Arrival at the Council of the EU (Photo: Estelle Delaine)
The Cypriot presidency has broken new grounds, this Thursday 26th July 2012, in organizing the first formal meeting of European bloggers at the Bar de la Presse at the Council of the European Union in Brussels. The details of the conference were published on the official website of the Cypriot Presidency 10 days in advance, but the majority of us bloggers learnt of the event via twitter. The registration for the event was held on a first-come first-serve basis.
It was more of an informal talk than an actual conference, with the goal of establishing links between the institution and social media. Everything was adapted in keeping with new forms of communication; for example twitter was used and everything was displayed on huge computer screens fixed to the walls.
Au Café de l’Europe was of course part of the fifty or so bloggers who attended the meeting, who were warmly welcomed by the spokespeople of the Presidency in Brussels; Nikos Christodoulides and Marianna Karageogis.
Here is a complete run-down of the events, including videos and useful links… as if you were there yourself.
10am: Speech by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus at the European Union
Kornelios Korneliou, the Cypriot Permanent Representative opened the show. He explained that the meeting was in keeping with the presidential interest in emerging and developing forms of informal European journalism; instant, free and widely-accessible for everyone, he believes that cyber-journalism reflects modern society.
Cyper-journalism is, moreover, a ‘citizen’s form of journalism’ as it is rarely professional but nonetheless mobilizes people through a personal engagement.
The net is a coherent response to the nagging problem facing Europe today; its painful lack of unity and solidarity. Thus in democratizing European politics and exposing communal aims and causes, social networks and the blogosphere has the function of uniting citizens from different countries and of forging a European ‘Demos’. We bloggers are a grassroots movement which is appreciated exactly because it comes from below. Bloggers from all European countries unite!
The meeting transmitted Cyprus’s goal; to reconnect citizens with the President of the EU and to overcome its image as an inaccessible institution. This can be done by updating technology and by creating links with European bloggers.
The representative further highlighted the priorities of the Cypriot presidency, the ambitions of this small and fledgling EU nation (Cyprus became a member in 2004) which are based on four pillars; a more efficient and durable Europe, a better performing communal economy, a Europe more accessible to its citizens and better links with neighbouring countries.
These four main themes became the topics for the next discussion; the participants at the conference split into four groups all led by a moderator (Alain Papageorgiou, Fernando de Miguel, Erik Bonse and Nicolas Gros Verheyde). Each group was ushered around a computer which allowed a live-feed of each discussion to be placed on YouTube. The discussion therefore became even more interactive; up to 10 internet users could participate in the debate via Google Hangout, which allowed bloggers from outside of Brussels to contribute via web cam to the debate.
10.30am: Group discussions on the 4 Principles of the Cypriot Presidency
I had chosen beforehand group 3 (a Europe more accessible to its citizens) which was composed of around ten experts, journalists and bloggers. We were given the instruction to review the theme from the point of view of a blogger; how could the Presidency connect with cyber-journalists? How could it spread its official information easily via the web? And how could you make citizens feel like a member of an inclusive union?
With contributions from bloggers in Ireland, France and the UK, our discussion first turned to the mobilizations against ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), a treaty which, if enabled, could see a reduction in freedom of expression on line. The treaty was rejected by the European Parliament in June 2012 due to popular protest, the majority of which was online. Thus for the first time Europeans had worked together for a communal cause; rather than a simple political engagement, it seems this was the first European-wide citizen protest.
The event was taken extremely seriously by the European Commission, who listened attentively to the opinions expressed online. As seen by the report given by Anne Christensen (the Commission’s web editor), the web-wide craze underlined the ability of social media to connect with and interest web-users. This is therefore an important lesson for the Commission; Facebook, Twitter and blogs are becoming a key communication tool in politics and showcase the real, and shared, interests of European citizens.
Consequently the question of the unity of the people of Europe was raised; how can you ensure that a supranational institution, (one with a top-down structure) is integrated and absorbed by all of its citizens? This is a fundamental question for a multicultural union which boasts almost as many official languages as Member States. Again, the internet can hold the key thanks to its international character.
Our conclusion? That nowadays blogs can dive deep into the heart of concerns and problems of European citizens as they give a voice to those most affected. Blogs also allow citizens to give information directly to other citizens.
Eric Bonse, a journalist and the moderator of our panel, then highlighted the problem of the language barrier in the understanding the economic crises gripping Spain and Greece in other European countries (our panel had been joined by bloggers from these two nations). He expressed regret at the restrictions imposed by language; the realities of these two nations are badly understood by other European countries and consequently Spain and Greece remain stuck in their national bubbles. In better understanding the problems facing our European neighbours, Europe will become more united.
Indeed the blogosphere, although transnational, also faces the same problem; blogs are divided by language. One of our conclusions was thus that blogs needed the ‘europeanize’, by incorporating more languages, especially English.
Lastly we discussed ways in which the EU, and especially its Cypriot presidency, can connect better with its bloggers. Our response was more practical than theoretical with proposals ranging from an internet platform for the Presidency from which bloggers could directly ask questions, raise objections, or simply get in contact, to the use of new forms of communication and the creation of a more comprehensive and official database of bloggers dealing with EU issues. This would make it easier to get in contact with each other and to circulate information between bloggers as well as providing a way of keeping the Presidency up-to-date with the opinions and concerns of its citizens.
11.45am: Interview of Cypriot bloggers and reporters
We were then invited to an interview with two Cypriot bloggers, Michalis Simipoulos and Petros Mavros, who spoke about their experiences of the EU, the relationship between the Greek and Turkish communities of the island and their belief in the usefulness of social media for the EU in engaging the population.
The sites of the two bloggers:
Conclusions from the leaders of each of the four panels were then read aloud in English, which was beautifully coloured by their different national accents.
1.30pm: Speech given by the permanent representative of Cyprus at the Council of the European Union.
Ambassador and joint-representative of Cyprus at the Council of the European Union, George Zodiates, concluded the meeting in saying “I still use these things” whilst holding up a pen and paper. He showed his incompetence by admitting that up until a few hours ago he hadn’t even heard of the word ‘blogosphere’. However he did also acknowledge the formalization of blogs in journalism, and their importance for democracy in the world of media.
The Cypriot presidency, in organising this reunion with the secretary of the Council of the EU showed a true wish to engage with bloggers and between us, we hope to continue this engagement throughout the next six months.
Translated by Jessica Bethom