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05/02/2013
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Shock, horror! The European Parliament wants to know what people think

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On 3/2/2013 the Daily Telegraph publishes a story online entitled EU is to set up euro-election 'troll patrol' to tackle Eurosceptic surge

The article goes on to say that the European Parliament is to spend almost £2 million on press monitoring and trawling Eurosceptic debates on the internet for "trolls" with whom to debate in the run-up and during euro-elections next year amid fears that hostility to the EU is growing.

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Like any other parliament, the European Parliament makes use of media monitoring services to follow what issues are reported on in its fields of interest, including its own activities.

Traditionally the focus was on the printed and audiovisual media, but as online media and social media platforms have become more and more important sources of information, the Parliament is looking into ways of upgrading its media monitoring to keep up with the new media landscape.

In a separate effort, the Parliaments is looking into modernising its communication efforts, focussing on peoples' real concerns and on entering into a real dialogue with citizens.

Beneath a lot of sound and fury about secret documents, wasted millions and sinister plot to 'spy' on eurosceptics, the EP is basically being accused of wanting to know what citizens think and of spending money in an effort to communicate with them effectively on whatever platforms they happen to be nowadays- two extremely counterintuitive 'crimes'.

Presumably the reporter, posting this stringent critique online, would be scathing of a modern institution/company/service provider trying to reach out to its citizens/customers/users by carrier pigeon or telegram, or that tried to canvas public opinion by listening into the odd conversation down the pub.

One can argue the EU, and the EP within it, should not exist at all. One might begrudgingly accept its existence and still berate it for being 'out of touch' with ordinary people in the member states.

What a serious broadsheet should not do with a straight face, is berate that same institution for trying to get a sense of what people want, need and feel, for offering people a way to stay in touch and keep an eye on its workings, and for communicating what it has to say through means that ensure the message is received by the widest possible number of people.

In any case the European Parliament is emphatically not setting up euro-election 'troll patrol' to "tackle Eurosceptic surge" and it is dishonest to imply so. The somewhat sinister sounding "public opinion monitoring tools" to "identify at an early stage whether debates of political nature among followers in social media and blogs have the potential to attract media and citizens' interest" are commonly used modern tools of communication, as the reporter knows very well.

The rise in euroscepticism in Europe is something that does worry and should worry the EU institutions. If the European Parliament were  indifferent to the reasons why some people have become deeply mistrustful of the EU it would be rightly accused of being arrogant, undemocratic and frankly foolish.

Monitoring the debate, including what is being said in euroscpetic circles, and then engaging with all citizens, including the most sceptical, is the job of democratic institutions that listen.