Rue89 is a popular media in France. By giving the floor not only to journalists but also to many bloggers, it contributes to stimulating freedom of expression and a more direct form of participation in the political debate. However, this openness also presents risks: facilitating the diffusion of wrong information, of populist stances deprived of arguments, and of discourses that are dangerous for democracy. This was verified with the publication of the article « Je ne participerai pas aux élections européennes, sauf si… ».
I/ A catchy title, false arguments and a populist discourse
The author, who does not assume his words and hides behind a pseudonym, strongly criticises the European Parliament (EP), the Euro, and more broadly the European integration process.
So, the author claims that the EP is useless, as it would have no real power apart from voting the “expense” side of the European budget, and would be useful only for its well-paid members. Admittedly, the MEPs’ pay is generous, but it is absolutely not shocking when compared to the salary and other advantages which French or Italian MPs benefit from. As to the first point – the competences of the EP –, the author probably ignores that the Lisbon Treaty expanded the competences of the European Parliament which more than once, during the ending legislature, forced the Council or the Commission to review their proposals (see, e.g., the negotiations on ACTA, on the transfer of date of aircraft passengers to the USA, etc.). Moreover, the EP votes on the whole budget; although it cannot decide upon the level of national contributions to the European budget, it can veto the whole budget if it considers that the budget is too low. The lively debate about the multiannual financial framework 2014-2020 proves it.
Regarding the argument of a power “exclusively exerted by the technocrats of the European Commission and of the European Central Bank, which are responsible to nobody”, it is ridiculous and, unfortunately, banal. Let us simply note that any legislative initiative by the Commission must be adopted by the Council and the EP (which has apparently another reason to exist…). As to the independence of the ECB, it is a characteristic of any credible central bank.
The author then discusses why voters should abstain from voting at the next European elections in 2014. His first argument challenges representative democracy, falling into a pathetic exaggeration. There is no representation further than the “second degree” in the EU, i.e., the European Commissioners are as legitimate as French senators (whose electoral body is composed of local elects), and highly-ranked public servants, central bankers, etc. are no less legitimate than their national counterparts.
It is also ludicrous to talk about “timely diktats by European technocrats”. First, the principle of subsidiarity ensures that any competence is exercised at the most appropriate level. Secondly, in a union, a minimum of coherence is needed; otherwise, watch out for chaos and disunion! Finally, let us note the irony of the situation: the author, who exercises his right to freedom of expression guaranteed, among others, by European norms (think about the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU), challenges the primacy of these very same norms. Of course, there is the European Declaration of Human Rights, but there is no coercive instrument to ensure its respect; therefore, it is good that European institutions impose the respect of common values. Furthermore, economic rules, e.g., limitations on debt and deficit, have been determined by elected national leaders and aim at ensuring a sound economic management, in order to avoid that future generations have to pay for the errors of their elder.
Finally, the author reveals his true nature by stating that he no longer wants the EU and its “villainous Constitution” (but which?). The EU would currently be replaced by an “evil troika” without specifying what this “Troika” includes. If he thinks about the international “Troika”, let us remind him that the IMF is not a European institution… In fact, the author develops a sovereignist argument coming from some extreme political movements. Indeed, he rejects the argument that united, we are stronger, and he claims that European countries are not more powerful on the world stage thanks to the European Union. It is true that the common foreign policy still needs to significantly progress, but rejecting the union amounts to a reversal that would make the situation worse. Furthermore, the author also challenges the euro, a concrete symbol of European integration: the euro is precisely something that really illustrates the union idea! Moreover, it facilitates the movement of people from one State to another, thus facilitating exchanges between Europeans, at the basis of a genuine European democracy! Finally, excerpts from the interview with the advisor Konrad are totally misinterpreted: in fact, it does not call in any case at the end of the European Union (and thus the disappearance of the European Parliament).
II/ Which role for the media which are open to participation by bloggers?
The fact that any blogger writes what he likes on his own page is due to the Internet evolution, and no one can nor should control it. However, when a blogger gets a broad media exposure because of his collaboration with popular Internet media, it is necessary to raise the question of the quality of published articles and of the supervision that professional journalists members of the editing committee should exercise on occasional contributions from other authors. Rue89, for example, selects bloggers hosted on its site. Such a control a priori should, however, be complemented by regular checks, if this is not already the case, in order to ensure the quality of publications, especially when they are on the homepage of the site. This will protect not only the audience but also the reputation of the media concerned.
Such behaviour is desirable for another reason too: the media is what is often called the “fourth power” and aspires to be a truly democratic counterweight when the executive and legislative branches are controlled by the same party. Such a role is sensitive, including in a democracy. In particular, it implies providing accurate and impartial information to citizens (who are the source of democratic legitimacy of elected officials and of their decisions), in order to allow them to form their own judgment. Obviously, it is also possible and desirable to publish articles of opinion, but they must be labelled as such and based on clear arguments. If these conditions are not met, the opposition media may become an illegitimate actor of political debate.
To conclude, everyone is free to have and state his own opinion, and participatory media increase opportunities to disseminate it. However, the question of the control of the information thus disseminated must be raised, knowing that such information may be false and malicious. Finally, it is to hope that the same media will give as much credit and space to articles that are well-argued and in favour of European integration as to the populist articles, with catchy titles, that are opposed to a union which is imperfect but nevertheless necessary to promote the interests of its citizens.