Brits ignore Baroness Ashton
The commissioner who should be the face and voice of the European Union in the world, Baroness Catherine Ashton, is ignored by her own compatriots, according to an internal document on the visibility of EU commissioners seen by EurActiv France.
Only 16% of British citizens have recently seen or heard of Ashton in the national media, says a survey conducted in January by the EU polling agency Eurobarometer.
The results of the poll were circulated among commissioners last week but they are not intended to be published for the wider public.
Ashton’s visibility in national media is the second lowest after the French commissioner Michel Barnier, who has been spotted in domestic media by only a tiny 8% of the French sample.
However, Barnier - who is in charge of the critical internal market and financial services portfolio - can claim to be the commissioner 'most followed' on the internet.
His website received more than 20,000 hits in December, which makes him the most popular of the commissioners on the net after Commission President José Manuel Barroso, whose website had almost 35,000 visitors in December.
Barnier’s high online visibility can be explained by the subjects he deals with, which probably make him more interesting to an international audience rather than to those at home. Reform of EU financial rules which hit mainly the City of London unsurprisingly spurs interest in Britain rather than France.
But the same logic cannot be applied to Ashton. Despite being in charge of the most visible dossier on a global scale, the high representative for the European foreign affairs and defense marked a very poor performance on the Web.
Her website had fewer than 8,000 visitors in December, in the same month the European Union moved to step up sanctions against Iran and Syria.
Ashton is only 18th in the December online ranking of commissioners. The last of the 27 is the vice-president in charge of administration issues, the Slovak Maroš Šefčovič.
And the winner is…
The most visible commissioner at home is Olli Rehn, whose dealing with the economic crisis as EU finance commissioner makes him a logic champion of visibility. In his home country, 45% of the Finns surveyed were said to have recently seen or heard of him in national media reports. Rehn’s website had over 11,000 visitors in December.
In second place was John Dalli, in charge of health and consumer policies. He is well known in his home island, Malta. Skeptics could argue that it is not difficult to be famous in a territory that counts just over 400,000 people. But this argument is weakened by the fact that Dalli is among the 10 most famous commissioners on the Web, above Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia and Rehn.
Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani comes third in the ranking of national visibility with 40% of the Italian interviewees reporting they know him from media coverage.
The Estonian commissioner Siim Kallas, in charge of transport, got the same result as Tajani but fared very poorly online, his website being the second least visited in December after Šefčovič’s.
Barroso was recently spotted in domestic media by only 31% of the Portuguese sample. Almunia is not very common at home either, with 19% of Spaniards surveyed saying they recently noticed him media reports.
The Belgian commissioner in charge of trade, Karel De Gucht, scored poorly in domestic media despite his presence in Brussels. Only 17% of Belgians could remember having seen him in the local press or broadcast reports.
The following shows the survey results on mentions in home news media:
- Olli Rehn, Finland: 45%
- John Dalli, Malta: 41%
- Antonio Tajani, Italy: 40%
- Siim Kallas, Estonia: 40%
- László Andor, Hungary: 34%
- Viviane Reding, Luxembourg: 33%
- Connie Hedegaard, Denmark: 33%
- Janusz Lewandowski, Poland: 32%
- José Manuel Barroso, Portugal: 31%
- Janez Potočnik, Slovenia: 27%
- Günther Oettinger, Germany: 26%
- Dacian Cioloş, Romania: 24%
- Cecilia Malmström, Sweden: 23%
- Andris Piebalgs, Latvia: 23%
- Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Ireland: 22%
- Kristalina Georgieva, Bulgaria: 22%
- Androulla Vassiliou, Cyprus: 21%
- Algirdas Šemeta, Lithuania: 19%
- Joaquín Almunia, Spain: 19%
- Maria Damanaki, Greece: 18%
- Maroš Šefčovič, Slovakia: 17%
- Johannes Hahn, Austria: 17%
- Neelie Kroes, the Netherlands: 17%
- Štefan Füle, Czech Republic: 17%
- Karel De Gucht, Belgium: 17%
- Catherine Ashton, United Kingdom: 16%
- Michel Barnier, France: 8%
There are 27 European commissioners, one for each member state. This set-up is widely criticised for risking transforming the EU executive into a mini-Council where national interests prevail over European policies.
The Commission’s machine is also at risk of being seriously slowed down by new enlargements of the EU which are likely to further increase the number of commissioners.
Despite this argument, most Europeans (70%) are shown to be in favour of the principle of one commissioner per country, according to a recent Eurobarometer poll.
Checking the visibility of each commissioner in his or her country appears to be a useful tool to assess not only the popularity of commissioners but also their possible excessive attention to national politics and media.