pdfEarlier today, Debating Europe was at the Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) conference in Brussels (#pdfbrussels on Twitter). The theme of this year’s event was “Finding Europe’s Public Place” – looking at how social media and other technologies might help “burst the Brussels bubble” and foster a common European public sphere (and it’s perhaps worth glancing back at some of the debates we’ve already had on the problem of forming a common “demos” in Europe).

Also today, voters in Ireland’s referendum on the fiscal treaty have been staying away from voting booths in large numbers (though things could pick up later this evening). By 2.30pm, voter turnout in Ireland was only predicted to be between 15% and 20%. If social media and other digital technologies are really going to forge a European public sphere, then it looks like they might have their work cut out for them. As one of the participants (a journalist) during the PdF conference put it: “When you say European Union, I fall asleep“. Is this the root of the problem? Is the EU simply too boring? And, if so, will social media really be enough to get people interested?

Blogger Ron Patz, who was also speaking at PdF, presented a more hopeful picture. Obviously, there are plenty of people interested in discussing the EU and how it affects their daily lives (and you can read our 2012 snapshot report for some of their views) but much of that discussion is taking place at the national level, on national blogs, websites and social networks. The language barrier, of course, doesn’t help.

Some time ago, regular commenter Nikolai left us an optimistic remark about the potential for social media to positively affect politics:

In these times of bottom-up social pressure on governments enabled by the soft power social media now provides, almost to the point of removing civil society/NGOs and main stream media from the debate, informing the great unwashed masses directly is by far the best method to keep both traction and momentum with any policy.

But do social media (and other online tools) really have the potential to replace mainstream media and civil society as intermediaries between citizens and policy-makers? Earlier this year, we spoke to Mark Wilson, Executive Director of Panos London, an independent NGO that promotes the participation of poor and marginalised people through media and communication projects. We asked him if Nikolai was overestimating the potential impact of social media on politics:

What do YOU think? Will social media be one of the tools that helps grow a European public sphere? How is it going to impact democracy and politics in Europe? Is it being over-hyped? And what chances are there of forming a European public space online (or does one exist already)? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.


8 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Karel Van Isacker

    Social media IS already used by many local, regional but also national governments and institutions, as well as by cities. The question is: are all citizens having access to this? And the answer is NO. Why? Europe counts over 50 million people with disabilities, a big portion of them is not able to use social media due to the usage of R(ich)I(nternet)A(pplications), see e.g. gmail, Facebook, etc. As long as that is not fully addressed, access to social media will be creating barriers itself. Lucky there are some good alternatives that started popping up, see EasyChirp as an accessible Twitter alternative.

  2. Samo Košmrlj

    Hopefully, just hopefully the social media will help the eu public sphere. The social media has a great potential in bringing democracy to every citizen’s home, but we first need to motivate people to participate.

  3. Ozcan

    A public sphere that also allows terrorist to speak out their twisted mind? Is that the democracy we are seeking for? And what is a public sphere worth when it is restrained by social control?

  4. Albert Saxén

    liquid democracy
    Karen, wld be profitable then as well ..
    Samo, it’s as i say in my bk (Epilogue)
    Voting, for one, is (but one but still) the best way to take part
    in the political process and effect change. I do not believe it is politics
    that people hate instead they hate stereotypes. I cannot blame them
    either; we have pushed them away so that have become distant,
    distanced them so that now feel alienated … we have to bring them
    back. Somehow.
    Obama cldve had/bn seen as gd for this. No difference and he’s made racism worse.

  5. Albert Saxén

    civil liberties ya but liquid democracy however..well, we update imp systems why not democracy too?
    Dem 2.0 :)

  6. christos mouzeviris

    of course it does.. there are many bloggers out there who really have something to say and give constructive criticism and helpful opinions to solve Europe’s problems. Unfortunately our politicians and financiers think they know best and do not needto listen to our opinions. Perhaps they think that because they studied for years in American universities and spent lots of money and a great deal of time and effort, they know best.

    But from what we have seen from this crisis, they obviously do not!! They messe up big time. Why? because when you are dealing with people of different nations,background, culture and intellect there is the unexpected factor. You can not sort an economy simply by studying the books. And as a politician you always need to listen to the people and their advice. A housekeeper lady with limited education might not know how to balance the country’s books, but she certainly know how to do her household’s and keep her family’s expences in check. She knows the market she goes to shop from better than any of the rich elite politicians and she lives in the real world, not in the luxuries of the high lifestyle that our leaders live.

    So when it comes in receiving advice, our leaders may find better to listen to a housewife, than a detached from reality financier that is ultraambitious to make profit and practice what we was tought in Harvard. I am just saying.

    So if I was our leaders, I would pay more attention to what the people have to say in the social media and bloggs…

  7. Júlio Mateiro

    Religious, cultural and even social or economic convergence is an illusion. They will never work or raise their children like we do.
    On a first line of approach, we need to stick to our values and make them respect our culture, if they want to live here.
    On a more final basis we should reduce our oil dependence, leave it underground, and cut their funding. It´s with oil money that they support their hole society, terrorists included. They are in our hands.
    But of course, we could just leave it like that and the future becomes known only to God.

  8. catherine benning

    Time for an alternative point of view to take the stage. Why such reluctance? What is it you fear you will lose? Has the Capitalist yoke forced you into the idea that should you change policy you will find yourself destitute the same way as those you rule over, like the Greeks for example?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYzKsiev43Q&feature=related

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