#AskBarroso campaign hijacked by pressure groups

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Pressure groups have "hijacked" a social media campaign by the cabinet of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso which asks citizens to address their questions to the hashtag #askbarroso ahead of his state of the union speech, EURACTIV has learned.

Barroso will deliver the fourth state of the European Union address today (11 September) in the European Parliament in Strasbourg at 9:00 CET. The speech will be followed by a debate in plenary with the leaders of the political groups and other members of the European Parliament.

From 30 August, citizen were able to join the conversation about the state of the European Union on the Commission's Google+ page, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Questions for the President (written or posted as a video) could be submitted using the hashtag #askbarroso. 

For the first time, the Commission “outsourced” to Euronews, the European multilingual news television channel, the selection of the questions to be incorporated in the TV interview with the president. Authors of the best questions – chosen by Euronews – will be invited to interview the president in person live via Google+ Hangout, on Thursday 12 September from 20:50 CET. 

EURACTIV spoke to Euronews journalist Thomas Seymat, who is in charge of processing the questions. Seymat said Euronews had been given full freedom in processing the questions, and was in no way pressured by the Commission. Asked what are the main categories of questions, he said that “interest groups” had taken interest in the #askbarroso campaign. As such, he named:

  • pressure groups in Spain and the UK over Gibraltar, the rocky British overseas territory to which Spain lays claim;
  • groups campaigning for the independence of the Spanish region of Catalonia;
  • a group in Bulgaria demanding the resignation of the government united under the hashtag #????withme;
  • a group in Romania fighting against the concession of a golden mine in Ro?ia Montan? to a Canadian firm which uses cyanide technologies;
  • pressure groups promoting data privacy, also in the context of the Prism scandal, following revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, regarding the tapping by US authorities of servers of internet companies for personal data.

Regarding questions on EU institutional matters, Seymat singled out the way the next European Commission President is going to be named following the European elections in May 2014. Apparently, citizens would like to know if their vote would really matter for the election of Barroso’s successor, or the next Commission President would be chosen as before – by the heads of state and government of the EU countries.

The Google+ hangout tomorrow will include Barroso, Euronews anchor Isabelle Kumar, as well as seven citizens, chosen by Euronews. Seymat said a bigger list was prepared, so that the organisers would have some backup in case the internet connection didn’t work or people did not log on time.

EURACTIV made a search in Twitter with the #askbarroso hashtag, which suggested that most of the related activity on this social media originated from people working for the European institutions or close to them.

Asked how many questions were received from “real citizens”, Seymat said they were “several hundred”, but refused to say if it was a matter of a couple of hundred or more.

The 'State of the Union' speech, largely modelled on the US president's annual address to Congress, is a recent initiative by Commission President José Manuel Barroso. The first such speech was delivered in 2010 in a chaotic atmosphere, after suggestions that MEPs be forced to attend.

The main focus of the 2011 State of the Union's speech was the need to raise new sources of finance, including "project bonds", to fund EU infrastructure.

In the 2012 address Barroso passionately pleaded for launching a wide-ranging public debate for a major transformation of the European Union into a "federation of nation states".

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