Nicole just did a nice pre-conference interview with Phil Noble, founder of Politics Online. He has some pretty interesting things to say about citizens, politics, and the internet in Europe and elsewhere:
Nicole: When you look at Europe (and from your experience), what is most astonishing to you that politicians don’t do because it would be so easy to do today. What would you give as advice to somebody who wants to use the internet today?
Phil: Well, it’s really not too surprising to me that the politicians haven’t adopted the internet as aggressively as they could have. What has surprised me is that there hasn’t been more independent citizen organizations, more independent online organizations.
And again, I think that goes back to the political culture and tradition. In this country, politics is very entrepreneurial in the sense that if I decide I wanna run for governor of South Carolina I walked out my front door, call five reporters and say “I’m running for governor of South Carolina.” And if I can raise enough money and run an effective campaign, I win! And I don’t even have to — you know, other than paying my $5,000 to put my name on the ballot — I don’t even have to talk to the Democratic party establishment. And so we are very entrepreneurial.
And France and Europe in general you’re much more bureaucratic, your party structure is much more rigid. And what surprises me is that there’re not more online organizations and structures and campaigns created by individuals totally outside of that party structure. That’s what surprises me most about Europe.
Nicole: LoÃ¯c said he could imagine that for the next European election there might actually be a party of bloggers or internet-savvy people who could run as a party and try to change things. And the more I look at how Europe is structured or the European government is structured, I actually believe there could be a chance for it.
For the moment, I think most people don’t really see European government as something which is important (the national elections are much more important than that). But more and more, Europe is taking over, you have government decisions from Europe which have to be transported into national law and everything.
So it would actually be a good idea to have somebody running as independent and writing in English about what’s happening in the European Union itself to get more information, to get more unbiased information as well. But so far, I don’t see that coming.
Phil: I think that’s right. I used to do some work for the party of European Socialists in the European Parliament back in the late ’90s. And it has been something that has surprised me as to why some of the European parties have not moved aggressively to use the internet to really reach out to individual citizens.
And again, I think it goes back to the European tradition. The party of European Socialists or the EPP, or whatever, all these things, they are a creation of national parties. And so, you know, they are most concerned about being responsive to and trying to be directed by the parties — but not the individuals, not individual citizens.
And so I think that’s what’s really missing is that we haven’t had in Europe political organizations that have been interested in bypassing their party structures and empowering and linking and creating a real citizen movement. And I think it could happen. I think it’s more likely to happen on the extremes, you know, some of the, um, on the far right or the far left — I think they are more likely to use it effectively in the short term.
Although I must admit, for example, David Cameron in the UK: I’m very impressed with what he’s trying to do online. You know, I think in Germany, what Angela Merkel… I think she shows that she has some understanding of it, you know. And I think obviously the most intersting one right now is SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal. I mean, what is she gonna do with it? I think she has the potential to be a real breakthrough in Europe because she has used her blog and internet in a way that nobody else has. And I think she may be the first real online European politician.
Citizen-centric politics? Citzen-centric parties, even? Smart use of online tools? Empowering citizens? Sounds like a recipe for success for whomever wants to get in (or stay in) the game.
I’ve been on the Politics Online newsletter for almost a decade now (Electofix, one little project of mine, even scored a mention as HotSite of the week last August). If things work out as planned, I hope to get to go to Washington D.C. next March for the Politics Online Conference 2007 (Upcoming).