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The Europe roundup: The resigned President and the power of social media

BY Antonella Napolitano | Wednesday, June 9 2010

Did you attend Personal Democracy Forum 2010?
Check Nancy Scola's recap of some of the sessions and what other attendants wrote about the conference.
And we will give you information about PDF Europe conference very soon!

  • Germany | The resigned President and the power of social media
    Last week Horst Köhler resigned as Federal President of Germany after some comments on the German peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. As reported by Spiegel online:

    The president had become the target of intense criticism following remarks he made during a surprise visit to soldiers of the Bundeswehr German army in Afghanistan on May 22. In an interview with a German radio reporter who accompanied him on the trip, he seemed to justify his country's military missions abroad with the need to protect economic interests.

    "A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that ... military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests -- for example when it comes to trade routes, for example when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes," Köhler said.

    But it wasn't the radio interview to lead to his resignation. PEP-NET founder Rolf Luhers explain how German social media played a role in that. He reports in fact that the first to pick up Köhler’s  remarks was a fairly unknown blog called unpolitik.de. Other bloggers followed but none of these posts made it to the mainstream media (a detailed roundup in German can be read on carta.info ).

    People also asked for reactions on twitter and other social networks: "After Deutschlandradio broadcasted an interview with the Christian Democrat Ruprecht Polenz on May 27th, who said that Köhler expressed himself imprecisely, the media storm slowly gained momentum. A very critical report that appeared in Germany’s biggest news magazine “Der Spiegel” might finally have pushed Köhler over the edge" says Luehrs.

    Though the presidency is a ceremonial role, the search for a replacement was a test for Prime Minister  Ms Merkel, who was already fighting to keep her coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats on side. Social media had a say in this process as well: first of all they helped reviving a 2009 campaign against Minister Ursula von der Leyen, the favourite for that position, and known in the blogosphere for a net censorship bill. Then they helped pusching the candidacy of Joachim Gauck, proposed by the opposition of social democrats and greens:

    Folks started different kinds of social media campaigns. Examples are a website showing a picture made of avatars of twitter users who tweeted the hashtag #mygauck and different types of online petitions (1,2). Meanwhile the hashtag #mygauck already made it to the top of the most used German twitter tags today.
    It remains an open question whether all this will have any influence on the election results, but it clearly shows that social media have become politically relevant in Germany.

  • EU | Stories from PDF 2010: let's sit in circles and learn
    Wired Italy has a piece on PDF 2010 written by Linnea Passaler, a doctor and also the founder of Pazienti.org, a health care website that gathers stories from patients in order to create a public database (we covered the launch of the project last month).
    Passaler tries to explain what she learned and make comparisons with her own country, suggesting that maybe some ideas may be applied and change the scenario of political campaigns: that's the case of the proposal of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Their paper Reform in an Age of Networked Campaigns proposed a public funding of candidates proportional to the donations they received from citizens - a revolutionary proposal for many European countries, where campaigns are totally funded by the government (causing many cases of corruption).
    Passaler was also particularly striked by the Open Government Initiative and its philosophy of openness, transparency and collaboration: "Transparency is the new objectivity and this may lead to a society with more freedom and opportunities". Finally she invites readers to do what she did at PDF BootCamp: "Let's sit in circles and share our curiosity and passions". Looking forward to next PDF Europe conference?
  • EU | Tools for European political organising
    PDF writer and speaker Jon Worth was at PDF2010 and made a list of tools that might work in the future for political organization back in Europe. In particular, he liked go.usa.gov, in his words: "a US government link shortener, style of bit.ly but with trust and reliability for government URLs. How about a similar one for UK, FR, EU twitter use? The original code is open source and the system is based on Drupal.". Check his list, see if you find anything interesting... and make it work!
  • UK | The programme is online: have your say!
    British coalition government built the online version of their programme for government. Every part of the programme is commentable until the end of June 10th.