Filed under: grassroots
2015 promises to be a year of change. With elections fast approaching in Finland, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Poland and Ireland voters seem to want to reject the status quo. While everyone is talking about the Greek debt negotiations and the rise of Podemos in Spain, in the North of Europe, an important election has skipped many people’s radar.
Finland, Europe’s tough fiscal hawk, is likely to face a change of government after Sunday’s election. The change is likely to come about due to a slowing Finnish economy and what Prime Minister Alexander Stubb called a “lost decade” with recession entering into its third consecutive year, unemployment growing and competitiveness declining. Thus similar to other struggling economies in Europe, Finland is experiencing economic hardships which in the eyes of nearly all parties can only be resolved through harsh labour market reforms and fiscal austerity. In contrast, however, to the trend in the South where such policies led to public discontent and a steep increase in popular support for anti-EU parties, Finland is experiencing a revival of the established parties, while the Finnish anti-EU party, the Finns, however, is falling behind their landslide successes from the previous election in 2011.
Will they vote for anti-establishment?
Watch out – The Finns are coming…
Despite the decline in popularity of his anti-establishment party, Timo Soini, the Finn´s leader, might well end up on top as the winner of the Finnish election-dilemma as part of a coalition in a government led by the Central Party. To be more specific, in the event of an “equal” split of votes between the four largest parties (all four are polled to receive around 15%-25% of the votes), a coalition of three will need to be formed. While, the current governing parties have already turned down the idea of working together again, that would leave the Finns as the most likely alternative to become the third partner in a Central Party-led government.
Mr Juha Sipilä, the Central Party’s leader and likely to become Finland’s new Prime Minister currently leading with 24.9% of the votes, is not opposed to the idea so long as its partners agree with his political agenda. Not to mention that the current Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has reiterated that the Finns are much better than the reputation preceding them abroad, showing that he would also be open to support them as a coalition partner. As a result, anti-EU forces might find themselves in the Finnish government, despite the fact that voters are rallying around the established parties and support for reactionary parties is fading.
The Finn’s leader Timo Soini
… to Europe!
A coalition including the Central Party and the Finns is expected to be less pro-European as the current government. Mr Sipilä, though successful in business, is not renowned for his international experience and although his party might consider itself pro-European difficult compromises will need to be made with the Finns, who are opposing new bailout programmes, the Euro and further deepening of European relations.
In Brussels the event of a coalition between the Central Party, the conservative National Coalition Party and the Finns will mainly impact Finland’s position and negotiation leeway in the Council. Mr Sipilä’s hands in negotiations will be more tied than Mr Stubb’s or Mr Katainen’s have been. On the one hand he would have to demonstrate his support for a deeper EU to its European partners – to whom Finland will grow more and more economically dependent the longer sanctions against Russia prevail. On the other, he would have to reassure his coalition partner Finland is maintaining high levels of sovereignty and remaining critical towards the Eurozone. In particular on the latter, however, Mr Sipilä demonstrate strength by continuing to back strict rules and austerity measures – policies that all Finnish parties support both for their own country and for Europe. Finland is therefore expected to remain “Europe’s fiscal hawk”. Moreover more than before Finland will be likely to defend EU disintegration positions and align itself to the UK defending sovereign interest and the principle of subsidiarity.
Anglo-Finnish cooperation is already well established in the European Parliament, where the Finns have joined the British-led European Conservatives and Reformists Group demonstrating a conservative yet mainstream political agenda. As the elections are likely to make Prime Minister Stubb’s party a junior coalition partner, we neither expect that the outcome will neither affect the focus of the National Coalition as part of the EPP nor workings of the Finnish Vice-President of the Commission Jyrki Katainen nor drastically change the focus of his political agenda in Europe.
All in all, the Finnish elections may not change the tone in Brussels tremendously on their own, but they will provide insights on how anti-establishment parties are likely to affect national politics and therefore affect London’s, Copenhagen’s, Berlin’s and Madrid’s positioning in Brussels.
Is Europe Finnish(ed)?
The Finnish “case study” is helpful in understanding and dealing with the fast growing support for anti-establishment movements across the Continent. In the North, Sweden, Denmark and Norway are watching closely as growing support for their respective populist parties is making it harder for their mainstream parties to continue ignoring them. While Norway is currently being led by a coalition of conservatives and the populist Progress party, the Sweden Democrats came third in the September 2014 elections in Sweden and Denmark’s Danish People’s Party is gaining influence and support before the upcoming elections in autumn.
In the Centre of Europe, the Finns’ positioning and agenda seem familiar to a still domestically unwelcome anti-Euro party in Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Bernd Lucke, the party’s leader, will eye developments in the North closely to assess whether the Finnish outcome might be a valuable example on how he could achieve his power aspirations in Germany.
In the South, Spain is also experiencing a similar trend with new anti-establishment parties, even though its popularity appears to be fading the closer we get to parliamentary elections in December. Podemos could grasp a large part of the votes, leaving no party with a majority to form a government.
Although anti-establishment parties are experiencing a slow in their popularity across Europe, all eyes will remain on them. The success of Podemos, Syriza, the Finns, the UK Independence Party and others will furthermore force the establishment to make concessions and re-orientate their position on a great variety of issues such as European integration, social, economic and fiscal policies.
While the traditional separation of power between centre-right and centre-left parties will continue to dominate Europe, anti-establishment parties are likely to make this election year way more thrilling and unpredictable than previous ones. Let’s see what happens!
We will keep you up-to-date with all our coverage of this election year with upcoming analysis of the UK and the consequences of a possible Brexit as well as following the election developments in Denmark, Portugal, Poland and Spain.
Martin Bresson, Joachim Wilcke, Ilektra Tsakalidou
April 17, 2015
As you might have gathered from the title, I was inspired by recent US elections. Obama’s re-election marks the third president in a row to have won a second term; the last not to? George H. W. Bush in 1992 when Bill Clinton’s campaign famously highlighted, “It’s the economy, stupid.” By not grasping the importance the economy played in the minds of the electorate, Bush Sr. ended up losing big time. In Europe, the same might be the case for many if they don’t pay attention in 2013: Europe’s ‘Year of Air’.
Announced in 2011 by Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, 2013 will be the ‘Year of Air’. No, this isn’t a slight remark about the 2013 Commission Work Programme despite its “Eurolite” agenda (for more on this, click here); the EU will undertake a comprehensive review of air policy in 2013. The idea is that following an assessment of implementation and achievements of the Air Quality Framework Directive and its five daughters, including the 2008 Air Quality Directive, the EU will push for stronger air quality laws which address emissions at the source.
Air? But that’s Europe’s ‘Success Story’!
But why, you ask? Simple. Air pollution is bad for our health and the environment, and a significant proportion of Europeans still live in areas (especially cities) where exceedances of air quality standards occur (just look at the map below). Though emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe have declined between 2001 and 2010 [emissions of all particulate matter decreased by 14% in the EU, and ozone precursor gases (nitrogen oxides (NOX), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and carbon monoxide (CO)) decreased by an average of 28%], many European countries still do not comply with EU emissions agreements and especially not those set by the significantly more stringent World Health Organisation. The consequences of this disproportionate exposure which are driving the review? Health problems, resulting in a reduction of EU life expectancy by more than eight months, and environmental issues, including acidification, eutrophication and climate forcing.
Where’s the problem?
Interestingly, the sources of air pollution which the EU’s review will have to address are not all anthropogenic, or manmade. According to a recent report by the European Environment Agency, when finger-pointing at the bogeyman we should not only wave our index finger at the usual suspects but at Mother Nature as well. The main sources of air pollutants, in addition to agricultural and industrial activity, power generation and transport (including diesel vehicles), are mineral salts from sea spray, naturally suspended particulates (sand, pollen, ash, etc.) and soil dust. Sea spray mineral salts even amounts to 70% (!) or more of particulate matter (PM10), one of the most problematic pollutants in terms of human health.
What to expect?
As you can gather, the review will be both comprehensive and resolute; dedicating 2013 to air only raises political and citizen awareness about the need to revamp air policy, adding to the pressure of delivering in the final full year for both the Commission and Parliament. Any legislative proposal, however, will have to go through co-decision, and thus the Institutional urge for a legacy will face an uphill struggle against Member States already failing to implement current rules. What can be said already is that no matter where you’d like the cards to fall, the air quality review should be taken seriously. If you don’t, Bloomberg Businessweek next November might headline, “It was air quality, stupid.”
- A new public consultation will be made available online before the end of 2012.
- The proposal will be drafted early next year, with a new legislative proposal to be published late 2013.
For more on the EU’s Air policy review, click here.
November 13, 2012
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. This quote is from Margaret Mead, an American anthropologist, who lived in the pre-Internet world. Now thanks to social networks, it has never been easier for people with a passion to share it with the world, gather support, and make a difference.
“How has the Internet changed your life?” was the question all participants of the 1st Worldwide Personal Democracy Meetup Day were asked. This unprecedented experiment ran for 24 hours, starting in Australia, passing through Asia and Europe and finishing in the U.S. 50 cities took part, 250 participants in total.
How has the Internet changed my life? If only for one thing, since I started blogging and tweeting I’ve met an incredible amount of people, fantastic folks who share a passion for social media and a determination to convince EU institutions to switch from the broadcast mode to the conversation mode. There is an enduring assumption that when people use social media, they live in a virtual bubble. Not true: building relationships online leads to strong relationships offline. The Internet is not disconnecting people; on the contrary it is reconnecting them. More importantly, it is connecting people across borders, something that was not possible at such a scale in the pre-Internet times.
So how did our Brussels PdF meetup go? It was spontaneous, warm and interactive. 30 people joined us, all working in or around the EU institutions, all sharing our enthusiasm for the potential of the Internet to open up the EU bubble. In terms of attendees, we were amazed to see that our Brussels meetup ranked 2nd, just after New York City, home land of the PdF, and before Washington D.C. Who would have thought? Yesterday EU geeks were at the forefront of global online democracy.
The worldwide PdF meetup was an experiment. It was exciting for us to take part and we look forward to similar experiences in the future!
UPDATE: Read the great report of the worldwide PdF meetup day written by PdF co-founder Micah Sifry. I like Joe Anthony’s suggestion for next time: have a ‘crazy idea’ theme e.g. What would you like to see happen in 5-10 years? Inspiring, isn’t it?
July 13, 2011
There’s a moment in the Tom Cruise film ‘Jerry Maguire’ when Jerry (Tom Cruise) comes back to his wife Dorothy (Renee Zellwegger) as she’s complaining about how much she hates men. Before Jerry can launch into his speech about why he loves her and why she should love him, Dorothy stops him and simply says “You had me at hello”. For some reason I was reflecting recently that you’ll know when you’ve been successful in public affairs when the next time your organisation meets a policymaker they behave like Dorothy.
As our EP Digital Trends survey illustrated, public affairs audiences form views about the challenges that society faces and the way to overcome them through reading newspapers, going online and listening to other important people in their lives (including hopefully the people who elect them). The idea that in a meeting you are suddenly going to transform your audience’s view on an issue is just not realistic. After all, the only tool you have is argument and it’s hard to persuade someone who has already made up their mind that you’re not to be trusted and wrong. Meetings may be part of the process, but you’ll know when you been successful when the meeting begins with a discussion of how the issue can be solved not whether they agree that there’s an issue to solve. To achieve this I’d venture you’re going to have to think about your actions and your reputation, how far what you’re saying is resonating outside that room (in media, online and with others) and whether your audience has already received your message and internalised it before you step in the room.
June 7, 2011
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a new instrument whereby the European Commission has to put forward legislative proposals to respond to a petition that has gathered one million signatures within a year coming from at least 7 EU Member States. Although some organisations such as eBay or Greenpeace have already started ECI-like petitions, the first “official” ECIs are expected as of February 2012 in order to allow Member States to take the necessary measures to implement the new scheme.
Much has been said and written on the European Citizens’ Initiative. Discussions however have mainly focused on whether it would be a success or a failure, the potential risks of the instrument – more than the opportunities – and what its impact could be on the EU decision-making equilibrium. Few commentators wondered whether there had already been pan-European petitions that reached one million signatures, and if there had been, how they managed to do so. We had already raised this point in the panel we organised in October at the Personal Democracy Forum with MEP Marietje Schaake, Julius van de Laar from Avaaz, and Euroblogger Jon Worth.
As we like the ECI so much, we have pursued our analysis in our brand new FH paper, looking specifically at how pan-European petitions have managed to gather one million signatures in the past, how the Internet has helped them do so –our favourite topic- and what the first European Citizens’ Initiatives might be about.
[10 April, 2012: In light of unintended perceptions of our services around the ECI, we are revising our paper to clarify our offering. We stress that our support on the ECI would not extend to organising citizens’ initiatives as this is not in line with the Commission’s rules on the ECI. We apologise if the paper appeared to state otherwise. We shall be uploading the updated paper asap but please bear with us, it’s Easter.. As ever we would appreciate any input from readers.]
Yes we are making predictions! Let’s see in two years from now if we got them right. I’m personally very curious to see how the European Citizens’ Initiative will evolve. Will it be overexploited or hardly used at all? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure: it has the potential to change the well-established dynamics of the Brussels bubble and take us out of our comfort zone.
March 14, 2011
The Personal Democracy Forum, which Fleishman is co-sponsoring in Europe this year, is the world’s largest conference on how technology is changing politics. This year’s event is taking place in Barcelona on October 4th and 5th, with a great set of speakers, panelists and delegates from the worlds of politics, governance, civil society and business (read more about the programme here.) As part of our involvement, we will be hosting a break-out session in which we will explore the issues of pan-European petitions – in particular the European Citizen’s Initiative, how the web can play a role in expanding its reach and impact, and its potential for altering the balance of power between EU institutions, business and NGOs.
In this month’s podcast, we interview Andrew Rasiej, founder of PdF, who provides some insight into his thinking on the transformative role of technology on politics and governance, the potential for citizen engagement and empowerment, as well as some views on the European perspective, and where business fits in the picture.
Click here to listen to this episode of the podcast.
Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
September 13, 2010
After nearly eight years in our Brussels office and coming up to three years posting on this blog I’m off to our Washington D.C. office for a couple of years at the end of the month.
Before I leave I thought it not a bad idea to indulge myself just a tad, forgive me folks, and point to some of the blog posts I’ve enjoyed writing or reading on this blog. I say enjoyed because, as my wife (sorry, my luv) will testify, relaxation of an evening has become me on the laptop tinkering with this blog, the twitter feed or various other websites that are in some way work related.
Which MEPs use Twitter?
Part of our hypothesis when we started the blog was that digital communications was changing how policy-makers were interacting with voters and stakeholders. To support our view we created a long list of MEPs, the good folks at Europatweets aggregated them a couple of months later on their nice website, Digimahti had another go at listing them and finally we’ve now created our own Twitter lists to categorise them by Committee on our twitterfeed in recent weeks.
65% of MEPs use Wikipedia at least twice a week
Spotting MEPs that tweet was one thing, but we wanted to go a little deeper in understanding how they use the internet and how we may be able to use it to communicate to them. Our EP Digital Trends study sought to do this in 2009. The results led to three conclusions on how our results influence our thinking on public affairs here. It also turned out that MEPs aren’t the only ones who rely on Wikipedia – seemingly the Commission services have a penchant for it too…
Grayling’s EU office starts it’s own blog
We are known to say that to be a thoughtleader one has to have thoughts and they have to be leading ones. Well one measure of thoughtleadership may well be that others follow where you have gone. Grayling’s team has a super blog. We wish more agencies in town would join them (and us).
Helen Dunnett explains the value of blogging for trade associations
Helen’s views on how ECPA was using its blog in Brussels was enlightening and uplifting. It underlined that there are organisations out there who do recognise the value of using digital tools in Brussels.
Scoop: European Parliament talks about European Parliament
Wordle is a great tool. Never more so than when reminding us of the fact that the Bubble likes to talk about the Bubble. The outgoing EP President’s speech was a classic.
Parallels between a Mel Gibson film and the President of the European Council
Sometimes it’s just been fun writing. No more so than one Sunday morning over coffee when I delighted in the fact that the nomination of the President of the European Council was like a seen from a 1980s US action film.
April 9, 2010
The following post is from Simon Benson of our London team
There has been much written in the UK media that this will be the first truly digital general election campaign. This is true to an extent, with the numbers of blogs and websites devoting themselves to politics and the election having increased widely since the last General Election in 2005 – it is hard to believe that neither Facebook nor Twitter existed the last time Britons went to the polls. So it was perhaps somewhat surprising that one of those bloggers, Iain Dale, told a packed Fleishman-Hillard London breakfast event last week that in his view, digital content and information will not dramatically influence the outcome on election day.
Dale’s analysis was that initiatives such as myconservatives.com (a tool which enables local campaigns to recruit volunteers and collect small donations) were launched too late by the Conservatives and should have been introduced earlier in the election cycle in order to have a real impact. Labour strategists are keen to point out that their version – membersnet has been operational for several years now, where initiatives such as the phone bank (where members can phone other members and voters using an online database) have been successfully deployed. However, such online phone banks are merely digitally advanced versions of more traditional campaign methods – i.e, a compliment to the long established tactics of canvassing and cold calling rather than a digital step change.
Dale also suggested that the UK should look to political systems closer to its own parliamentary democracy such as those in Europe or Australia for inspiration, as opposed to the vast Presidential election campaigning in the USA. He’s right, but not only because of the difference in style (and resources) but also because the digital elements of that election were built on a grassroots campaign for change – in the UK, there is no such instinct, with voters turned off from politics by the expenses scandal and no great desire shown for either Brown or Cameron.
Where the bloggers and political websites can be influential is in their attempts to create news agendas either as virals or in the traditional media. After some caution, journalists are beginning to report on stories created by bloggers, with Guido Fawkes having claimed senior scalps, including Peter Hain MP and Brown’s former press adviser Damian McBride. However, it is worth remembering that the UK’s biggest political scandal this year – MPs expenses – was uncovered not by the new media, but by a very old and traditional title – the Daily Telegraph.
Recent episodes such as spoof versions of David Cameron posters have perhaps best shown how virals can attempt influence. Its owner, Clifford Singer, posted spoofs of the Tories’ main billboard campaign on his website but realised the idea could grow when he almost immediately started receiving hundreds of similar versions from viewers. Within days, a simple website was created which allowed anyone to ‘invent’ their own professionally completed versions of the Tories’ campaign posters. The Labour MP and blogger Tom Watson MP has said about the viral: “MyDavidCameron.com is an example of people taking an idea and reusing it to add to a discussion and make a point. Political party managers might not like it, but it has given election billboards new relevance and interest for the forthcoming general election. It is making electioneering interesting, unpredictable and, dare I say, more fun.”
So although the internet will not control this campaign entirely, it is already challenging political strategists, campaign advertising executives and candidates to think in new ways and to respond to challenges that they would never have envisaged just a few years ago.
You can check out more about the UK elections at the F-H London blog.
March 19, 2010
News from the US late last week that our Washington D.C. colleagues have picked up a gong at the US PR Week awards for FixHousingFirst campaign. Congratulations to Pat Cleary, Bill Black, Ben Clark and everyone else involved. We don’t do the work for the awards, but receiving one is pretty special anyway.
In summary, the team helped a bunch of home builders build a broad-based coalition to advocate for federal funding for home-buyers as part of the economic recovery package. The novelty? Much of the coalition building and advocating made use of those digital tools we’ve been banging on about over here for some time. The results? Everywhere you go in the US you can’t move for talk of the federal tax credit for home-buyers.
You can read the Fix Housing First Case Study here. And below is Pat speaking about the programme late last year at the European Public Affairs Day here in Brussels.
A further article from the UK’s Communicate Magazine talking about the campaign with a wider view of what we do here in Europe, can be found here.
March 15, 2010
Last week saw Fleishman-Hillard host a panel debate on the use of digital tools in public affairs and politics at the European Public Affairs Action Day. The videos of the contribution of our three speakers (Alexander Alvaro MEP, Pat Cleary of FH DC and Mark Redgrove of Orgalime) are now available on our YouTube channel here.
Here is the contribution of Alexander Alvaro MEP in two parts. The Q&A session of the panel discussion will be uploaded in coming days.
December 9, 2009