Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Here are the Eurobloggers is celebrating its third anniversary tomorrow, 26 January 2012. The website brings together 904 blogs in the different languages of the EU, written by individuals, journalists, Members of the European Parliament, European Commissioners and many more. They are looking at the European Union from different angles, giving themselves a sectional, party-political, cultural or regional focus when they translate the mass of communication that comes out of the European institutions every day.

But why would you bother to write about this stuff if you don't even get paid for it? Here are some of the blogger profiles I have come across.

Blogger A

I am a journalist working for a national newspaper or an audiovisual media. I am caught between the political discussion in my member state and the discussions in the hallways of the European institutions in Brussels. My media asks me to translate what I hear in Brussels so that my home audience will understand it. But many of the ideas and solutions that I hear about in Brussels are not relevant for my home audience. I put them on my blog.

Blogger B

I am a professional working in the European institutions or a lobby group. In my daily life, I have a lot of meetings behind closed doors in which European politics is decided day by day. This strikes me as utterly undemocratic and I feel like I should do something about it. So I gave myself a pseudonym and am writing down some of my daily experiences and thoughts on my blog - in the hope that it will make these European institutions a little bit more transparent.

Blogger C

I study the European Union. My day involves reading scientific articles about the number of votes that are necessary in the Council of Ministers to get a piece of legislation adopted. My desire is to switch the side of the desk and become a part of this European world myself in the future. I feel fervently pro-European and take a lot of pain in the way that reality differs from my ideal model of a harmonic European Union. On my blog, I can say what I think about all this. Maybe someone will read it one day. Maybe they will offer me a job. 

Blogger D

I don't care about the European Union. All this institutional bla bla bla bores the crap out of me. I have my own agenda, what I care about is my personal freedom, freedom to travel, freedom to say what I think on the web, freedom to obtain the information that I want to get. But this freedom is in danger from a few grey hats in Brussels and some more grey hats in America, and that's why I am raising my voice. My voice is a mixture of well-placed needle pinches and indignant rioting. If one of those grey hats that I am talking to actually reads me blog, that's even the better. But quite frankly, I don't care.

Blogger E

My media team is handling my blog for me. They also handle my Twitter. Our media analysts told us that European citizens all start going online. We have tried press conference for a long time and even set up our own TV station, but we only get coverage when the EU is in trouble (granted, that happens a lot lately). My blog allows me to reach the citizens directly. I am providing my own voice, and I know that citizens appreciate this. I know that I could do more to interact with them, but I have business leaders and national politicians to meet as well. I am faithful that my media team is doing a good job, and they collect a good load of valuable feedback from the readers of my blog that I can use in my daily work.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

MountEUlmypus post no. 100

I just realized that my previous post was MountEUlympus post no. 100. After two and a half years of writing about the EU, this blog is still here, and it is here to stay for a while. Just a few musings about EU blogging before I turn back to proper content in my next post.

It is a rewarding experience to blog about European affairs. The last 30 months in blogging have seen me challenged by Prof. Andrew Moravcsik, reprinted in the newspaper New Europe (New Europe pdf unavailable), responded to by development economist Ha Joon Chang, participate in the Th!nk about it 2 blogging competition on climate change, publish a bachelor thesis on the European blogosphere, become a co-editor of, discover the workings of the Council of Ministers, cover the EPP Summit and many other experiences. Most of all, however, blogging has put me into an international community in which new ideas are put forward and debated every day and thereby significantly increased my knowledge of European affairs. 

As I said, it is a rewarding experience to be a blogger and I can only encourage every citizen reading this post to think about starting his or her own blog. Given that European politics are rarely debated in national public spheres, European debates frequently develop in the blogosphere from where they are sometimes upscaled to national media. Even though the European blogosphere might sometimes appear a little like the electronic version of the Brussel bubble, participation is open to everybody and new entrants are welcomed and listened to. Maybe you will be next?

A cultural war between China and the West?

The Chinese word for coffee - 咖啡, pronounced kafei - is a good example for the way in which Western culture has slowly crept into Chinese society. While the idea of drinking tea ("cha") has developed through centuries of Chinese history, coffee came from outside the Middle Kingdom. In phonetic terms, it has always remained on the outskirts of Chinese culture.

But when you walk through any bigger city in Eastern China, you will see Western coffee chains and fast food restaurants invite young Chinese into what is essentially a space of Western culture. With English being the international lingua franca, many Chinese people working in the export industry come into contact with Western values, send their children abroad for college and start celebrating Christmas (albeit as a largely secular holiday). Consumerism, Western entertainment and Western dating mentality have long reached Eastern China. Without doubt, they are a powerful force tugging at the foundation of a family-based society with a high degree of discipline and sacrifice.

When Chinese president Hu Jintao now speaks of a Western desire to divide Chinese society through ideology and culture (see here and here), one could of course respond with a shrug. Western influence comes to China as a result of market exchange in a globalizing economy. One could say that China pays the price for its participation in the WTO and its export-led development with cultural influx from its trade partners (while truly Chinese products have simply not incited Western demand yet).

But then, the story is more complex than that. Globalization has a significant influence on the structure of the Chinese economy, an economy that has for some time devoted all its resources to the demands of the rest of the world while neglecting domestic demand. Globalization has led to enormous migratory flows from the Western plains into the Eastern metropoles which are connected to the global markets. To put it a little plain, China has in some regards neglected its own culture in the interest of export-led economic growth. 

It therefore appears legitimate to raise the question how a country can brace itself against cultural influence from other countries. France, for example, has established a law that requires its radios to play 40% French music titles. In my view, Hu Jintao is correct to worry about the erosion of Chinese culture through Western influence. But it does not appear very helpful to speak about "international hostile forces [that] are stepping up the implementation of China's Westernization" (Google Translated). A cultural war between China and the West would really not be a smart thing, but then I don't really see it happen either.

As a final remark, the concept "the West" which is often used in China (closely associated to the idea of a Westerner, or laowai), is by no means culturally homogeneous. The US and Europe show immense cultural differences, in the way in which they consume information, in the way in which they view leadership and in way in which they view the ideal state, to name but a few aspects. And to return to kafei mentioned above: While coffee might be considered a Western product in the Middle Kingdom, its production is crucially important to guarantee the livelihood of many smallholder farmers - in Africa and Latin America.

I have focused on the economic aspect of Westernization; maybe my Chinese friends would like to comment on the cultural aspect of Western influence?