Bruxelles la Moche
Brussels and I have a love/hate relationship in the sense that I love to hate it and whenever I get a chance to visit Europe’s bureaucratic capital this love-to-hate-you relationship is rekindled. I’ve tried long and hard to give the city a chance but it has just about as much charm as a village lady all dolled up for festa night. More often than not I get to town by train…it’s as though a guided tour of the human body were to start from the backside. You travel through the entrails and uglier sides of the city quietly hoping that it will, at some point, get better. Little do you know that that’s it… a sort of railroad WISYWIG tour before you hit the streets. You should have known it after all – this is the town whose main highlights are a pissing boy, a giant monument of an atom and of course a square that gets covered in flowers every now and then.
Yet tourists hit Brussels in droves. The cram every nook and cranny of the garish streets shopping for hideous souvenirs, stuffing themselves with chocolates and downing the beer. It’s not Ibiza because there’s no sun and there’s no sea. There’s grey building after grey building, badly signed roads (don’t think of driving in this mess) and unhelpful citizens with a chip on their shoulder about the other half of their country depending one whether you meet a Flemish or a Walloon.
I should have warned you that I am biased because there is a sort of rivalry among the Maltese expats living in Luxembourg and those of Brussels. We cannot take the stink and they cannot take the boredom. Anyways, last weekend was one of those rare weekends when I boarded the train to Brussels on what I may call blogging business…
81 Bloggers – Ego-Party
The business in question, as I mentioned the other week, was the launching of a pan-European blogging competition organised by the European Journalism Centre. The EJC came up with this brilliant idea of getting bloggers from all the member states and inspiring them to blog about the European Parliament elections for the coming five months until the day Europe goes to the polls. The result was a fizzing buzz of exciting young and old blogging freaks full of enthusiasm meeting in one place.
If there’s one thing you should know about bloggers is that they invariably possess an ego the size of your average elephant… and I ain’t talking pygmy. Yes, I am fully aware that the description in the last sentence includes the undersigned but hey… if you had not noticed J’accuse’s ego-tripping personality by now then you’ve really been reading our articles in the wrong spirit. It’s not just the ego that made this motley crue of Eurobloggers stick out like a Czech sculpture in a European institution but rather their absolute addiction to all things technological. The Geeker-counter needles went berserk as we waddled around conference room after conference room in search of a socket to plug into and a Wi-Fi password to type in.
When we do finally settle down and the podium speakers strut their stuff about how to be both EU Savvy and Blog Sexy at the same time you tend to notice that the attention span of your average blogger is one click short of that of a barbary macaque on ecstacy. It’s incredible. Just sit behind any blogger who has just switched on his or her baby and you will notice that the apparatus currently warming her laps is not intended for note taking. Before you can say Tim Berners-Lee the blogger has done the equivalent of “Around the Net in 80 nanoseconds” and has facebooked, twittered, linkedinned, aggregated, searched, miniblogged and googled on a million different pages. It’s not a presence on the internet that we are talking about … it’s more like the demi-gods of the 20th century – they’re everywhere … and trust me… it’s hard to keep up.
European Party Politics
Thankfully the competition business has nothing to do with nimbleness, dexterity and propensity to jump from web page to web page like some New Age Tarzan because I would be worried that I would fare badly and disappoint my compatriots in a Eurovision pie in the face kind of way. Nope. What we will be “competing” about is the business of getting news about the EP to our blogs and believe you me there’s loads of that going around. Brussels may be an ugly host but in a way it allows you to appreciate the hubbub of the goings on in the institutions even more clearly. You have no time to waste at the West End or round Montmartre in Brussels… so you get to dig deeper into matters European.
One of the problems of European Union politics is that it is very self-referential. What ultimately classifies as pure EU politics material is a bunch of matters that are of interest solely within the stinky confines of the Quartier Européen in Bruxelles la Moche. The moment such matters manage to evade the smog smothered borders of the city that should have a shower at night it begins to morph into 27 types of political stories… one for each state which is affected by it.
It’s the same story you will hear no matter what time you decide to jump on the EU train and learn more about what it has to offer. I’ve been following and specialising in EU matters for over twelve years now and the same old story seems to be stuck in a loop. You tend to reach a bizarre conclusion – that in the end it is not that the people are confused about what the European Union is about but rather that the wrong end of the EU is being shown to the people.
The people, that slippery demos that is oft conned into believing that the EU is a seven eyed monster that wants to gobble their souls, are given an EU picture by their national governments (eager to blame the latest ills on the gravy train guys in BXL), another by the media (more often than not to jump on the “let’s bash the EU inefficiency” bandwagon) and a final one by the disparate institutions of the EU themselves each of which has hitherto demonstrated an utter inability to explain the most minor of details in a user friendly manner.
Hitherto (Let’s Get the Party Started)
That “hitherto” in the last sentence is quite telling though. There seems to be a genuine effort from both the establishment as well as from the galaxy of EU related NGOs to invest a lot of energy into repackaging and reselling the EU. It might be their reaction to the latest round of Nyets and to the strange forebodings about the sick economy but I saw a lot of kinetic energy and what I saw seems to be good. The Parliament is abuzz and dying to reach out, the Commission is supportive and busy telling everyone “What has the EU done for you” and the NGOs? Well the NGO’s are active in droves… thanks also to the Commission’s support.
Conspiracy theorists, those who cannot help but imagine a modern day 1984, will assimilate any educational campaign to Stalinist propaganda. They might even confuse moderation with censorship and will play Barroso’s unfortunate comparison of the EU to an Empire on an infinite loop. Meanwhile the 27 realities that make up the European Union gear-up for another round of universal suffrage in the hope that it will not be a repat of universal apathy.
That there are 27 realities is partly the reason, as I was saying earlier on, that it is so difficult to put a finger on the demos of this democracy. It’s not just that really. During the conference we spoke to representatives of the major umbrella formations that go by the name of European Parties and asked them a few questions. I must confess to a gleeful feeling when the EPP rep got stumped by my question as to how on earth he would imagine the hodge-podge of parties in his formation agreeing on a coherent European Strategy for a single European Campaign. The socialists, liberals and eurosceptics might have a headstart on that one. Umbrella parties… that’s a difficult one
It’s My Party and I Say What I Want To
There will be more about EU and Euroblogging in the articles in the months to come. For now let us veer onto this intriguing issue of Umbrella Parties because the question has not dies out just yet. Last week we got a taster of things to come with the Edward Demicoli question. The question remains: is the nationalist party a pro- or an anti- hunting party? Frankly I believe that you cannot be a bit of both. Right on cue the nationalist party is beginning to trumpet the diverse opinions that militate within it without any form of censorship.
There is of course a detail that they choose to ignore. Voters need to know how their vote will be used. It’s one thing having dissension of the JPO or Ninu Zammit kind in the matter of the St. John’s Plans it is alltogether another to say that your party can accomodate both pro- and anti- hunting sentiments. If that is not phishing for votes then tell me what is. And what do you do to distract attention from the blatant incongruencies in your own house? Easy… do what you do best and engage in opponent bashing – in this case bash the ones with the anti-hunting credentials through and through.
Is this the new wave of politicians the people need? Is the solution selecting them from a Pick’N’Mix at national level so that they can go to Europe and sit with a motley crue of ill-fitting polticians from disparate Pick’N’Mix parties? Ah well. So long as they are sitting with the “biggest party in Europe”. Which is sad really because it tends to reduce the validity of European representation to the same petty parochial politics of ours where Nationalists and Labourites claim a god-given right to representation and prefer to Variety Pack of Liquorice Allsorts with token representations of a cross-section of the population.
Party Invitation – Women Only
Speaking of token assortments and pick’n’mix issues the ECFHR seems to have a problem with the Maltese nominations for the next judge to sit at the Strasbourg Court. It seems that the all-male line up offends the fundamental principles of positive discrimination and that unless Malta coughs up the name of a token lady to go for the ride they will reject all the rest. Preposterous. How about asking the ECFHR which of the current nominess should be told to relenquish his potential seat and make way for a less qualified person who happens to fit better in the discriminatory requirements. Throw the ball in their court and see how they respond. How do you choose between the three? Toss a coin? No. Really.
Sites and Sounds
It’s self-plugging for the moment. J’accuse (the blog) is undergoing a revamp period and should be ready before Piano’s City gate. In the meantime http://themaltachronicle.wordpress.com remains the main brainstorming place for all things EP election related. You will also find useful links to certain sites that are intended to bring citizens together to debate the EU.
I’ve typed this article with Delibes’ Pizzicato from Sylvia playing in the background. It’s a sublime way to start the weekend. For those who care weather in the Duchy involves a crisp clear and sunny sky with close to freezing temperatures. It’s a wonderful winter calm with fresh air and the evergreen parks beckon for a nice walk followed by a lait rousse. If the weather holds up like this J’accuse could be in for a drive to Germany via the splendid wine route along the Moussel river hopefully stopping for a glass or two of Gewurztraminer. Eat your heart out Brussels!
Jacques is currently figuring out a switch to hosting https://jaccuse.wordpress.com on his own site. It’s still comments as usual though so feel free to come by and tell us what’s your choice out of the pick’n’mix!
This article also appears in the Malta Independent on Sunday. It will also be cross-posted on the Th!nkaboutit campaign blog which launches on February 1st. Finally you may also use this post to test drive the new J’accuse site (this one ain’t dead yet).