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European opinion

About the author

A freelance writer and editor based in London, J Clive Matthews is Managing Editor of openDemocracy's EU and deliberative democracy blog, dLiberation.

In the real world he has co-authored two books and edited numerous others (ranging in subject-matter from movies to modern Russian politics), been acting editor on a glossy history and travel magazine, editorial consultant for a big name women's magazine, a freelance news editor for AOL UK, worked in both the House of Commons and the European Commission, and contributed to publications as diverse as Starburst and the Times Literary Supplement.

Best known as Nosemonkey online, he has been blogging about British and European politics daily for several years both at his own blog and sites like The Sharpener, General Election 2005 (now defunct), AgoraVox, France 24 and the Washington Post / Newsweek's Postglobal, as well as about movies for the BBC, and has been shortlisted for blog awards by the likes of the Guardian, Deutsche Welle International and the Weblog Awards, amongst others.

For the last couple of days, winning over those sceptical of such democratic innovations as deliberative polling (assuming such innovations are valid, of course) has been my chief concern. But, with EU-centred innovations, we also still have the Eurosceptics.

I've already mentioned the dominance of eurosceptics in the online English language debate, largely due to the influence (and traffic-boosting transatlantic links to the closely-knit network of right-wing American blogs) of EU Referendum, independently run by two associates of the highly eurosceptic Bruges Group thinktank, one of whom also used to work for the UK Independence Party, before turning his back on them for being too amateurish (or so I believe).

However, due to the fleeting and superficial coverage of Tomorrow's Europe in the mainstream media - some TV coverage, the occasional short article, but nothing overly in-depth - it will be to the web that most people will look in the weeks and months to come. Amongst the online coverage now will be found EU Referendum's assertion that "what is delivered is a number of findings that are both pointless and irrelevant, except that they will be treated with undue reverence by the EU commission and its lackeys, who will cite them as evidence of what the 'citizens of Europe' think and want."

So, on this front at least, it would seem that Professor Fishkin's third criterion for success - will decision-makers listen to the results? - has been accepted as a given by the eurosceptic crowd. But EU Referendum's reasoning does bear consideration - for it gets once again to the heart of getting the people to accept deliberative polling as a legitimate tool of democratic governance:

"All of this is depressingly familiar, and more so when it represents yet another attempt by the Europhiliacs to by-pass the traditional standard of representative democracy - the popular vote in national elections - and to create a European polity by other means"

Creating a European polity by other means was precisely what the Tomorrow's Europe excercise was all about - creating a microcosm of the EU with a functioning public sphere. But, of course, such an exercise will always remain artificial.

Until the pan-European language barriers are broken down and a truly pan-European independent media emerges - two developments which hardly look likely at the moment - there can surely be no truly European polity, not one that functions at a truly EU-wide level. Because as long as the European elections remain fought primarily by national parties, and as long as the people remain largely in ignorance of how and what the EU does, all EU politics are national politics.

There is no such thing as European opinion, yet it was European opinion that the Tomorrow's Europe poll was trying to measure.

It all smacks of trying to run before you can walk. But let us not forget that Tomorrow's Europe was merely one part of the broader Plan D initiative to get the people of Europe talking and discussing amongst themselves. Plan D is set to continue - its initial two year experiment continued by another two. And the next stage's emphasis is on the web - on which, more later.


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