Over on Nosemonkey’s blog, in yet another debate on the pros and cons of EU membership, Insideur is of the opinion that:
IMHO there is a real gap in the market, that Open Europe has sought but failed to fill, for serious, informed, and therefore constructive criticism of the EU
As he points out, the debate on Nosemonkey’s blogs are generally of far higher quality and depth than elsewhere. The post in question (A cost-benefit analysis of the EU and the Lisbon Treaty?), for example, even got Robin (a longtime Eurosceptic contributor there) to agree “with the thrust of your post , it`s a very complicated issue“.
But having said that, there was also Sarah shrieking (It’s 1984. It’s undemocratic! It’s unwelcome!) and plenty of references by eurosceptics to facts and figures which are verifiably false, and ‘sources’ which are about as reliable and impartial as the Daily Telegraph and other Murdoch British titles.
Nosemonkey tirelessly and patiently corrects the fallacies, but one gets the impression that he’s arguing with a brick wall at least most of the time. More importantly, I wonder what he could contribute in a more constructive atmosphere than the confrontational tone that always seems to poison useful debate on EU issues.
And remember, the discussion on his blog is probably the best that it gets – elsewhere, the level of debate is much lower.
Out of the cacophony
So, as I mentioned earlier, the online debate on Europe is a cacophony, but does it have to stay that way? Is it possible to create a European public space for “serious, informed, and therefore constructive criticism of the EU”? Or are we stuck with the current yobbish, Friday-night-after-11pm-in-Manchester ambiance?
For me there are two possible paths for improving the signal-to-noise ratio. One is that people grow up and learn to respect other points of view online. That ideal appears unlikely, at least in the short-term.
The other may be some sort of self-organisation. Note I’m not advocating anything top down – independence and freedom are sacrosanct. All players should be invited, and carry on the conversation in their own way, on their own platforms, as before. The last thing we need is to reinforce the groupthink that isolated the Brussels bubble from the rest of Europe in the first place.
I’m just wondering whether it’s possible to link a few pieces of the existing landscape together, using tools and aggregators like delicious, posterous, bloggingportal.eu or Yahoo! Pipes, in a structured way. And maybe build some quality control into it too. So that those who want to have an informed and constructive conversation can easily find the quality and don’t have to waste most of their time rebutting pure b*llsh*t.
The question I have is this: would this need to be organised, and if so, who would support it?
It is possible that a bunch of bloggers and other independents take it upon themselves to bootstrap a European public space into existence. But given their resources, the results may be limited, particularly given the costs associated with supporting a multilingual debate.
On the other hand, the effort could be sponsored by someone. But who? Lobbyists, NGOs, governments and EU institutions would all clearly bring issues with them. However, as Presidential candidate Obama demonstrated, it is possible for an interested party to fund a purely independent space.
But this is the EU, not the USA. What equivalent would we find in a political environment where most MEPs are barely known outside their own homes?
The media 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, let’s not even mention the question of linguistic and national bias.
Put simply, we might be stuck in with the current landscape, a Catch-22 situation where there is no European public debate because there isn’t one already there to support its own birth.