It was a smooth 6 hour train journey mostly with the TGV and ICE. Coming late (here: one week before travelling!!) meant that I would not get the prefered seat at a table – actually no seat reservatation at all (remember: we are supposed to be in summer time). A good read was what I needed then and bought myself the FAZ, FT and DNA for the journey. The FT and its weekend magazine were excellent (as always). The one thing that kept me thinking most was the “Quick off the blog” article about one the US’s leading journalist-blogs, the Talking Points Memo.
The story behind its success is as simple as this. A freelance journalist started to put some of his unpublished articles on a blog. But more than that he started to try a follow-up to issues which he deems highly relevant for the US’s political life – but which were not taken up by the leading but careful mainstream newspapers. It all started off with the Florida recount and has lately led to the strong criticism and obvious abuse of powers by the US attorney-general (read European: minister for justice). Apparently his assistants were trying to get rid of illoyal federal attorneys all over the country. As long as this is perceived as an individual issue by the individual attorney and their local/state-wide public, no one would become suspicious. But only thanks to the adding up of several such cases over the whole country, the matter became one of significance.
What is interesting about this particular case is that it resembles some parallels to the lack of control of European multi-institutional affairs. Without any functioning or established network of pan-European investigative journalism similar cases would probably go unnoticed. And with investigative journalism I mean also to include the European blogosphere which is still far from play a significant role in making EU news (look for reasons at the Euroblogger study here). Now, you could argue that no such case of relevance as that in the US can happen in Europea because the “federal” powers are still weak. But imagine this. A more self-confident Commission president makes sure that a good “buddy” from the same “colours” occupies the oversight of DG Communication and its prerogatives in running the national Commission representations. No one would notice if they installed skilled party-friends at the posts of deputy heads of the Commission representations and friended press persons. With the right persons in place and a good coordination you could pretty much run the show on EU news.
A more constant concern is the scrutiny of Council voting behaviour of national governments, in particular in fields outside crucial “national” interest. Any voting against own party premises would never go unnoticed if conducted on Länder level inside Germany. On EU-level there is no outcry whatsoever when any creepy subsidies to “outermost regions” (i.e. booming Canary Islands) are granted, or the big agro-holdings increase their share on export subsidies. Maybe farmsubsidy.org was a first turning point in which journalists teamed up with academics to have a better grip on agricultural spending. But so much more needs to be scrutinised when it comes to Council-led action in the EU. Another crucial institutional issues is parliamentary control of the IGC – and more recently its preparation (= Sherpa-IGC). A more truly pan-European media would possibly have wondered, and therefore compared, how the individual national parliaments are taking it with the interaction with the Sherpas (see my German comment from late June).
My believe is that traditional press (and even less so TV or radio) can hardly cover these issues by themselves. That is until the point when they would (be forced to?) form coalitions in order to follow EU issues and their national back-up more closely. Until then the pan-European interaction of freetime, part-time and “professional” journalists through blog-like forums is possibly the only way to establish closer scrutiny of coordinated and non-coordinated wrongdoings at European level. I would hope that at least the EP elections in 2009 could find the next step after farmsubsidy and the first kind of European campaigning – with a European press chasing the inconsistencies of the European political actors.