Happy Birthday, Blogactiv!

Posted by Mathew Lowry on 15/10/08
Tags: , , , ,  

By my reckoning, Blogactiv had its first birthday today. Time for a brief trip down memory lane.

There were plenty of posts before October 15, 2007, of course, but on that day we saw our first post by a bona fide, external blogger (thanks, Stanley!).

I’ve heard some people say (rather snidely, it must be said), that Blogactiv’s success was a certainty, but I can tell you it didn’t feel like that at the time. Around a year ago, we ran some seminars to introduce the ‘alpha phase’ site and get a feeling of what the non-technophiles in Brussels thought of blogging, and I’ve never seen so many blank looks when I tried to explain what a tag cloud was.

And then there was the November presentation at the European Parliament, where they didn’t give us access to their (perfectly functional) wifi network. Have you ever tried showing off a site without actually showing it? It ain’t easy. Still, it did give me a rather apt illustration of the EU’s use of the Internet.

But what really sticks in my memory was the eurosceptics. It led to an interesting experiment in handling certain types of online debate. So let me break one of my own blogging rules (the one about post length) and take you on a Memory Lane tour of what a friend of mine calls The Pyjama People.

Conspiracy Theory

Their immediate assumption was that Blogactiv was an EU-funded front company, a CIA-style operation for spewing EU falsehoods into the blogosphere where, presumably, the ever-credulous Common Folk would Believe the Lies until democracy as we know it is dead, and/or the blogosphere would somehow be ‘taken over’ (my emphases):

The real agenda, however, was the launch of the EurActiv blogger “platform” – its blogactiv site, its commission-sponsored effort to corral bloggers into a central, controllable niche. Like civil society, bloggers too must be “organised”. … the race is on to control the blogosphere, yet more “stakeholders” to be enlisted to support the great European “project”.
EU Referendum

and

The E.U. Parliament got together this week to decide how best to ’sell’ the concept of the E.U. to the people of Europe (think propagandize). They decided that they would enlist the help of bloggers. OK, so now the role of bloggers is to speak for the government? Smacks a little of a Stalinist vision for harmony…. this basically means that blogging will come under a nice, tightly controlled little group of E.U. approved yes-men. And if you don’t fit that description, you will face the consequences.
Midnight Sun

Now if the Commission or the Parliament had offered to sponsor Blogactiv, we would have given it some serious thought. After all, it’s an advertising- and sponsor-driven business, and it’s not easy to attract advertisers to a blogging platform before there are hardly any bloggers on it, as was the case last October.

But they didn’t, and moreover there was never any evidence that they did. The above authors just assumed it. Which shows that describing them as sceptics could not be more inaccurate – they’re operating on faith and dogma.

And as for controlling bloggers … you can’t fault them for lack of imagination. How is Blogactiv supposed to do that? Mind control? At gunpoint?

The other assumption automatically made was that Blogactiv would censor anything anti-EU posted to the site. Far from it – I had every interest to get eurosceptics posting on Blogactiv, so I thought it would be interesting to try and set the record straight (e.g., on EU Referendum and Midnight Sun).

That wasn’t always easy, faced with more paranoid, conspiracy theory …

I’m waiting for them to try and find a suitably subtle way to bribe you. …
- renminbi

… the Stalinists be damned. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I take notice of what any government tells me to say or not say. …
- kg

… red-blooded passion …

I d love to hold the stake, that is driven through their black heart.
- FU

and sheer unalloyed hatred …

Mathew, I’ve checked out your nice little EU sanctioned site and quite frankly you and everything you’re doing disgusts me. It reminds me of having a pro-Hitler forum … I despise everything the EU stands for and nothing will convince me otherwise and anyone who can be persuaded by your site that everything is all above board is a tool and deserves the prison state they’re going to find themselves in.
- Aurora

… from people I’ve never met, some of whom freely admitted that they hadn’t actually visited the site.

Taking the conspiracy thing even further, Devil’s Kitchen put 2 and 2 together and got 7, imagining that John Worth, who was moving to Brussels at the time, was in fact doing so to join Blogactiv.

We thought inviting John around for coffee was an interesting idea, if only so that we could email a big ThankYou! to DevKitch for giving us the idea of hiring him, but John’s too busy doing his own thing.

Anyway, I did make the last real point on both blogs (here and here):

Friends of the Earth just posted something criticising the European Business Summit. They posted this on the EBS’ own blog, hosted on Blogactiv.

EurActiv (Blogactiv’s parent company) is a media partner for EBS. But we pushed the post to the Blogactiv home page, which gives it extra visibility on EurActiv.

If Blogactiv or EurActiv ever intended censoring critical voices – as many here and elsewhere automatically assumed – we would never have given such publicity to the EBS’ critics.

But we did.

To date, no reply. Make of that what you will. They probably didn’t notice.

Some pearls in the mud (slinging)

But it wasn’t all foaming at the mouth. I did get some reasoned arguments and useful comments. For example, when I challenged them to try posting on the Guest Blog to test whether Blogactiv would censor them, RAENorth made some valid points about how Blogactiv frames the discussion:

The essential stance we take here is that the European Union is a malign organisation that should not exist and, if it does, that the UK should not be a part of it. … Discussing EU policy, therefore – the merits or otherwise – within the framework that you suggest is therefore to accept the premises that the EU should exist, or that we should be part of it. In other words, to take part in your “debate” is to abandon our own premise.

Another good example was Bagua , pointing out how the sections we had at site launch undermined my argument that it was a neutral platform for debate (I thanked him and updated them to make them neutral while I cleaned the egg off my face).

And many of them made valid points about the possibility of EU-level democracy – see, for example, ELF:

If you have read back through postings by many of us, you will be familiar with the argument that establishing democracy within the EU is not just “challenging” but fundamentally impossible, due to the lack of a “demos” with sufficient shared values

Valid, but debatable, of course. How shared must those values be, I wonder, and who decides this? And who measures these cultural differences? Xenophobes?

Finally, someone named pondering started by suggesting that Blogactiv was a corporate conspiracy more than an EC one:

It’s not so much the Commission paying to be heard there, I’m afraid. Seems to me this Blogactiv scheme is more about legitimizing via the ‘blogosphere’ the lobbying efforts of the above corporates that often come through loud and clear in the ‘mother’ publication.

S/He and Aurora then had a nice little conversation about the corruptness of the media in general and EurActiv in particular, until I asked the obvious question:

… can you tell me *how* you think a sponsor could affect the content on Blogactiv?

I’m sincerely curious, because there is no such thing as ‘Blogactiv content’ … The content is by the bloggers on Blogactiv. If a corporation or lobbyist wants to blog on Blogactiv, they’re as welcome as anyone else … Would you deny them the freedom to publish that you enjoy? And how could a sponsor actually affect the content of a site composed purely of blogs? I just don’t see how that’d be possible. They can advertise, but an ad is an ad, nothing insidious about it.

… any content-based organisation which gets a reputation for letting advertisers call the tune of their content is *screwed*. If EurActiv really had “a reputation for spectacularly and shamelessly confusing journalism with advocacy”, as you claim, noone would visit it, and they do (CIM figures).

And to his credit he seemed to concede the point – about Blogactiv, if not EurActiv. Aurora didn’t reply.

Conclusions

So, yes, it is possible to get your point across, and maybe even get someone to see your point of view, in the most virulent online environments. But not very often. And you need pretty thick skin.

In any case, given that they had immediately assumed blogactiv was an EC-funded conspiracy, I never really expected to convince any of them that it wasn’t. As Aurora wrote, with immense pride, “nothing will convince me otherwise“. Clearly she knew what she was talking about there! So why did I bother trying?

Well, there are more people out there reading blogs than commenting on them. By not attempting to put the record straight, you leave the field unchallenged. As a result, anyone else stumbling across their content will only get their (very biased) side of the picture. Bad for business. But also bad for me personally. I didn’t like being portrayed as a liar.

Which made responding to the venom and word-twisting with calm restraint extremely difficult. My aim was to not stoop to their style of debate, remain courteous and respectful of their views, and allow other readers to compare and draw their own conclusions. If you want to judge how well I managed, remember that the above quotations are just a sample of the ~60 comments posted on the two sites.

The other thing I took away from all of this was an appreciation of the power of groupthink. Put similarly-minded people in the same environment (gated suburb, online community, religious school, whatever) for long enough, and watch extremism rise as all members reinforce each other’s worldview and raise the volume higher and higher in order to be heard.

So I’ll probably explore groupthink via this blog, among other things, because I don’t think for a moment that eurosceptics like these are the only ones prone to it. Go into any cafe within shouting distance of the Berlaymont here in Brussels, after all, and you’ll find yourself in a large group of similarly-minded people, most of whom have been in the same environment for a very long time …

Is the EU suffering from groupthink? Is the Pope Catholic? What can be done about it?

- Mathew

PS Fire away with your comments – but do respect this site’s guidelines.

41 Responses to Happy Birthday, Blogactiv! »»

  1. Comment by Lucy | 2008/10/15 at 19:37:14

    As one of the peasants that is regulated and ruled by the EU and its puppet Westminster government, I’d like to know why, if the EU is such a great, democratic entity, why it needs to sell itself?

    The EU is nothing but a pernicious elite monster. The only way for it to exist is by controlling & regulating nation states.

    Ted Heath did this country a great disservice with his blatant lies, but successive governments have done even more damage, this one more than most.

    One question that has always lacked an answer, so perhaps EUactiv can reply, why if the EU is so good for us all did politicans have to resort to lies & deception? Why when most politicans were in opposition, like the present government, denounce the EU yet on being elected remarkably turn into staunch EU lovers, they knew the same in opposition about this monster as they do now. I think Kinnock is a prime example. Baffling, truly baffling.

  2. Comment by James | 2008/10/15 at 20:27:51

    Happy birthday.

    One simple question, and no conspiracy theory; who financed this site?

  3. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/15 at 22:37:09

    Lucy: I think you’re sort of missing the point, but go ahead, vent your spleen, I’m sure it’ll do you good.

    James: EurActiv.com.

    - Mathew

  4. PAR
    Comment by PAR | 2008/10/16 at 12:33:26

    Mathew,

    We celebrated Blogactiv yesterday in the EurActiv.com office. You just missed two delicious Apple pies (I wasn’t able to find green cakes in times) and a glass of a gouleyant Mousseux.

    Here are some pictures:
    blogactiv.eu/files/2008/10/pa.JPG
    blogactiv.eu/files/2008/10/stuartjorge.JPG
    blogactiv.eu/files/2008/10/jorge.JPG

    Additionaly, Christophe, Dale and Jorge made speeches which were recorded. Next time you visit, you can have a look!

  5. Comment by Mathew | 2008/10/16 at 13:59:18
  6. PAR
    Comment by PAR | 2008/10/16 at 14:05:04

    @Lucy

    Euroskeptics like you are always blindly critising the EU for this and that… But when it comes to put foward solid arguments, there’s nothing.
    Actually, you don’t even try to debate. You just spread your frustrated inconsistent and ignorant “disagrement” with something you obviously never try to understand.

    Warm regards,

  7. PAR
    Comment by PAR | 2008/10/16 at 15:55:30

    It looks like there is a problem with your picture Mathew.

  8. Comment by Mathew | 2008/10/16 at 16:27:00

    @PAR

    Granted, Lucy did vent her spleen, and a lot of eurosceptics do that pretty frequently, but you can’t lump all eurosceptics into one box, label it “loonie”, and put it to one side.

    The reality is far more nuanced, as I hope the quotes I selected for this post, above, get across. The EU and the MS Governments, after all, gives eurosceptics plenty of ammunition to use to shoot at the EU, and some of their comments about Blogactiv a year ago were valid.

    The problem, of course, is that the above quotes were taken from over 60, most of which read like Lucy’s. Anything useful from eurosceptics – even the highly critical but valid remarks – get totally drowned out by the bile, the hatred, the xenophobia and the cheap shots. You have to hunt.

    So it’s a shame they stay in their echo chambers, and we stay in ours, all victims of groupthink.

  9. Comment by Mathew | 2008/10/16 at 16:32:17

    PS re: the photo. Try the link again?

  10. PAR
    Comment by PAR | 2008/10/16 at 17:07:13

    It works now. Thanks.

  11. Comment by James | 2008/10/16 at 19:42:00

    James: EurActiv.com.

    Thank you Mathew. Very informative.

    Are you a private company or a public body?

    Thanking you in advance for your response

  12. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/17 at 09:06:59

    James:

    Sorry for the one word response, but EurActiv’s nature was a major subject of conversation a year ago, so I assumed that you – like everyone I discussed Blogactiv with a year ago – knew EurActiv (or thought they knew it – ignorance never stops opinion …). My mistake.

    Note that I haven’t worked there since March, so I don’t speak for EurActiv (see this blog’s about page).

    If you look at their site, you’ll find that it is pretty much a content-driven, advertising/sponsorship-funded, internet start-up – complete with team member share ownership – which survived the dotcom shake-out (my emphases):

    EurActiv was set up in 1999 … a UK Public Limited Company, subject to independent external auditing and good corporate governance. A long term venture capital company holds 20% of the shares, but the majority of shares in EurActiv.com PLC are held by team members.

    It’s all here – http://www.euractiv.com/en/Fixed/about/company.htmincluding income sources. This has always been publicly available information. If I read it correctly, apparently in 2007 the private sector accounted for the vast majority of revenue (85%), with 14% coming from:

    Public projects … mainly with the EU Commission but diversified between different Directorates General. All EU projects were won in open competition for public tenders or calls for proposals. EurActiv.com plc receives no subsidies from any EU source …

    None of the revenue streams represent more than 50% of total sales and no single client represents more than 5% of total sales. This wide spectrum of clients further underpins EurActiv’s editorial independence.

    I stress again that I don’t work there – and when I was there I wasn’t looking at any numbers, except Blogactiv site traffic, #posts, #bloggers … – and so do not represent them. In other words, check out their site, which has a Contact Us page.

    - Mathew

  13. Comment by Lucy | 2008/10/19 at 17:03:41

    It’s all well and good Par & Matthew accusing people of knowing nothing about the EU, but they give no indication whatsoever of knowing anything themselves, well part from what a good entity it is, and trot out the usual pro-EU stance.

    I don’t profess to be an expert on the EU and its workings, and I can see where people can be conned into believing what pro-EU enthusiasts report, but if those self-same people took the time to research even some of the workings of it, like myself, they’d see a completely differet picture.

    But with the regularity of all pro-enthusiasts they totally ignore the question put to them. A true ‘smoke & mirror’ tactic of the pro-camp, slag off and demonise. To be truthful you can’t really call me a sceptic because I hate the EU with a passion, so EU-hater would be more appropriate.

  14. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/20 at 11:49:45

    @Lucy, your passion has clearly made it difficult for you to read what you are commenting on.

    For example:
    - when did I accuse you of knowing nothing about the EU?
    - I criticised PAR for his attack on you, above
    - whereas my post is about how some people reacted to Blogactiv’s launch, and how they reacted to my attempts to set the record straight, your comment was to criticise the EU, not Blogactiv. Moreover, you made *exactly* the same assumptions as the conspiracy theorists a year ago. Hence I said you were missing the point. Sorry, but it’s actually *you* who is “totally ignoring the question”.

    Go ahead, vent your spleen again. Gotta get that hatred out of your system, y’know, otherwise it’ll do you no end of harm.

  15. Comment by mrpras | 2008/10/22 at 17:29:12

    “One question that has always lacked an answer, so perhaps EUactiv can reply, why if the EU is so good for us all did politicans have to resort to lies & deception? Why when most politicans were in opposition, like the present government, denounce the EU yet on being elected remarkably turn into staunch EU lovers, they knew the same in opposition about this monster as they do now. I think Kinnock is a prime example. Baffling, truly baffling.”

    I personally think that generally politicians do not have to answer too much. They believe that because they have been voted in they get free reign. I also think it’s probably really hard to be a politician who is actually trying to change things, people don’t always vote for what is good for them.

    The monster, in my humble opinion, is in the design of the mechanism itself. I think we need a new political system. A distributed, open, involving one. Coincidence, perhaps, that I am working on some designs for that.

    The majority of people I met at the European Commission were good people, and had a pretty high standard for what they wanted to achieve for European citizens. I think those with the good ideas in that organisation need support from the people to help change the nature of the beast =)

  16. Comment by Michel | 2008/10/23 at 13:04:22

    Dear all,

    if giving the opportunity to the citizen to express is point of view is a conspiracy then we should go for the hardest Stalinist approach …
    People like Lucy are well trained they are using the basement of propaganda, never really participate to the debate and simply posting slogan in order to make them indexed in the search engine. I am not an EU fanatic, I am not completely satisfied by our current democratic system. I am still hoping than one day we can enlarge the parliament with e-citizen using e-referendum. I was deeply chocked when I heard than belgian citizen were to stupid to participate to a referendum but at least with blogactiv we have a starting point, I can express my idea, I can initiate a debate so please may I ask you (Lucy and the others) to respect the rules of truly open and fair discussion.
    This location is not the cavern of the beast, there is no 666 secretly tagged

    Thanks for your time,

    Michel

  17. Comment by DH98 | 2008/10/23 at 17:01:53

    Mathew, please give an example on a sceptic site of xenophobia. It is typical for those of us who are eurosceptic to be accused of xenophobia, but where is the proof, in terms of those you have quoted here. I have lived in continental Europe and have no problem with it. I like the people, I celebrate the differences in custom and practice. If you think the reason for euroscepticism is purely or mainly xenophobia, or narrow-minded nationalism, you are missing the point. I don’t want to be part of a giant, interfering bureaucracy with no accountability democratic or otherwise. I believe, and there is recent evidence, that the population of my country would certainly have voted against the Lisbon Treaty had we been given the promised referendum, and would probably vote to withdraw from the EU if consulted.

    Let’s try an analogy. I get on with my neighbours, but I don’t want to share my house with them, or my bank account, or have them vote on what to plant in my garden or what to have for dinner. Or indeed to tell them how to arrange their homes or lives. In my opinion, the EU represents a kind of collective, where I get a vote over them, and they over me. Or maybe where we all pretend to have a vote, and an unanswerable committee makes the real decisions. Anyway, that’s my problem with the EU. It seems to me from the previous posts here that we poor unenlightened sceptics are seen as not understanding the glorious EU, and therefore in need of re-education. I don’t want to be re-educated, I just want to leave. The rest of you may carry on without me and my country.

  18. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/24 at 11:01:18

    @DH98: As (I hope) my original post and some of my followup comments showed, I do understand that you can’t paint all eurosceptics with the same brush. So sorry if the dig about xenophobia touched a raw nerve.

    But, please, don’t pretend that there are no xenophobes in the eurosceptic movement. You don’t even need to look on a eurosceptic site for examples. How about:
    - Nigel Farage, at the EurActiv event which launched Blogactiv, claiming:

    “Put yourself in the place of a Romanian. You suddenly go from Bucharest to Brussels, and you find you’re earning 10 to 20 times what your are worth at home. That is why the political class of Eastern Europe wanted to join Europe…”

    I think the Romanian Commissioner sitting alongside him showed considerable restraint to this shockingly rude and racist assumption. Only a xenophobe could really believe what Farage said to be true. As the Commissioner pointed out:

    “In my country, some 70% of my countrymen wanted to join the European Union…”

    A second example. Remember Michael Portillo, in full eurosceptic mode, claiming that European University degrees were all bought over the counter and hence inferior to the British version? Could a Cabinet Minister be more racist than that? One would hope not…

    So now I’ve answered your question, perhaps you could answer my original one, rather than just attacking it:

    How shared must those values be, I wonder, and who decides this? And who measures these cultural differences?

  19. Comment by DH98 | 2008/10/24 at 14:22:36

    If you think these are examples of racism, then you don’t know what racism is. Neither example even makes a distinction on racial grounds. Nationality is not race, and differing academic standards (this is a very stupid comment from a stupid man, I don’t defend it) are not race either.

    To get to your question, how shared must our values be to comprise a demos? Well, not only our values but our priorities? Well, I don’t propose to produce a formula, or a set of tick boxes or regulations. That would be the EU way. I don’t really see why I should share my democracy, dilute my voting power, with just anybody who is arbitrarily selected, by a process in which I have no part. People who have different backgrounds, values and traditions. Why one country and not another? What shared interest do I have with someone from an East European country? What common ground is there? I’ll know when it is enough, even if I can’t articulate a set of rules.

    When I worked in Romania, I met not a few Romanians who thought it was a great idea for all the Roma to be able to go anywhere in the EU. There is no love lost there. Is it not OK for me to say they maybe shouldn’t get free entry to my country?

    But to be fair to the EU, it does not treat us as a demos anyway. EP candidates stand for local parties as part of a country-specific political campaign. Nobody campaigns europe-wide. Nobody who does try very hard keeps himself informed about EP issues. That’s the way the EU likes it, the Elite carry on doing whatever they like without real scrutiny from the people.
    Security men chase the cameras away from the MEPs signing on to get their per diem allowance before going home for the weekend. Fraud and expense-fiddling are rife. The accounts are never signed off.

  20. Comment by lucy | 2008/10/24 at 20:13:24

    Matthew,

    Apolgies, no you did not say I knew nothing.

    As to, vent my sleep otherwise it’ll end up doing me harm. I don’t see my dislike of the EU and denouncing it as an elite monster as harmful, in fact as politicans have a ‘code of silence’ where the EU is concerned, I find it very theraputic.

    But we come back to why no-one will answer the questions of why, if the EU is such a fine upstanding democratic organisation politicans will not talk about it, except on occasions when they’ve signed another ‘treaty’ undemocratically, or why when in opposition politicans are Eurosceptic, yet when elected into office become fully fledged EUfanatics. The confusion on this is when in opposition they knew the same about the EU as when elected.

    MRPRAS,

    The EU is run like an elite club, so thoughts of democracy or reform is as remote as the stars.

    I think that referring to people as xenophobic or racist cheapens the posts of EU supporters and undermines their arguments in favour of it. As soon as you start saying these things because someone has a different view as yourselves you lose all credibility.

    Remember Voltaire:

    I may not like what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it.

    The EU and political correctness has almost erased freedom of speech, and this I believe will rebound on us all one day.

  21. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/25 at 16:38:33

    @DH98: There is a distinction between xenophobia (“A person unduly fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign”) and racism (“The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others; Discrimination or prejudice based on race“).

    Farage was xenophobic towards the political classes of East Europe, making blanket generalisations that they were all greedily leading their countries into the EU purely for personal gain. Portillo was xenophobic towards all Continental Europeans, making blanket generalisations about their educational qualifications.

    In both cases, the defining characteristic was their nationality. Anyone from those countries was inferior (educationally, morally).

    So, no, it wasn’t racism.

    But you challenged me to find examples of xenophobia. I did. So now you reset the rules, saying it wasn’t racism. I never said it was. You changed the terms to score a cheap point. You scored a home goal instead. Frankly, I was hoping you’d do better.

    Similarly for the “answer” to my question. You write:

    I’ll know when it is enough, even if I can’t articulate a set of rules.

    Well, that’s real helpful! Talk about a completely useless position to take in a debate. How is a anyone supposed to calibrate a policy when all you can say is “I can’t tell you what we want, but we’ll know it when we see it”. That could lead you anywhere … And it’s lead this debate to a blank wall. Shame.

  22. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/25 at 16:45:13

    @Lucy: Glad it was thereupeutic (sp?) ;-) I could tell.
    Anyway, you write:

    But we come back to why no-one will answer the questions … (snip)

    Well, you can come back to it. I never raised it, and never defended any of the things you attack. For what it’s worth, though, I agree with you in part. National government (and politicians’) hypocrisy towards the EU is legendary. But then, their hypocrisy is Just Plain Legendary anyway. For another post, maybe …

    But as for national politicians signing a treaty undemocratically … you’re applying double standards, unless you want every single treaty signed by your government to be put to a referendum.

    National politicians are elected to government to take decisions. That includes signing treaties on stuff like trade, environment, military cooperation, science and technology … in fact, just about every area of policy.

    Many countries have constitutions stating that certain sorts of treaties – particularly those affecting sovereignty – should be put to a referendum. Other countries do not. In some countries, such treaties are election issues, which at least gives the government a mandate to sign or not sign. In other countries, this is rare.

    Whether you agree with the UK Government’s choice on this issue (or the opposition parties’, for that matter), my point is that staying in the EU is a national choice, as is adopting any EU treaty.

    So have a go at Gordon for not running a referendum on the Reform treaty, but don’t blame the EU for it. It’s just not a decision that the EU takes. It’s national.

  23. Comment by DH98 | 2008/10/25 at 18:42:34

    I think you’ll find you used the racist term about Portillo. No, no home goal there.

    If somebody had a genuine concern that a given nation’s educational standards were not the same as another’s, how under your rules may he express that opinion? Without being a xenophobe, of course. Different countries are different. Pointing that out is not xenophobia, it implies no irrational fear. What Farage said wasn’t particularly xeno either, he was suspecting the motives of individuals, not countries. Although I don’t find it comfortable to defend that idiot either.

    Anyway, to the question. It was a trap, wasn’t it. You want me to codify some set of criteria, which will put them up as a target to be savaged by your awesome rhetoric. But to me, I’ll know it when I see it is a position that will do. You propose a population, I’ll tell you whether we have sufficient shared interest, culture, tradition etc. Of course, not all populations within any country meet on all levels. I would probably point to a history of democracy, common rather than Napoleonic law, libertarian rather than dirigiste tendencies. I’d be inclined to take notice of those who are beneficiaries of the EU vs those who are net contributors.

    Of your position we know nothing. We Sceptics (for want of a better word, although my position is not really sceptic, it’s anti) mostly just want out. All we get from the other side is name-calling. Can you not understand that it is valid to not like the EU, not because it is composed largely of foreigners, but because it is a vast unaccountable bureaucracy?

  24. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/27 at 10:22:18

    DH98,

    I’m sorry if you feel trapped, but all I did was make a remark on Eve’s views, to make it clear that quoting her didn’t necessarily mean I endorse her (his?) views. To date, I feel I still don’t have a decent answer to the principal questions I raised, particularly the one in italics:

    “How shared must those values be, I wonder, and who decides this?

    But I certainly got a reaction from the extra question, added in passing (“Xenophobes?”). Now maybe I should have not asked that, as it’s clear that I touched a nerve.

    While you cannot credibly deny that there is a stream of xenophobia running through anti-EU sentiment, for my part I regret any misunderstanding caused – I don’t think that all anti-EU people are xenophobic. As I said earlier, my original post showed that I don’t paint all eurosceptics with the same brush.

    So perhaps I should not have added the X-word. But there’s a name for such self-censorship. It’s called political correctness.

    As for Portillo, you wouldn’t defend him in the way you did if you’d actually heard what he said. Can’t be bothered looking for it – it was early 1990s.

    But how on earth can you say Farage wasn’t being xenophobic? The link I gave takes you to a video of him saying what he said – did you watch? He accused the entire political class of a dozen countries of venality, based on their nationality. How xenophobic does someone anti-EU have to go before you’ll condemn him?

  25. Comment by DH98 | 2008/10/27 at 22:36:07

    You ask me to defend straw men you put up for me. I have nothing to do with those people, but I don’t regard what they said as xenophobic per se. Is it not allowed to mention, or even criticise, practices in other countries? I think my bar for xenophobia is higher than yours, but if it’s a derogatory term, it needs to be.And I would NOT condemn a true xenophobe, a real phobia is a medical condition not a crime against humanity. However, leave all that aside, if you concede that not all anti-EU people are xenophobic. I hope you won’t condemn me out of hand without a reason to do so. I think some EUphiles use the X-word to avoid confrontation over more substantial issues. Name-calling is not a part of proper argument.

    The question thing. Your question is still a rhetoric trap. The first part is a trap because it requires me to produce a set of criteria which you can find fault with. The second part is a rhetorical trap because you propose a way whereby the objection implicit in the first part can be handled. This is pretty much like a double-glazing salesman’s script. However, we don’t need to define a demos, the existing national populations can do it for us. Except the EU does not trust the people with anything in a vote, and if the people get the answer wrong they are required to vote and vote again until they get it right.

    The EU is still a vast unaccountable bureaucracy. It has a massive democratic deficit. That’s what I object to, and I want nothing to do with it.
    Incidentally, if it was perfectly run, as a non-democratic institution it would still be objectionable in principle, and I would wish my country’s soveregnty restored.

  26. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/28 at 10:24:41

    Personally, I find your definition of xenophobia pretty elastic and forgiving. And to define xenophobia as a medical condition when discussed in this context requires breathtaking chutzpah!

    But I agree with you that EU-philes (another term requiring definition, but maybe that’s for another post) must not use the X-word to denigrate a cogent anti-EU argument.

    I never intended to do that and I did not ask you to defend straw men. YOU asked me to give examples of xenophobia in eurosceptic circles. I did. You then chose to defend them. Although, in fairness, you did so with understandable reluctance.

    Personally, I know I did not set out to set a trap. I just added a passing comment to a question. In my opinion, if there was a trap, you set it and then stepped into it. But let’s agree to disagree on that one.

    As for the whole “The EU is still a vast unaccountable bureaucracy …” thing … we differ only in degree of opinion. But that IS a completely different question from the subject of my original post. I never set out to defend the EU system, just Blogactiv.

    What I appreciate in this entire exchange is that the tone of our argument, although combative, has remained civil, which is a lot better than a year ago.

  27. Comment by Wolfgang Bock | 2008/10/28 at 20:17:42

    Dear Matthew

    thank you for publishing all of this Eurosceptic copy. It is interesting to speculate about whether all these folks have similar rants about the US, which influences UK politics far more than the EU (also, far more effectively); and this is true of most other MS too, certainly of Germany, whence I write.

    My main concern, though, would be that the EU may be too wide a subject for free-ranging text debate of the serious variety. Personally, I know a thing or two about media and think that this problem is in fact intractable, certainly if you have only the resources of a normal blogger. With unlimited resources, you´d have search engines, mind maps, semantic tools for threading, etc. And you still might not be able to do justice to the subject.

    Also, and still personally, I have always held that traditional media system fail to unlock all of the creative potential out there. But if you want to do this effectively, you need to think about a reward system of some sort. Mere posting as vanity publishing may not do the trick.

  28. Comment by mathew | 2008/10/29 at 13:16:25

    Actually, from what I have gathered from the UK eurosceptic sites I visited, they are as pro-US as they are anti-EU, but it is dangerous to generalise, as always.

    As for your other comments, you may be right, but it depends on what you want to debate, and with whom. Debating the EU’s Very Existence generates a lot of passion and hence more heat than light.

    But debating a policy approach to, say, research policy, or the merits of a proposed piece of legislation, can be usefully done online using a combination of text and a/v.

    The real problem with having such discussions on EU policy is one of multilingualism. But that’s for another post…

  29. ELF
    Comment by ELF | 2008/11/04 at 19:49:56

    Mathew,

    You ask “How shared must those values be, I wonder, and who decides this ? “ Who decides ? Well think about it. In a democracy, the people decide. This means that the nations that have formed the EU should only have ceded sovereignty with the explicit approval of their people. In the UK, we had the Heath government lying about the “Common Market” – i.e. a free trade block – when they know it was a project for political integration. We had Maastricht – constitutional change – implemented in direct opposition to the settled will of the British people – which has always been against transfer of powers to Brussels. There is the French vote against the constitution being ignored and everything being repackaged into Lisbon. We have the denial of the referendum in the UK, promised by all 3 “main” political parties. Only one referendum in the whole of Europe, in Irelend. And who realistically expects that result to be honoured ?

    No. The EU does not simply have a “democratic deficit”. It is not simply non-democratic. It is actively anti-democratic in its accretion of power.

    ELF

  30. Comment by ELFELF | 2008/11/04 at 19:55:37

    “the US, which influences UK politics far more than the EU (also, far more effectively)”.

    Wolfgang, this is nonsense. 80% plus of our laws are now issued by the EU.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks »»

  1. [...] (See also previous post on how eurosceptics reacted to the launch of Blogactiv.eu as if it was an attempt to ‘take over’ the EU blogosphere). [...]

  2. [...] I know how they feel, which is probably why I spend more of my time online in walled-off conversations, such as Ning [...]

  3. [...] may be a better candidate, but perceptions of media bias could also be problematic – witness the massive distrust accompanying the launch of Blogactiv, for example. And with 99% of all media nationally based, [...]

  4. [...] bad enough when the Commission is innocent – witness the daft conspiracy theories about the ‘EC taking over the blogoshphere‘ when this site was [...]

  5. [...] get any interaction between those who want to improve the EU and those who want to destroy it – my experience wasn’t fun, but I learnt that the EOPS needs ‘intelligent scepticism’ (a concept [...]

  6. [...] I realise I may start to sound like some of the hysterics who thought Blogactiv was some evil plot to take over the blogoshphere, but the fact that this is now a subject of conversation in Brussels chills my [...]

  7. [...] anyone thinks that the combined forces of the OPP (Online Pyjama People) are going to take over the world anytime soon, please watch this hilarious video (hat tip: [...]

  8. [...] – the latest on this was What “The Filter Bubble” means for the Brussels Bubble, but my experience when launching Blogactiv remains my personal [...]

  9. [...] putting these first and last things together in a blog about EU comms is a bit of a stretch, but my very first post here proved Godwin’s law that the odds of an online conversation invoking Hitler rises to 100% if [...]

  10. [...] such ‘Pyjama people‘ are not going to be convinced when someone from Brussels steps into their echo chamber with [...]

  11. [...] Mathew Lowry in “Happy Birthday, BloggingPortal(?)“ puts his finger into our wounds by pointing to the rather grave deficiencies of our project, including a reminder to a heavy and painful debate about the future of the platform that didn’t make us move forward and instead left some darker traces in our collective memory: “BloggingPortal (should) offer something important to practically everyone who wants to contribute to debates on EU policy. […] it (should) have a structuring effect, flipping the EU Online public space out of its current chicken-and-egg situation into a virtuous spiral, where the network effect kicks in and makes growth exponential. […] There’s only one problem with this theory: It hasn’t happened. […] The reason is unchanged since I wrote that Bloggingportal2 post in mid-2010: there are no resources (BP editors are all volunteers), and we are absolutely unstructured, with no internal process for moving forward. Back then I made some suggestions to turn it into a social business, and was accused of wanting to ‘take it over to make money’ – the second time, incidentally, that I’ve been accused of having secret, evil plans vis a vis the Euroblogosphere (here’s the first).“ [...]

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Mathew Lowry’s Tagsmanian Devil rss

The European online public space, online communications, communities and the EU, semantic technologies plus whatever else catches my eye. more.



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