Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

MEPs 2.0? EUROPARLIAMENTARIANS TALKING TO VOTERS IN THE INTERNET ERA

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

MEPs 2.0? EUROPARLIAMENTARIANS TALKING TO VOTERS IN THE INTERNET ERA

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This paper systematically looks at the nature of MEPs' internet-based "web tools" in the past EP legislature and at the extent to which their features reflect the complex nature of the EP environment ("Europeanization of communication"). To conduct this operation, a variety of structural and graphic features of MEPs' websites have been identified, which have been made statistically analyzable, following a process of standardization and categorization, and were finally collected into a unique dataset. The preliminary figures obtained have been then controlled for a wide array of pluri-dimensional factors, operating both at micro-/individuallevel and at macro-/country-level. Conceived as an explorative study towards clearer and more accurate understanding of MEPs' internet-based communication styles and political strategies, our analysis aims at providing a stepping stone for further investigation in this direction.

Keywords: e-politics, electoral communication, European Parliament, interactivity, MEPs

JEL: C46

'Were it not for the internet, Barack Obama would not be president. Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee. "

Arianna Huffington, quoted by Huffington Post (January 9, 2009)

I. Introduction

The use of new interactive technologies is increasingly characterizing horizontal political competition (among the elites) and vertical political communication (between elites and voters) (Blondel 2005; Higley and Pakulski 2007). In particular, candidates' personal websites have become a common feature of the electoral campaigns and have grown both in number and sophistication. The options available to candidates range from simple web-pages to extremely interactive platforms aimed at favouring information exchange between candidate and voters. The reason behind this growing trend seems twofold: growing maximization of candidates' electoral efforts and their willingness to get/keep in touch with their constituency once elected.

A good example of successful use of the web has been provided by the US presidential elections. The wide use of interactive participatory tools during the electoral campaign has played a significant role in the success of the democratic candidate. These non-standard forms of political communication seemed to have effectively targeted and mobilized large social strata usually disconnected from politics. The creation of the platform my.barackobama. com coordinated millions of supporters and provided them with a connection with the candidate.

In Europe, and in particular at the EU level, the phenomenon of internetbased political communication appears less developed; however there are clear indicators showing a rapid growth. On the eve of the 2009 European elections, the Party of the European Socialists (PES) launched the initiative "Your manifesto": an open consultation on its electoral manifesto1. A draft manifesto was developed on the basis of the consultation, and discussed within the PES. The manifesto2 was adopted by the plenum of the party in December 2008.

At the European level, not only the awareness of the public is generally limited, but also scholarly interest seems focused on other - more traditional - dimensions of politics, both in the European Parliament (EP) and outside it. As a consequence, webpolitics of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) still emerges as a relatively unexplored ground. To what extent is the general trend towards innovation of political strategies affecting MEPs' electoral communication? Is it possible to identify common trends in this respect?

The present article has the ambition to address these aspects. In the following sections we will assess the nature of the link between the features of the message conveyed and of the strategies of the messenger in the 6th EP. The multi-national nature of the EP makes it a perfect laboratory to address the determinants of MEPs' communication strategies. …

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