A New Online Campaigning Platform For European Citizens

2014-12-14 News

So far none of the official ECIs has been organised with the help of one of the big online petition platforms such as Campact, Avaaz and Change.org., since most of these platforms either have no specific agenda in relation to European politics, or because they cannot integrate the EU’s Online Collection System (OCS) for ECIs. This could soon change. A new European Online Petition Platform is currently being created using the Campact model. It will in future enable online signatures to be collected across Europe, thus concentrating political pressure. How to possibly integrate the ECI tool into this new platform is currently being explored. Read the article of Ines Wallrodt on the new platform (translated by Paul Carline).

More Europe-wide participation via the Internet?

Online petitions usually work in your own countries. In future, pressure can also be put on Brussels. Online campaigning network Campact, together with the British sister organisation 38Degrees, is supporting the development of an EU-wide platform based on their own online models. Like these two national networks, the new organisation will launch online petitions – focussing on decisions that are made at European level. “Many organisations are carrying out good lobby work in Brussels, but mobilising people across Europe doesn’t really work”, said Oliver Moldenhauer, who presented the plans at Campact’s 10th birthday congress on 15 November in Berlin. One exception is the transnational opposition to the TTIP free trade deal. With other issues in the fields of environment, food and fiscal policy, laws and directives are decided without any input from the European public.

The platform aims to respond to people’s experience of frustration when they try to influence decisions in Europe just from their own country, in Germany or Spain, for example. “You might manage to reach 96 German MEPs – out of a total of 751”, said Moldenhauer. And it’s anyway unrealistic to expect those 96 to agree among themselves. Moldenhauer, who will head the new organisation, spent six years campaigning against Big Pharma with MSF [médicins sans frontières] and most recently managed the Campact campaign on the shift away from nuclear power in Germany.

Europe-wide online campaigning in the run-up to major EU decisions would let people in many countries exert pressure at the same time. Moldenhauer is convinced that Europe will grow through protest: “Our campaigns are not about a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to Europe. They are about the kind of Europe we want”.

The lack of a European ‘counter-public’ revealed itself most strikingly in the banking and finance crisis. “The Germans are against the Greeks, the Greeks against the Germans – instead of both of them being against the banks”, says Moldenhauer. The experience of sharing campaigns can work against this erosion of solidarity. It’s easier to connect people through the Internet than get them out on the streets across the length and breadth of Europe. Of course, the public handing over of signatures, local actions, events and demonstrations are also part of the overall concept – as a second stage. The focus there should not be primarily on Brussels, but on the home constituencies of the MEPs: “They should also have to justify themselves”, says Moldenhauer. Brussels is closer than many think.

As of now, the development of the organisation is in its early stages. There is a provisional concept; pretty much everything else still has to be found over the next six months: coworkers, financial ressources and a name that works well in numerous languages.

The work should be distributed across several major cities in Europe, with people from the respective country working in their own centre; there should also be a contact office in Brussels. Campact and 38Degrees will provide start-up funding at a six-figure level, after which the organisation will operate independently. Moldenhauer refers to the two funders as “midwives” – but the ‘daughter’ will have to grow up very quickly and support itself from contributions it has solicited separately.

In order to do that it looks for campaigners and supporters in many European countries – supporters who click to join the campaigns, who fund the work, and who can be quickly mobilised – like the Campact activists in Germany. The first campaign should start next summer; it has not yet been decided what its subject will be. The initiators see their strength in being able to react quickly and decisively. The organisation will be small to begin with, but hopefully become better known from campaign to campaign and thus grow.

This article is based on a report first published in German.