Friday, July 10, 2009

New Citizen Europe Blog!

Goodbye, Blogger!

I'm making the move over to WordPress. Anyone interested in reading about European nationalism can find me writing on my new blog over at

See you there!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Where Have I Been?

I've been keeping a low profile in the EU blogosphere since the TH!NK ABOUT IT finale in Rotterdam.

The main reason for this is that I'm up to my eyeballs in work at the moment, so my blogging has suffered.

The other reason is that I'm working on a brand new blog/website (powered by Wordpress) to be launched soon.

More info to follow...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Blogging in the Stone Age: How Political Blogging in the EU is Playing Catch-up With America

I've just had an editorial published on

I'm sure it will prove at least mildly controversial, and I hope it will generate a bit of debate. If not debate, then at least some thoughts!

Comment if you think I've got it wrong, because I will listen to you. I would actually love to be proved wrong in this case!

You can read my editorial here.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What is the Point of the EU Blogosphere?

I'm going to try experimenting more with audio and video as a blogger. I'm sure this is a better way to connect with people and show the human side of EU politics. So here's a video I've put together, showing some of my thoughts about what we could do with an EU blogosphere.

Please criticise my mad ideas!

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Editorial for JMECE Lab

The Jean Monnet European Centre of Excellence Lab has published an editorial I wrote about European identity. It's a personal piece describing my own feelings as a young European living and working in the EU.

You can download it or read it online here.

Comments and criticism welcome!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some News on How the Elections went in Maastricht

The UK and Netherlands were the first countries to go to the polls today in the EU parliamentary elections!

I was sent an e-mail today by Faten, a voter in Maastricht in the EU elections [EDIT: Fatan isn't actually a voter, because she is South African. But her partner is Dutch and voted in the elections]. She offers a personal account of going to vote in the Netherlands:

"Dear Joe,

As promised I wanted to drop you a quick email on my observations on how the elections went in Maastricht.

It was a normal cold Thursday morning; people going to work as one sees it every morning on bikes. Pretty much like other days, really. There was no rush to vote. I live next to a voting office, which I pass on my way to work.

The voting office is a school and the traffic of this morning was rather calm - again the usual traffic caused by parents dropping off their kids at school. The City Hall also housed a voting station. To guide the voters, small signs were put up to direct the voters. Those were the only noticeable signs that some type of elections were taking place (if one doesn't know he wouldn't recognize that EU elections are taking place due to the lack of some type of poster of even a sign of the EU flag). However, the preliminary estimates show that 40% of Dutch went out to vote - a higher figure than initially predicted.

One of the key concerns in the run up to the election was that the radical PVV party of Geert Wilders would win the majority of votes. As it looks now, they only got the 2nd position (of course official results still have to be announced). Preliminary results show that CDA (the leading party in government) is leading (20% - 5 seats which is a decline of 2 seats from the previous election) followed by the radical PVV which has secured 15% of the votes according to the preliminary estimates.

The elections were not only 'spiced-up' by the radical PVV but an animal for the animals also run for elections and the preliminary results show that they are close to securing 1 seat. The party is said to represent those who are victims of human cruelty. Interesting!

Hope this helps.



Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Future for the EU Blogosphere?

My latest TH!NK ABOUT IT post can be found here - in which I muse about how we can build a better EU blogging community.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest-blogging on TH!NK ABOUT IT

Apologies for the lack of updates.

It's been a hectic week - and it's about to get more hectic. I've just started guest-blogging over at TH!NK ABOUT IT.

I'll be blogging there this week, so I may neglect my duties here at Citizen Europe. But please do comment on my ramblings at TH!NK!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday Cartoon: A United Europe?

I will try to post a cartoon every Monday, if I am able. Today's Monday cartoon is on Tuesday - but my excuse is that this has been a busy week!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blogger Interviews Irish Minister for European Affairs

Ireland5Image via Wikipedia

This is a follow-up to an earlier post (here)

Frank Schnittger, a blogger over at TH!NK ABOUT IT managed to interview Dick Roche, Ireland's Minister for European Affairs (watch his interview here).

He asked a good mix of questions, focusing on both domestic Irish issues and on broader European issues as well. Dick seemed happier talking about the broader European picture, but Frank did ask some difficult questions and tried to pin the Minister down on specifics.

It's great that someone at the level of a Minister has granted a 50 minute interview to a blogger, so (no matter what you think of his politics) Dick Roche should be congratulated for that.

The audio quality on the recording is not amazing, and Frank unfortunately managed to lose part two of the video (leaving only parts one and three). He says this was a technical fault, but I'm wondering if it wasn't because Dick Roche let slip about the EU plans for world-domination, and "they" confiscated the video. Probably not...

Anyway - Well done to Frank for scoring this interview!
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Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Launching Citizen Europe (Lite)

The Prudent Investor left a comment on one of my posts (here)

Giuseppe, [EDIT: For that would be my name in Italian]
nice blog. May I only suggest you change the colors as white script on dark backgrounds is tremendously eye-tiring (to the older geezers like me? Humans have got used to black on light backgrounds since Gutenberg.

Prudent has a point, and it's something that troubled me when I started up my blog. It's a question of access.

I like my blog. I like my colour scheme. I like all my gadgets and widgets and gizmos cluttering the place up.

But if you're reading my blog and you're colour-blind (or if you just don't have the eye-sight of a hawk) then you might not find my layout so stylish.

Moreover, if you're reading my blog on a mobile phone or if you're using a dial-up modem or have a dodgy internet connection, you might not appreciate all my widgets and gadgets and things.

So, I've started up another blog. It's exactly the same content as Citizen Europe, but it's just plain black text on a white background. There will be no pictures, videos, gadgets or widgets slowing down your connection (although I will try to provide text links to pictures and videos so you're not missing out).

The address is:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

European Democracy: The Politicians are United but the Voters are Divided

Frank Schnittger, a blogger over at TH!NK ABOUT IT, is undertaking a truly interesting experiment. What he's attempting on his blog (here) is a relatively novel way of conducting an interview... yet it raises questions about the nature of EU democracy.

Frank will be interviewing Dick Roche, Ireland's Minister for European Affairs, and he has posted his questions online for the community to read. Furthermore, he is now asking for suggestions for more questions.

One of the amazing things about this is that Dick Roche (or, more likely, one of his aides) will also be able to read the questions Frank is going to ask him, and so will be better prepared for them.

Second round of the French presidential electi...Image via Wikipedia

In other words, it's almost an "open" interview, between Dick Roche and the TH!NK ABOUT IT community, with Frank as a mediator. Great stuff!

The problem is, a lot of the questions suggested by Frank are very specific to national, Irish politics. This makes sense: MEPs are elected by national voters and so they campaign on issues that will interest and affect specifically those same national voters.

As Frank points out:
"[Dick Roche] is not going to want to raise additional issues... [that] have the potential to lose him votes."
I agree with Frank. But I think this is a terrible way to conduct politics.

This is one of the reasons the public are so frustrated with European politics. Now is the only time that we - the European public/s - have any say over these issues. Now is the only time we can hold our politicians accountable.

Two years down the line, when these issues are actually being addressed, there will be no public accountability. It is only now that we can reward or punish our politicians for their future vision. So, Frank, please press him on at least some of these issues!

For example, I definitely want to know about the Barroso coronation. I want to vote for a political group that intends to put forward a candidate to run against Barroso. I do not want to do this because I dislike Barroso, but because I believe that competition is in the interests of democracy. After the elections, though, the power to push for this sort of thing will be out of our hands.

All across the EU, each individual voter will have their own set of key issues that they will be voting on. MEPs should clearly set out their positions on ALL of these issues, and then let the voters decide. But the system, as it stands today, encourages MEPs to campaign only at the national level on national issues for national votes. Given this is the case - what questions can I, a citizen of another EU member-state with only a cursory knowledge of Irish politics, possibly suggest for Frank to ask?

This is why I think we need some sort of European-wide accountability, represented by some part of the EU institutions being directly elected by all EU citizens voting together. At the moment, the politics are united, but the vote is fragmented. MEPs take European-wide decisions, but they campaign on national issues. I cannot vote for Irish MEPs, so Irish MEPs are not interested in my opinions, yet they help take big-picture decisions in my name.

Still, perhaps I am jumping the gun a bit.

I have no idea how Dick Roche will respond to these sorts of long-term questions. The fact that he is willing to be interviewed by a blogger at all is fantastic, and this should immediately win him respect.

But my appeal to Frank is this: don't ignore the long-term questions. June 2009 will be the only time (until the next set of elections) that we have any real power to influence what happens.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review: Villa Margon

April 18th to April 16th 2009 was "Culture Week" in Italy. Determined to imbibe some late-Renaissance European culture, my lady and I (and a couple of friends from Brazil) visited Villa Margon in Ravina (not too far from Trento). Here's a quick review of the villa and what it can tell us about European culture.

Villa Margon, constructed in the 16th century, sits atop a hill (which is a bit of a shlep if you don't have a car), with vineyards below and the Italian alps above. The villa showcases some superb frescoes (typical of the region) depicting various historical and Biblical scenes.

There are five rooms of frescoes, divided into three sets: one of Biblical scenes, one of historical battles of the Holy Roman Empire, and one showing the cycle of the months. The "cycle of the months" theme seems to have been fairly popular for frescoes in this part of Italy. There is a cycle fresco in the Aquila Tower of Castle Buonconsiglio, another in a Venetian residence in Rovereto, and I've heard of at least one more in a castle somewhere in Trentino.

My favourite panel from the Margon cycle depicts the Villa's noble family sat at a table having lunch on the porch of Villa Margon, watching peasants happily threshing wheat under a scorching sun. Ah, the nobility... what better way to work up an appetite than by watching other people work for a living, eh?

The Margon cycle of the months was an idyllic representation of an ordered society, where peasants knew their place - and it probably contrasted fairly sharply with the actual political situation in Trentino at the time they were painted. Certainly, when similar frescoes were painted in Trento's Buonconsiglio castle, there was discontent and disruption at all levels of society.

Interestingly, there's actually some perspective on display in these frescoes: the peasants that are nearer to the foreground are depicted as being larger than the noble family taking supper in the background. This is completely different to the Buonconsiglio frescoes in Trento, in which nobles are always depicted as being larger than peasants even if they are in the background (how can you display a lowly villein in more detail than a just and beautiful nobleman?).

The reception hall contains frescoes painted by a Flemish artist circa 1560, depicting the historical conquests of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. These are amazingly detailed and very colourful - they look almost cartoony they're so vibrant, with knights and horses crashing about all over the place. The frescoes, commissioned by an Italian noble family (and painted by a Flemish artist), depicting a Spanish emperor of a "German" Roman Empire, remind us of the intensely smooshed-together nature of European history and culture.

Finally, we arrive at the Biblical frescoes. I didn't recognise all of the stories, but I seem to remember both Old and New Testament stories were depicted (possibly seperated into two rooms - I can't remember). In terms of visual excitiment, Old Testament is always more fun. One of my favourite panels showed the flood scene from Genesis. Noah's ark is painted as a great big wooden box of a thing, and if you look closely at the water you can see the little people of the Earth drowning. One or two are even desperately clinging on to the side of the ark.

Not really the sort of thing you'd want peering down at you from your bedroom wall.

Overall, Villa Margon was tremendous fun with some amazing frescoes and striking scenery. If you find yourself in Trento with nothing to do - this would make the perfect afternoon trip.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Review Criteria
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Comment: What does "EU 2.0" Actually Mean?

There's an interesting debate going on between Julien Frisch and Ralf Grahn about the nature of EU 2.0.

Julien is critical of Ralf for his use of the term EU 2.0, preferring to restrict all uses of the term "2.0" to the "Web 2.0" context it was originally intended for.

I argued that, whatever the context:

[2.0] represent a single goal and emphasis: "community."

And that, personally:

I would define EU 2.0 as the interaction between Web 2.0 and European politics

Julien's comments were in response to this post by Ralf.


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Monday, May 11, 2009

Cartoon: Five Years of EU Expansion

A friend of mine drew these cartoons to mark the five year anniversary of EU expansion into Eastern Europe. They made me laugh, so I thought I would share them with you here. All images are copyright Sergio Fischer, 2009, under a Commerical Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Comment: How Much Should Bloggers Self-Promote?

Etan Smallman, one of the TH!NK bloggers, is continuing to impress with his well-argued posts and original interviews. His latest post is here.

[EDIT: It turns out that this post isn't actually an original interview by Etan. Whoops! Still, his last post DID have original interviews in it: here]

I left this comment:

Is this another original interview, Etan?

If it is - then I have a piece of criticism for you (in an otherwise excellent post) - you're not making that clear enough!

You're being too modest and what you need to do is self-promote more. If this is indeed original research, you need to say "in my interview with Mike Smithson, he said..."

People do not expect bloggers to interview. What you are doing is amazing. If you do not make it clear that this is what you are doing, people will assume you have just cut and pasted from an article and are doing regular blogging (i.e. news analysis).

I'm continually impressed by your efforts, Etan - so I'm going to be more critical with you.

Your title "Does this suggest a low turnout on June 4th? Place your bets…" is too ambigious.

This title would be perfect for a sub-heading, in the main body of the text but beneath your main title. But it is unsuitable for your title.

You have to think about how your title will come across in web-searches, RSS feeds and archive lists. It must be as clear as possible.

I can be guilty of ambigious titles myself - and it's something I also have to work at. But something like "UK Public Interest in EU Lowest Since 1988" is clear and attention grabbing.

You can probably think of a better example - but it should strike a balance between being clear (but boring) and being interesting (but ambigious).

Keep up the good work, Etan!



Comment: Invasion of the Mutant Zombie Chickens

Radovana, a Slovak student blogger, came across a pair of giant chickens promoting the EU elections in Trnava yesterday (her post is here). She got funny looks as she took photos of the chickens, and didn't want to hang around too long!

My comment:
Hi, Radovana!

A great discovery!

But you are a blogger now! It is your duty to disqualify yourself from social life and a normal existence in your hometown.

You must be as curious as possible, and try to satisfy that curiosity - even if it means strange behaviour in public (ESPECIALLY if it means strange behaviour in public!) :D

You should return to the chickens and stand next to them, interviewing all people who walk past. Ask them if they know what the chickens mean and if they think the sculpture is effective.

And try to steal some of the chicken! Maybe take it home and cook it. Write a review!

Perhaps that's going to far...


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Monday, May 4, 2009

The Communist Totalitarian System of Barroso

Libertas founder, Declan Ganley, is apparently publishing a book outlining his "political vision." He's hoping, no doubt, to emulate the recent success of President Obama.

Others have already written about Libertas (notably Ralf Grahn here, Julien Frisch here, and there's an entire blog devoted to derailing Libertas here), so I won't go into detail about the party. I just want to comment on Ganley's claim (made, apparently, in his book) that the European Union is a "a Communist totalitarian system of José Manuel Barroso -- a former Maoist Communist."

[Image: Barroso/Che, Josef Litobarski, 2009, Attribution 3.0 Unported, from:
José Manuel Barroso2, Besoin d'air, 2007, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0
Guerrillero Heroico - Che Guevara, Alberto Korda (Korda), 1960,
Public Domain (Controversial)]

I've not read (and probably won't read) Ganley's book, and only have access to his quote because it's in the Irish Independent. I can only assume, therefore, that the Independent has quoted Ganley horribly out of context. If not, this was an... exceedingly ill-advised thing to say.

The EU is a Communist totalitarian system? Run by Barroso? You're having a laugh, right?

If the EU were a totalitarian system, Ganley simply would not exist. I would not exist. Ganley would not be able to run an opposition party. I would not be writing this blog. Me and Ganley would both have been liquidated by the state. There would simply be no space for political opposition or for civil society. The state would have total control of both the public and the private spheres of society. Total control. Not some control. Not a little bit of control.

It's not called alittlebitarianism. It's called totalitarianism.

And yet I exist.

And Ganley exists.

So the EU is not a Communist totalitarian system.

And as for Barroso in the role of Glorious Comrade Number One? In a totalitarian state there would be no seperation of power. Power would be concentrated in the hands of the ruling dictator/junta. But the checks and balances of the EU do exist. There is a seperation of power.

By the way: Yes, Barroso was a member of an underground Maoist party as a young man. So was Andrew Marr, apparently (although he was a bit younger - 11 years old). Whether Barroso was a Maoist or not is neither here nor there - he most definitely isn't one now and the system he is part of does not permit the totalitarian concentration of power into his hands.

But I'm being silly. And Ganley is being silly. The EU is not a totalitarian system.

Describing it as such is shrill, hysterical hyperbole. It undermines Ganley's argument.

There are very valid reasons to criticise the EU. If you make up reasons, or overstate your case, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comment: Unionist Identity in Northern Ireland and the European Union

Great post by Eurocentric on his blog (The European Citizen: Hearts and Minds and Europe)

I left a detailed comment in response. I'm going to disable comments on all my "Comments" posts in future, as I want to drive traffic to other people's blogs. If you want to respond to what I've written - please do so on Eurocentric's blog!

Another great post!

I'm interested in your presentation about unionist nationalism in Northern Ireland (I'm giving a presentation on Tuesday about UK nationalism in general). Could I get a look at the notes for your presentation? Either as a blogpost or sent to me directly?

In return, I'll post the results of my presentation as well! :D

As to the rest of your post:

"Although the Republic doesn't really want NI until it can afford it"

I think this is a really interesting point. On the other side of the coin; when I was in Northern Ireland I heard people say that they don't think the UK really wants NI (too expensive to police and support economically) - but it can't afford to be blamed for any bloodshed that unification would bring.

And in Derry/Londonderry, I had an interesting talk with a nationalist about why a lot of Catholics don't support unification. His take (in Derry, at least) was that if the Republic took over government in the North (and hence welfare support), it would simply be unable to cope with the high levels of unemployment.

Northern Irish Catholic identity (i.e. I don't mean just "nationalist") is also a very interesting thing. Chatting with NI Catholics, I got a real sense that they have some mixed feelings towards Catholics in the Republic. There's sometimes a sense that NI Catholics have gone through something that people from the Republic don't really understand - they haven't shared in it.

In a sense, just as NI Protestants are alienated (or at least distinct) from people in Britain, NI Catholics are distinct from those in the South (I'm deliberately avoiding the terms "Unionist" and "Nationalist" to make this particular point - although I'm aware of all the problems of terminology. These are big, clumsy statements I'm making!)

"Irish reunification would be a lot easier and acceptable for unionists within a European context"

When I first arrived in NI, I really supported this idea. But after living there for a while, I started to understand how much unionists (in general) seem to hate the EU. It almost seems that any symbol of identity supported by one community automatically cannot be supported by the other.

These are only my observations after less than a year living in NI, so I could be completely barking up the wrong tree!

Comment: Should Iceland Join the EU?

I've just recently started reading RZ's blog Re:Europa and came across an interesting bit of debate about Iceland joining the EU (Re:Europa: Everybody Loves Iceland).

A chap from Australia (Ty Buchanan) commented and explained how he was sceptical. His family had been forced to close their local business (growing vegetable produce) because of increased competition from overseas.

In my comment, I tried to link his experience to the exact same (extremely valid) concerns I think many in Iceland's fishing industry are having at the moment. I wonder, though, if staying out of the EU would really reduce these pressures or just postpone them.

Hi, Ty!

I'm sorry to hear about your family business. Iceland's fishing industry fears that exactly the same thing will happen to them if they join. And with Iceland's banking sector obliterated overnight, fishing is now one of Iceland's most important remaining industries. They had banking and fish. Now they have fish.

It's a difficult situation to deal with. But I don't think it's just a problem with the EU; it's also a problem with globalization in general. If the UK hadn't joined the EC, then local producers would still have been under pressure from the advance of foreign multinationals - they would always be able to under-sell local producers.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

EU Fisheries: Two Views

A giant grouper.Image via Wikipedia

Two interesting blog posts written in response to the recent publication of the European Commission's Green paper: Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

One critical post (here) written by Bruno Waterfield of the Daily Telegraph. The second more supportive (here), written by Peter Sain ley Berry over at the EU Observer. These two views are not necessarily mutually exclusive - both men make some very valid points.

Fisheries is something I really want to read up on, as something is currently going very wrong in our seas. If we're not careful, the fishing industry will be destroyed and fish stocks will collapse.

I might consider blogging on this, if only to force myself to read up on it!

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

A French Existentialist Radio Play: Dans la Chambre

When I was a child, my family used to take me on camping trips to France. Once, on one of these trips, I was playing in some rock-pools on a beach in Normandy and a French boy about my age came up to me. He started asking me questions.

In the best French accent I could muster, I tried to answer him: "Je suis Angleterre!"

He must have thought me either mad or patriotic in the extreme (if a distinction exists).

Since that day, my French hasn't really improved. I can just about string together series of words into meaningless sentences.

Not very good for camping holidays in Normandy... but perfect for a French existentialist radio play!

I present "Dans la chambre" - a play looking at the very essence of what it is to be human in a world without meaning.

The purpose of this is to practice my French in a fun way. If you speak French, please let me know how my pronunciation is!

Bon appétit!

Comment: Should Gordon Brown Hold a Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

Bit of debate on Etan Smallman's blog here.

Gordon Brown promised a referendum on the EU Constitution. The Constitution was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands. It was then re-drafted as the Treaty of Lisbon. Is Gordon Brown still obligated to give the UK a referendum? Are the EU Constitution and the Treaty of Lisbon really that different?

My comment:

They’re about 90% the same (if not more). All references to states or constitutions removed (no mention of national anthems or flags, etc). Some stuff was shifted around from the main body into annexes (no practical difference in doing that, as it’s still legally binding, but makes it less obvious)

I agree that if you make a promise for a referendum on the constitution, it should still apply to Lisbon. I have no polling data at hand, but my gut tells me it would fail.

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Comment: TH!NK ABOUT IT in the Greek Media

Stergios Mavrikis reports in his blog (here) that the TH!NK ABOUT IT project has been recieving some attention from the mainstream media in Greece. Great stuff!

Me and Stergios were involved a few weeks ago in a discussion about the conflict in Cyprus (on another blogger's page - here). I had been fairly critical of the original post, and I had behaved badly. Cyprus is a modern conflict in which there have been many deaths and tragedies, and so when speaking to someone directly involved, you have to show sensitivity. I don't think I did this properly.

It's okay to be critical - but you also have to remember that if people are directly involved, it is not an abstract thing they are talking about. They may be personally involved in the conflict, and these are issues very close to them.

Still, I hope there aren't any hard feelings!

Here's my comment:

Congratulations, Stergios!

All of the TH!NK writers are involved in a very exciting experiment! Is it possible to artificially create a community of online writers through a competition such as this?

You have now demonstrated that you have the attention of at least part of the mainstream. Now you have to consilidate that attention build upon it!

The most interesting thing for me is to see if TH!NK bloggers keep on writing AFTER the competition is concluded. I hope you do!

P.S. I hope we’re still on good terms after our earlier conversation about Cyprus. I read your profile, and you have almost identical interests to me (especially when it comes to European identity). I’d love to hear more about your research!


P.S. I do know how to spell consolidate!
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Modern Slavery Inside the EU

10 minutes.

Most people associate "slavery" with the transatlantic slave trade, abolished in the 19th century. One estimate puts the number of Africans enslaved in that trade at over 11 million. But slavery did not end in the 19th century. It's still with us in the 21st.

Zambia, human trafficking posterImage by mvcorks via Flickr

As with most statistics on crime, calculating the extent of the problem is difficult. Victims are unlikely to be reported unless they are actually discovered by authorities. The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) admits that:

"Available information is often based on estimates with little explanation on how figures were calculated." (UN.GIFT, 2008, p.3)

Nonetheless, UN.GIFT fears the problem is growing each year and might even be "reaching epidemic proportions" (ibid). Those sources that do cite figures, despite running into the methodological problems outlined by UN.GIFT, can at least suggest the scale that modern slavery is operating on.

The UN International Labour Organization (ILO) published a "Minimum Estimate of Forced Labour in the World" in 2005 and came up with the figure of 12.3 million (Belser et al, 2005, p.1). Another study, published by Dr. Kevin Bales of the NGO Free the Slaves, puts the figure higher at 27 million (Bales, 2007, p.2).


There is, of course, still the problem of how to actually define "slavery." Free the Slaves has published a list of 12 terms commonly used in place of the word "slavery" by journalists, academics, politicians, etc. These terms vary from "debt bondage" to "human trafficking" to "slavery-like conditions [popular with journalists]." The problem is, most of these terms actually are technically distinct: debt bondage is not the same thing as human trafficking!

By making these technical distinctions clear, is the power of the word "slavery" lost? Does it become easier to disconnect emotionally from the topic? And if it does become easier to disconnect, is this necessarily a bad thing? Does it not, in fact, provide needed objectivity? Or does it just encourage people to ignore the issue?

Certainly, we only seem to make these technical distinctions when discussing modern instances of slavery. "Debt bondage" and "human trafficking" have existed since the institution of slavery was first recorded, yet we still speak in more general terms of "slavery" when we refer to the practices in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece (Greene, 2000). Why then is there such a language bias today? Is it because we conceptualise slavery as belonging to the past? Or is there a more complicated reason?


One of the terms used most often when describing modern slavery is "trafficking in persons" (or "human trafficking"). Some commentators, though, have strongly criticised this term for being too detached:

“The transatlantic slave trade from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries involved the trafficking of eleven million Africans across thousands of miles to work as slaves on plantations. Why is this historical practice termed a slave trade and the same practice today termed trafficking? This linguistic attenuation scrambles global attention and blunts abolitionist policies.” (Kara, 2008, pp.4-5)

Even the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, has written about the problems of terminology, arguing that:

"The term trafficking in persons can be misleading: it places emphasis on the transaction aspects of a crime that is more accurately described as enslavement." (Costa, 2008, p.1)

If it is misleading, then why does "human trafficking" still persist as the term of choice used to describe modern slavery? The critics certainly seem to have a convincing argument: describing it as "human trafficking" makes it sound like the crime is in the moving of a person across borders, rather than in the enslavement of a person against their will.

Perhaps a part of the reason for the continued use of "human trafficking" might be the increasingly blurred boundaries between what is actually human trafficking and what is just "human smuggling" (i.e. "illegal" or "irregular" migration, as it is also known). Some critics point to a "migration-crime-security continuum" that sees "migrants themselves... criminalized and their experiences of victimization [overlooked]." (Goodey, 2003, p.416). In other words, according to this argument, politicians are eager not to be seen as being too "soft" on illegal immigration, and this can also unfortunately result in victims of trafficking being prejudiced against legally as a result.

The UN's legal definitions of both human trafficking and human smuggling are set out in the two "Palermo Protocols" adopted in Palermo, Italy, in the year 2000. The Palermo Protocols replaced an earlier definition of human trafficking from 1949 that had proved less than successful:

"Few countries had signed the 1949 Convention, partly because of controversies over its definition. (Skilbrei and Tveit, 2008, p.11)"

The definition of human trafficking is a sensitive subject for a lot of countries (including the United States, Germany and the UK, none of which had ratified the 1949 Convention), but the ILO argues that the distinction is now (post-Palermo Protocols) legally clear:

"The distinction between smuggling and trafficking, now firmly anchored in international law, has clarified that irregular migration processes can involve violation of human rights as much as they are a violation of state borders. Those who have suffered human rights violations are seen as trafficked victims and should be afforded protection measures." (Andrees, 2008, p.1)

So whether a victim is deemed to have been "trafficked" or merely "smuggled" (and also, therefore, the nature of the legal protection they are afforded) is dependent upon the treatment of the victim by the trafficker/smuggler. Specifically, according to the Palermo Protocols, the determinate of whether or not a victim has been "trafficked" or "smuggled" is whether or not the victim is being "exploited" commercially through "sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs" (Article 3a) and whether that exploitation is being achieved through illicit means (such as force, deception, abduction, fraud, etc.).

This goes right to the heart of the controversy surrounding the definition of "human trafficking," because by defining human trafficking as being essentially the same thing as human smuggling with the caveat that trafficking involves the infringement of the individuals' rights, this definition is potentially offering extra legal rights to "illegal immigrants."


Elizabeth Pisani, author of The Wisdom of Whores, warns of the dangers of taking the worst-treated victims of human trafficking and generalising their experiences across the entire sex industry. She believes that, in the context of protecting sex workers:

"[T]reating all sex workers as though they are the helpless victims of trafficking is short-sighted and counterproductive." (Pisani, 2008, p. 227)

Furthermore, she argues:

"The 'victim' thing takes us back to the religious convictions of right-wing voters in the United States. In recent years they have launched a crusade to equate prostitution with human trafficking... I don't doubt that some pimps and brothel owners hold women and young girls against their will, forcing them to sell sex and sometimes even keeping all of the payment for themselves. But these cases of slavery appear to me to be relatively rare." (ibid, pp.213-217)

By challenging the identification of prostitution with "victimhood," Pisani's argument serves to further blur the boundaries between human trafficking and human smuggling. Is a woman who is smuggled for sexual exploitation with her consent not necessarily a victim of trafficking? Should she be treated as a criminal or as a victim?

A closer reading of the Palermo Protocols does not help matters. Sub-paragraph (b) of the definition of human trafficking states:

( b ) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph ( a ) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph ( a ) have been used;

So even if a victim consents to being smuggled, they should still be considered trafficked if certain means are employed in their recruitment. These "means" include not only force and deception, but also the abuse of a "position of vulnerability" over the victim. This immediately raises certain complications.

Martin Wyss, for example, Chief of Mission of the International Organisation for Migration in Moldova, has argued that in Moldova (one of the poorest countries in Europe) most victims of trafficking come from:

"vulnerable, broken families... [they] have looked for an alternative in Moldova and didn't manage to find one... [and they] act out of despair." (IMO, 2007)

Does this mean that, because of their especially vulnerable economic and social environment, irregular migrants from Moldova should automatically be considered victims of trafficking and not smuggling?

Wyss argues that a fixation on the question of consent is, at best, unhelpful:

"[The] question is always: how well did the victim know before she entered the trafficking trap. How 'guilty' she is... It is completely unfair to blame the victims, because even if they knew that they had to work [as a prostitute] in a bar, they never imagined the working conditions and they were always promised things that they didn't get." (IOM, 2007)


Human trafficking/slavery is always a highly complex issue in any regional context. But the nature of the European Union, with relatively poor countries in Eastern Europe sharing borders with the wealthy countries of Western Europe, and especially with the porous nature of national borders following the Schengen Agreement, makes for a particularly complicated situation (Kara, 2008, p.11).

In addition, the status of human trafficking in Europe is not a static, unchanging thing. It is constantly evolving in response to the new possibilities of globalization, the pressures of economic forces and the reactions of states, NGOs and law enforcement agencies. Anti-trafficking policies, if properly targeted and implemented, can have a real impact. Martin Wyss reports, for example, that:

"The statistics show that there are now very few victims from the Balkans these days. We believe that a concerted action from the international communities has had an effect." (IOM, 2007)

But just as fast as old trafficking routes are closed down, new ones open up. Lilia Gorceag, a psychologist working with the IOM Mission in Moldova, explains:

"At the beginning it was Kosovo and the Balkans. Today it has shifted to the Middle East, especially Turkey, as well as Russia and Ukraine. There is also internal trafficking." (IOM, 2007)

So what is the correct approach to take? Critics of the current international response have argued that "the international community has been... obsessed with stretching out their hands to the victims of trafficking" at the expense of a concerted focus on prevention (IOM, 2007). More effort needs to be spent addressing the root cause of trafficking, i.e; the conditions of poverty in developing countries that make people so desperate. But is this goal at all realistic? Elizabeth Pisani thinks not:

"To wipe out prostitution, you'd have to wipe out the poverty that fuels the supply side. A noble goal. But [some studies] suggest that prostitution is driven by demand more than suppply. So you'd also have to wipe out whatever it is that makes men buy sex." (Pisani, 2008, p.220)

Pisani is speaking in the context of international prostitution but her argument could equally be applied to human trafficking in general. Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is by far the most common form of trafficking (representing 79% of all victims) - although it should be pointed out that there could be a statistical bias at work here (Costa, 2008, p.2).

Pisani's argument is that it is essentially not possible to eliminate prostitution. In an age of increasing globalization, people will always cross borders, whether legally or illegally - and they will travel to anywhere better paid jobs can be found. Pisani thus calls not for prevention, but for more attention to be paid to targeting those factors that make life for prostitutes so dangerous and unbearable. These measures could be better distribution of condoms, funding for sex-education programs, and possibly even the legalisation and regulation of prostitution.

Would the legalisation of prostitution and increased representation of the rights of prostitutes (for example, through unions) help ease those factors that generate the violence against and mistreatment of victims of human trafficking? It's not completely clear that it would. Trafficking also takes place for the purposes of exploitation of manual labour (Costa, 2008, p.2) and labour is not prohibited like prostitution. Slave labour is exploited because it is cheaper than normal labour, and likewise sex slaves would always be cheaper than well-protected prostitutes.

Siddharth Kara, in his book, Sex Trafficking, argues that:

"The best short-term tactics against the industry are those that reduce the aggregate demand of consumers and slave owners. The most effective way to reduce aggregate demand is to attack the industry's immense profitability by inverting its risk-reward economics, that is, by making the risk of operating a sex slave operation far more costly." (Kara, 2008, p.200)

In other words, a greater emphasis on effective law enforcement and punishment. So where should the emphasis lie? On prevention, on protection (of victims rights) or on enforcement? In a perfect world: on all three. But in a real world of limited resources and political attention, the solution is unclear.

The difficulty in finding a definition of modern slavery is not just a side-argument, though. It is absolutely fundamental. It represents the current divided political opinion about modern slavery. Are modern slaves innocent victims of violence and intimidation? Or are they immigrants trying to cross borders illegally and fully aware that they will be entering into prostitution or other forms of exploitation?

In the middle of a global economic recession, it is entirely possible that views on modern slavery may harden even as increasing poverty drives more and more people into the hands of traffickers. If anything is clear from my investigations into the status of modern slavery, it is that more needs to be done to promote a general understanding of the realities and problems of the situation.

Beyond that limited suggestion, it is difficult for me to fully endorse one approach over another (especially given my limited knowledge of the subject). International institutions such as UN bodies have produced many considered and well-researched suggestions, but their hands can still be tied politically as they depend upon governments for support and funding. Opinions from academics and activists depend on who you are talking to and what their political beliefs are.

The fundamental question, then, is still one of definition. How you respond to human trafficking will depend on politics, and politics depends on how you define human trafficking. We seem to be getting closer to a consensus (with more countries having signed up to the Palermo Protocol than the 1949 Convention) but until clarity is achieved, we may find ourselves continuing to work at cross-purposes.


Andrees, B. (2008) Forced Labour and Trafficking in Europe: How People are Trapped In, Live Through and Come Out, International Labour Office, Geneva

Bales, K. (2007) Defining and Measuring Modern Slavery, Free the Slaves, (Accessed April 2009)

Belser, P. et al (2005) ILO Minimum Estimate of Forced Labour in the World, International Labour Office, Geneva,
(Accessed April 2009)

Costa, A. (2008) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons: Executive Summary, UNODC

Goodey, J. (2003) "Migration, Crime and Victimhood: Responses to Sex Trafficking in the EU," Punishment Society, 5 (415)

Greene, J.D. (2000) Slavery in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, Franklin Watts

IOM (2007) Testimonies of Victims of Human Trafficking (DVD), International Organisation for Migration, Mission to the Republic of Moldova

Kara, S. (2008) Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, Columbia University Press, New York

Pisani, E. (2008) The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS, Boydell & Brewer

Skilbrei, M. and Tveit, M. (2008) "Defining Trafficking through Empirical Work: Blurred Boundaries and their Consequences," Gender Technology and Development, 12 (9)

UN.GIFT (2008) Human Trafficking: An Overview, United Nations, New York, (Accessed April 2009)

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Comments: TH!NK ABOUT IT Bloggers Start Interviewing MEPs

I've been commenting a lot on the TH!NK ABOUT IT site recently. I promise I do comment on other blogs, and you're probably all bored about me banging on about TH!NK ABOUT IT all the time, but I've been really impressed by both the quality and quantity of posts coming out of that site.

Today, for some reason, was a great day for interesting posts in the EU blogosphere, and a good number of them came from TH!NK. That project really has become the centre of the indy EU blogosphere in many ways (must. stop. over-using. the. word. blogo. sphere.)

Unlike most EU blogs, TH!NK ABOUT IT bloggers are not blogging as part of an institution or political party. Sure, they're being encouraged by the European Journalism Centre, but there're still writing independently of it. I really hope that at least some of them keep their taste for EU blogging and continue posting after the EU competition.

In fact, things are really starting to get very interesting over at the TH!NK ABOUT IT project. Not only is the daily post count rising, but the latest evolution of the project has seen more bloggers start carrying out filmed and written interviews with members of the public (usually fellow students) and, more impressively, with MEPs! Although this gives MEPs a chance to propagandise a bit with (mostly) unexperienced proto-journalists, it's also an example of EU bloggers doing actual primary research instead of just analysis!

Bart Staes managed to score an interview with a Belgian Green MEP and asked some very interesting questions (including a couple of tough-ish questions, such as: "Why are Greens needed if the other parties put these three crises on their agenda too?") [EDIT: Bart Staes is actually the name of the MEP! The blogger's name is Veerle Vrindts and "he" is actually a "she"! Sorry, Veerle! This is what I get for not reading things properly!] His [EDIT: HER!!] post can be read here.

I left a comment on his [EDIT: her] blog, encouraging him [EDIT: her] to try and get more interviews and asking him [EDIT: her] to share some tips so that other TH!NK bloggers will have an idea about how to go about setting up their own interviews with MEPs.

Here's my comment:

"Great job, Bart!

More and more TH!NK bloggers are actually getting out there and doing original journalism - conducting interviews with the public and with MEPs! That’s exactly what we need! (Nobody else is covering the EU elections, so you guys should do it!) :D

Tell us a little about how you went about your interview, though. Did you have a tape recorder? A camera? Did you take notes with a pen and paper? Did you have your questions pre-prepared, or did you think them up on the spot?



Frank Schnittger posted a very interesting analysis here on the current situation facing Libertas, the anti-Lisbon Treaty party. What most interested me, though, was that Frank has managed to arrange an interview with a politician and is asking his readers to submit questions. Not only would it be great if TH!NK bloggers organised more interviews with MEPs, but if they all asked readers for question submissions it would be fantastic! I'm not sure if people will take Frank up on his offer (it's difficult to think up good questions when you're not familiar with the politics!) but I'd strongly encourage everyone to use the opportunity!

I left a comment on his blog chastising him for not making a bigger deal about his interview:

"Hi, Frank!

Great article - very well written!

I have one teeny piece of criticism, Frank… it’s that you wrote this very interesting article about Libertas, and then RIGHT AT THE VERY END you have a miniscule paragraph about how you will be interviewing a Fianna Fáil politician and you’re happy to take questions from your readers!!

When is your interview? Please, please, if you have time, put together a seperate post briefly profiling Dick Roche and asking for people to submit questions! This is a great opportunity and really deserves to be another post in itself. At the moment, your Libertas analysis is distracting from it!

Other than that, good stuff!


In contrast to the good proto-journalism being carried out by TH!NK bloggers, there were a couple of posts bemoaning the lack of attention the mainstream media is giving the EU elections, and the lack of campaigning by parties. To think! A bunch of grubby bloggers putting the mainstream to shame!

Eamonn Fitzgerald (here) spotted what might be Italy's first EU election poster in Rome.

My comment:

"Woo hoo! If I’m not mistaken, you’ve spotted Italy’s first EU election poster! And it’s all about… national politics.

Hehe, well - can’t complain! At least “Elezioni Europee” is mentioned!"

And Etan Smallman (on his blog here) noticed a Conservative Party EU election poster in the UK.

My comment:

Hi, Etan!

This is an interesting poster. The slogan “give us a referendum” makes it sound to me like the Tories are demanding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU!

Of course, they’re actually only talking about a referendum on Lisbon.

This might just be the way I’m interpreting the poster, but I’m sure the Conservatives are going for the Eurosceptic vote.

Well - at least they’ve actually started campaigning!

I look forward to more posts like these!

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Comment: Don't They Know The Elections Are a Month Away?

TH!NK ABOUT IT is churning out plenty of high-quality posts recently, and there's another one there today from Helena Mercer, a student in the UK, lamenting the lack of any obvious campaigning by UK parties despite the elections being a little over a month away.

My comment:

Hi, Helena

It's not just the UK, unfortunately! Everyone in Italy is focusing on the local elections in May - and the European elections have received no attention.

Just yesterday Katrina wrote an interesting piece about the threat of the BNP getting in if you don't vote in the European elections:

I have to say, it definitely makes me want to vote!

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E-mail re "The Results of the Icelandic General Elections"

Dear Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson,

I've been reading your blog, EU News from Iceland, with great interest! Your latest post about the Icelandic elections was well written and explained things clearly to us outsiders!

However, somebody recently tipped me off to an article in the Icelandic review that argues the exact opposite - that a vote in the Althingi for applying to join the EU will likely pass with a
43 out of 63 majority.

I was wondering what your views were on this? Is it likely?


Joe Litobarski

P.S. I have cc'd a copy of this e-mail straight to my public blog here. I'd love to publish your response as well, but please let me know if you would prefer me not to.

Comment: Vote in the EU Elections or the BNP Will Get In!

A nice post by Katrina Jane Bishop over at TH!NK ABOUT IT.

My comment:

Cheers for this post, Katrina!

I have to admit: I hadn't thought about the EU elections this way. It seems much more important to vote when you consider that by abstaining you are making it easier for extremist parties to get in.

Comment: TH!NK ABOUT IT Interviews with Young Europeans

I'm going to make more of an effort to comment on other blogs. I'll post a copy of whatever comments I make here (I'm using Scribefire, so there's no excuse not to).

Today, I came across an interesting post by Bulgarian blogger Boyan Yurukov on the TH!NK ABOUT IT competition site. I just left him some encouragement. Here's my comment:

Nice post, Boyan!

Good use of pictures and it's nice to see more interviews! One tiny thing: a couple of Plamena's questions and answers are mixed up - but it's very minor!


Friday, April 17, 2009

Less Than Zero: The Impact of The EU Blogging Circus

[Image: Scary Clown - Burning Life, Constanza Volare, 2008,
Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic, edited by Josef Litobarski, 2009]

The always interesting EU blogger Julien Frisch came up with a provocative post today about the state of the EU blogosphere. I've wanted to post something about EU blogging for some time now, and Julien has given me the kick-start I needed.

His argument was a sophisticated one: Julien feels that because the EU blogosphere is so very small and so very geeky, we write under the illusion that nobody is actually listening to us. On the rare occasion that a "non-geek" does actually lift the lid on our grubby little world, it's a rather disconcerting experience.

The EU blogosphere is a "quasi-private" realm. It's not quasi-private because our ramblings are concealed - everything is conducted very publicly - but because the obscure, geeky nature of our subject-matter ensures that hardly anybody bothers to read what we write. Julien calls this public/private world the "Circus of Geeks."

"Look Mummy, There is a Geek. And He's Blogging!"

It's difficult to know how much this quasi-privacy is actually an illusion. After all, as Steffan pointed out in his blog today, comments are not always the best way to gauge how much of an impact your blog is having. Tools like Google Analytics can help you determine how much traffic you are receiving, and if any of that traffic is coming from important domains like the offices of the EU Commission or Parliament, but that's a very nerdy and very imprecise way of assessing your impact (also, does that mean your blog is a failure if it hasn't been read by an intern at the European Parliament on his/her coffee break?)

Is the best that our carnival of geeks can ever truly hope to achieve really a "close to zero" impact on the real world? Are we doomed to look on in envy as "mainstream" political bloggers get ministers fired and expose political scandals (and how bad is it when you can describe other bloggers as "mainstream"?)

Stephen Pollard wrote a piece in The Times this week about the dangers of over-estimating the impact of blogging:

I know from my own experience as a blogger, a columnist and now an editor that there is no comparison between the impact of a newspaper and a blog. If I write something critical of government policy on my blog, it might produce a sage nod in agreement somewhere, but that's it. When, however, the Jewish Chronicle recently attacked the Government's plan to grant a visa to Hezbollah's spokesman, it helped to bring about a volte-face by the Home Secretary.

This goes double for the EU blogosphere. I'm quite sure our impact is less than zero.

EU 2.0b or Not 2.0b - That is The Question

Frank Schnittger, one of the bloggers over at the TH!NK ABOUT IT competition site, wondered last month if the competition might be dying.

TH!NK ABOUT IT, a project run by the European Journalism Centre, is a blogging competition designed to provoke interest in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections in June. Judging by the predictions of historically low turnouts in many member-states, by that criteria the project may not have been much of a success.

However, in terms of expanding our little circus of EU geeks, it could be great. Far from dying, the project is generating a lot of interesting posts and discussions. For my part, I've decided to make more of an effort to encourage all of the TH!NK bloggers to keep posting as we get closer to the elections. Not that I think their efforts will have any real impact on the actual elections - but the more geeks in the carnival, the bigger the show! In other words: if we have close to zero impact at the moment, it can't hurt things to develop a larger EU blogosphere.

And it really does encourage you as a blogger to receive comments and questions. Even if it's only fellow geeks commenting, it reminds you that people are actually listening. This is why I'm going to try to comment more on both TH!NK ABOUT IT and on other EU bloggers' sites in general from now on. Furthermore, I'm going to have a go at writing more posts like this one: examining what's being said by other bloggers and writing follow-ups. This is how debate takes shape.

The idea behind web 2.0 was always that it's not so much about the technology (which is often already in place) as it is about the community. By commenting more, posting more, interacting more and generally strengthening the network, it's possible to build up a vibrant internet community that draws from itself and turns up unique and fascinating debate.

In some respects, the tiny nature of the EU blogosphere is actually its biggest strength. There are literally a handful of names that turn up in the comments section of blogs, time and time again. It's easy to get to know people, and to start developing a dialogue. People are friendly and polite (if they insult each other, then absolutely nobody will be reading their blogs) and generally very welcoming to newcomers.

There' s Another Show in Town

Despite trying to be as neutral as I can in my approach to the EU, I find myself reading and commenting on broadly pro-EU blogs more often than not. This is a mistake. There is, you see, another show in town. Over the road from the circus-tent of the EUrophile geeks is the EUrosceptic geeks' tent. The two groups of clowns mostly stay in their separate tents, but very occasionally one or two will wander across for an argument.

Now, the blogosphere is a great place for debate. But it's also very prone to the dangers of tribalism and cyberbalkanization. I was having a debate with a EUrosceptic on Nosemonkey's blog recently, and I was reminded how important it is to engage properly with people that oppose your views (and I mean actually listening to what they're saying and trying to find common ground rather than just thinking up counter-arguments).

There was some minor heckling and name-calling on Nosemonkey's blog, but mostly the discussion has been civil and very interesting. I honestly feel I learned a lot. And it got me thinking: if now is the time to develop the EU blogosphere and strengthen the network of connections between bloggers, then now is almost certainly also the perfect time to strengthen those connections between the two tribes of geeks.

The EU blogosphere, whilst insignificantly tiny now, will not stay small forever. Despite growing painfully slowly over the last few years, it has nonetheless been growing. And as it grows, there are two possible directions it could take. The two camps could either grow increasingly polarised and separated, or they could maintain civil (and maybe even friendly?) relations.

So, in order to try to encourage the latter path of development, I'm going to try to visit, read and comment on as many EUrosceptic blogs as I can. I'm also going try to tone down the rhetoric when speaking with EUrosceptics, and call them out when they lapse into their own rhetoric. And I will be doing exactly the same when I speak to EUrophiles, especially if I see them mocking or insulting a position. If possible, I'd like to be on first-name terms with as many bloggers as I can by the end of this year (both EUrosceptic and EUrophile).

A Hippy Love EU Blogocooperative

This doesn't mean I want the EU blogosphere to morph into some sort of hippy love EU blogocooperative. My point is that it's useless to stay within your own ideological tribe and not to engage properly (and politely) with all opposing views.

Here are some of the things I intend to do:
  1. Write more blog posts in response to things other EU bloggers have posted.
  2. Admit more often (publicly) when I've made a mistake or changed my opinion. It's not "flip-flopping" and it doesn't invalidate my whole system of belief to admit I've made a mistake.
  3. Listen closely to what other people are saying and engage with them seriously, no matter how badly argued I may feel their position is (I may very well not be understanding them properly - see below).
  4. Make sure I'm absolutely clear I understand what a person is saying before I attack their point.
  5. Ask more questions.
  6. Do more research.
  7. Criticise people from both sides of the debate if they lapse into rhetoric or insults.
  8. Read and comment more (offering both support and criticism) on blogs from both sides of the debate.