This time it’s different – yeah right…

I don’t think there has been a bigger agreement in the European Parliament and the European Commission that the time to reform Europe, in order to save it, has come. Pity then that the result is as drastic as rearranging the deck chairs on Titanic.

Remember the election slogan “This time it’s different”? It was the promise we voters got. Now was the end of shady backroom deals. But this was a highly polished version of the truth. To use a mild euphemism. Because the fact is that there has never been more backroom dealing like the one we’ve seen these past weeks and the winners are the usual suspects and the losers us voters, subsequent loss of respect for [European] democracy can be considered as collateral damage.

So what we have now is a Commission president that seemingly didn’t want the job, that wasn’t on any ballot and is being sent to an institution that seemingly despairs his arrival.

But as a gloomy reality we live in for the moment and the fact that institutions appear at their worst as this backroom dealing is done this is still the best opportunity we’ve had in a long time to reform the EU.

How to fail in public affairs and communications

This is an exact copy of an email we just received. Seriously? They are congratulating an outgoing Member of European Parliament to his recent win (we lost.)

Dear Mr. Engström,

Congratulations on your recent election to the European Parliament.

I am writing to introduce you to our communications company, ALYS Web Design. With over 10 years of solid experience working in Brussels for both corporate and institutional clients, including several Members of the European Parliament, we are at your service for all your digital communication needs (website, e-newsletter, social media…).

I would invite you to explore our extensive portfolio and would be happy to meet with you and your team at your convenience to explain our working methods and answer any questions you may have.
Yours sincerely,
Pierre Neuray
Manager
For a quick glimpse at some of our ‘political’ references:
www.robertrochefort.eu
www.didierreynders.be

So dear agency, Alys, do your homework before you start spamming us.

 

Branding the European Parliament Post-Juncker

One thing that I have asked myself in these last days during the debacle over instating, or not instating, Mr Juncker as the next European Commission chairman is how this will affect the branding of the European Parliament and subsequently future voting.

As a side note, if it had been me I would have bowed out of the process now. But then again I haven’t grown the rhinoceros hide necessary for high political life.

There are two obvious possible scenarios right now:

  1. Mr. Juncker is instated

  2. Mr. Juncker isn’t instated

But whatever the outcome, what will this situation do for the branding of the EP, the voters will to vote in future elections and the legitimacy with the EP?

Before the elections the EP had dug themselves into the stance that “this time it’s different” when in fact there is no discernible difference whatsoever.  It is true that the Treaty of Lisbon says that the election results should be taken into account and that the EP could identify so-called Spitzenkandidaten. Only no one of the Treaty Fathers bothered to define exactly “taking into account” means. Added to this the main candidates where national only since there is no such thing as pan-European parties. ”Taking into account” could mean that the European Council automatically instate the person the EP has identified as their preferred choice, which is how the EP defines it as. Or it could mean that the Council acknowledges the EP’s choice and then goes on to identify a completely different candidate. A possibility the Council has an open door to. However, there is a certain ping-pong feeling about this process since the EP has to approve the candidate proposed by the European Council i.e. in the case of Mr. Juncker the EP has to approve their own candidate.

But to claim that Europe’s voters have spoken and want Mr. Juncker is a very difficult argument intellectually. The argument is actually more emotional and thus difficult to defend oneself against, but numerically it does not hold all the way.

Voter turnout in the parliamentary elections went up with ten percent, 43.00 to 43.09 between 2009 and 2014. At about 400 million eligible voters one tenth equals about 400 000 more voters. This corresponds to about the number of voters in Sweden who chose to vote (if we take into account that the number of eligible voters increased from 2009).

This turnout is likely not getting higher if the EP doesn’t manage this situation properly.

But to go back to the initial question. Exactly what arguments will be possible to use in a situation that easily can be turned around to a message that the voters’ will is not taken into account? And just to complicate matters it can equally be claimed that even if the Council comes up with another candidate it takes the voters’ will into account, since the Council consists of the elected Heads of State of the Member States and these were elected in free, open and democratic elections and that the Treaty of Lisbon doesn’t say that the election results automatically instate the EP preferred candidate as the EC chair.

Now it’s getting fun, isn’t it? Everybody is listening to everybody and all claims no one is listening.

The main issue, which have nothing to do with branding, is really what “taking into account” means and how to identify this sentence.

Having this debate now, after the election is to turn us voters into losers, however this debate ends … branding or not. Or maybe this is the branding we are left with? A situation, that at least I would be very sorry for.

Post #EP election: is back to basics for the #EU the way forward and to continued peace? or What should the club look like?

In the aftermath of the European elections with results that were expected and although I am uncomfortable with the results I can only state that the elections where free, fair and open and its results must be respected. No, it wasn’t Voltaire that said “those” words; it was Evelyn Beatrice Hall writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), as a summation of Voltaire’s beliefs on freedom of thought and expression.

I myself join the large choir of critics saying that too much power have moved to the Centre and sincerely don’t think that more power to “Brussels” is the way forward is the answer to the situation we’re in now. It might be interesting to have a kind of “political memory” and to remind of that General de Gaulle himself, and many with him, considered that the way forward for Europe was an “imposing confederation” of European states. Maybe we should resuscitate that vision?

Being a staunch defender of the original reasons for creating the European Union, in particular the peace keeping, I feel that the EU stands in front of one of its biggest challenge since its creation – to keep the peace in Europe and our neighbouring regions.

No, I am not ”just another non-Federalist” but I do think that discussing what the club we are a member of should look like is something we need to do, and that this should be an ongoing discussion. And we need to take the good with the bad. I feel that this is the only way forward to achieve higher credibility for the European construction.

Could it be that “Back to basics” is the way forward?

Martin Schulz, European elections and Social Media

I found this excellent blog post ”What Happened During Schulz’s #AskMartin Chat 0n Social Media” that discusses certain aspects about Martin Schulz’ chat #AskMartin. The chat took place May 19 and is a part of Mr Schulz bid to the post as President of the European Commission. Actually this is a post nor he nor his competing candidates actually will be elected to by the EU citizens since the Commission, including its President, is agreed by the European Parliament. So in itself it’s a strange situation.

As much of this election campaign this event was rather discreet, in fact the chat was a complete surprise, I only noticed it when RTs started to appear in my feed, and I concur with the critics that the answers were few, far in between and bland. Fine, he got 1 700 tweets during the hour allotted to the Twitter chat, it goes without saying that no one can answer that many answers at least not over the course of an hour. Still the answers that were given could have been more poignant.

But as Mr Ricorda rightly points out in his post, there are technical limitations to how many answers you can provide. But what communications strategy doesn’t take that into account? I must say from my angle it seems like Mr Schulz team had a brain wave:

We must do something with Social Media! Twitter! He should Tweet. That will make him stand out as a cool politician. And German (German since EP elections still are national) twitters is a really interesting demographic group. And properly managed we’ll get a really good reach.

I can hear the applause.

More than any other tool in the communications mix, technology is a factor in any Social Media strategy and if not managed properly you will end up like Mr Schulz, kind and well-meaning, but a bit lost in [Social Media] space. Technology has to be taken into account and managed. Questions like:

  • Can others in his entourage answer tweets while keeping the authenticity?
  • Can we continue to answer questions even after the chat is closed?
  • Can we create a pop-up page on the campaign website and answer the questions by grouping them in themes?

There are many other questions to be asked and answered. But as long as there is a sense of no one even thinking about the basics before organising an [on-line] event like this it will only be considered as a well-meant measure that got botched.

Languages are a funny thing

Thing? Possibly the wrong noun, but I hope my trusted readers get what I mean.

In my life, where I at any given day interact in three languages and work in an environment where I hear 25, having some insights into the denomination of languages are something I take for granted. But when will one learn never to take anything for granted?

Today I applied for a job at a company that describes itself the following way:

Kronos is the global leader in delivering workforce management solutions in the cloud. Tens of thousands of organizations in more than 100 countries — including more than half of the Fortune 1000® — use Kronos to control labor costs, minimize compliance risk, and improve workforce productivity. Learn more about Kronos’  industry-specific time and attendance, scheduling, absence management, HR and payroll, hiring, and labor analytics applications at www.kronos.com

Kronos: Workforce Innovation That Works™.

Kronos is a privately held company and was founded in 1977. Headquartered in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Kronos employs more than 3,500 people worldwide.

So it is fair to say this company claims to have a certain international outlook. Well, at least this is what you think because in the ad, for an International Communication Manager, one of the requirements were: Fluency in a language other than English is a benefit (European or Chinese)

European?

Or is their take on the debate on a federal Europe?

How Netflix almost ruined EU Net neutrality

Now when the debate sparked by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ blog post on net neutrality “Internet Tolls And The Case For Strong Net Neutrality“ has died down and the European Parliament have voted in favour of Net Neutrality and against specialised services, I’d like to take the opportunity to vent my grief a bit. What I say in the header is a tall order, I know. But it is not far off.

First of all, as you might know, when I discuss companies or persons in my blog I don’t mention them by name. This is for several reasons, first of all there is an element of the Golden rule, second the industry is rather small and I hope to continue work in it, and, in the case of Netflix, I don’t want to come across as a disgruntled almost employee. Although, I remain rather unimpressed by Netflix’ EU hiring practises. Further, I think that Netflix doesn’t take their responsibility when it comes to making it simple to be legal on-line seriously. Nor do they go far enough in their actions. This time I felt it was warranted to mention names simply because anything else would have complicated the text beyond means.

But I digress.

In my everyday job I work as Policy advisor to a Member of the European Parliament concentrating on issues like net neutrality, e-commerce, telecommunications, cloud computing to mention a few. This is why I can speak with some certainty of this process since I was involved behind the scenes. And yes, I am a staunch defender of Net neutrality.

I am not going to go into the debate at heart here. The point I hopefully will make is to highlight a view that I often see from US-based companies with EU branches; there is seemingly little or no insight that points of view put forward in the US might affect EU legislation. They also join forces with their EU corporate counterparts in not entirely realising that the European Parliament actually is a parliament with powers and influence.

In his post Mr Hastings made a case for net neutrality and against specialised services, but instead of business, he based his argument on fees for traffic. In his text Mr Hastings state that if telecommunications companies get their way we might not see a new Skype or indeed Netflix again because the fees charged would stop any new ideas from being implemented. Had he stuck to this argument I don’t think there had been any debate; no one wants to be accused of stifling competition, hamper value creation and stop new business from happening.

”Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.” The term was coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu.

But in any case, the impact this ill-timed post had across the Atlantic, where a vote on Net neutrality and Specialised services was taking place, was that it gave the telecommunications companies in Europe wind under their wings and they started to lobby for their point of view; that there is no such a thing as a free lunch, and users must pay for bandwidth. Nothing of which is questionable; but it isn’t the question at hand. Rather the real issue is freedom of doing business. Weaker Net neutrality would make it more difficult to run any business on-line. If the vote had gone a different way Mr Hastings could have had to seriously review his expansion plans for the EU. Is that really what he wanted? This attitude towards the European Parliament is something I frequently see amongst companies, EU & US alike. It is getting better in EU companies, but many US companies whose activities’ spans both sides for the Atlantic seems blissfully unaware of that the European Parliament actually produce legislation that have impact on their business. And if they consider it, they seem to think it is some toy Parliament and when you want to lobby it you just send employees with little or no leverage with the C-suite. Or a VP is coming and is expecting the Parliamentary calendar will change to accommodate them.

Is there really no-one within Netflix that has any view on legislative developments outside the US? Because, the state of net neutrality in the EU will affect Netflix business. Is there no-one that could have advised Mr Hastings to hold off the post to a better time? That maybe a better way to push net neutrality is to speak about preserving, maybe even augmenting, freedom to do business? And is there no one that can enlighten him about the importance of the European Parliament? It governs over 500 million citizens which makes it one of the biggest parliaments in the world. 80% of national EU legislation emanates from the European Parliament. OK, someone say; this post was published on Netflix USA Canada blog and was not at all aimed at EU. This is correct and true, but even if all business is local, corporate standpoints for international corporates rarely are. And if someone high-profiled like Mr Hastings speaks on a relative controversial issue this will have repercussions far beyond what one had identified from the beginning.

The Telecoms Single Market proposal (the proposal that was voted on) will now be reviewed by the Council of the European Union. The Council representatives are expected to adopt a final position on the Telecoms regulation later in 2014. Personally, I hope that the Council maintain the safeguards to protect net neutrality and prohibit network discrimination in Europe. This includes ensuring that this principle can be effectively enforced. Achieving this has not been easy, and in case Netflix wonders, the battle isn’t won. In in the meantime, in the relative vacuum that will be during the election period, we are certainly not helped by blog posts of the likes of Mr Hastings.