The difficulties of selling to the people

J Clive Matthews
26 October 2007

Vice-President of the European Commission Margot Wallstrom, instigator of the Plan D programme under which Tomorrow's Europe was launched, has had a gander at the results of the poll and put up some thoughts on her blog. She picks out a few interesting results, but what is more interesting is perhaps not the areas that were intended.

First, there's the mention of other past "Plan D" projects (some of which I'd never even heard of, and I generally try to keep up with these things), and the plan to get a sample of 250 participants from all of them to go to Brussels in December and discuss how these events were run and affected them.

Second, however, is the comments the blog post has so far received.

Commissioner Wallstrom's blog, you see, was the first such communication tool to be launched by anyone from the Commission. It was the first place where members of the public felt they could lobby a Commissioner direct. Due to the lack of interest from the majority of the European public in EU affairs, however, what emerged in the comments section instead?

Yes, that's right - the eurosceptics. Only these are a special breed - a super-strain of withdrawalist EU-cynics who will never believe anything said by anyone they think has any kind of connection with an official EU body unless they are a UKIP MEP (see a prime example of just such an exercise over at Iain Dale's place last week).

Online, British eurosceptics dominate any English-language debate about the EU - largely due to the dominance of one blog - EU Referendum. From this hub, the loyal readers and participants in the blog's healthy forums - in terms of numbers, precisely the sort of participation in EU debate that Wallstrom wants to foster - then intermittently venture out into the wider internet, all with one aim in mind.

That aim? Seemingly to write the most cliched, predictable and barking comments they can on any site or story they perceive as being pro-EU. As such, Commissioner Wallstrom's blog is their Eldorado. Witness a few of the gems on this Tomorrow's Europe post:

"I have a poll for you Margot... Do you wish to live in a state that's being Islamified."

"The question is - do we give up our countries or do we fight?"

"I and others are not asked if we accept the polls and propaganda"

Every now and again amongst the frothing-at-the-mouth rhetoric (which none of them seems to see does their cause far more harm than good), comes the sort of response which perfectly underlines the difficulty of getting any kind of representative democracy accepted by the people at large:

"This 'deliberative poll' sounds a wee bit too much like 'normal polls are against us, so we have to brainwash the participants before we poll them'.

"The process of 'deliberative polling' includes two critical sections: The Recruitment phase and the Briefing phase. In the first you can easily weed out the informed people, and in the second, you can feed the rest any bull as 'impartial briefing'.

"Hey, it is amazing that anyone related to Brussels can even SPELL 'impartial briefing'. The briefing was propably as 'impartial' as the new treaty is 'democratic'…"

The trouble is, of course, that no one has any real idea of just how large this minority of eurocynics actually is. It seems unlikely that they will ever be won over to the delights of the EU - but at the moment they well and truly dominate the online debate. Launching any fresh attempts to boost citizen participation online is, sadly, most likely doomed to be dominated by precisely the same kinds of voices.

Because the only people who are really interested in the EU appear to be those who want to see it destroyed.

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