portal page:

    “DG AGRI has an established policy concerning links from the “Agriculture and Rural Development” website. Links are only provided to official websites of Member States and some other national administrations, inter-governmental and similar organisations (WTO, OECD…) as well as entities like the National Leader+ Network Units, but not to NGOs. We feel that for consistency’s sake we should not publish a link to a single NGO’s website, whatever the merits of the particular NGO are in its field of activitity. I hope you understand our position on this matter.”

    Christina, I really don’t understand.

    To end on a positive note, Commissioner Siim Kallas has been kind enough to link to us. So at least the Commission can’t be accused of applying its policy consistently.

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