MEPs are putting more and more formal written questions to topcrats at the European Commission, with the cost of responding to them estimated to be more than 8 million euros this year.

In 2013 MEPs put 13 400 questions to the executive. Last year MEPs were distracted campaigning in the elections, and only scraped a meager 10 800 questions between them.

With one inquisitive type tabling 193 questions already this year, and many others not too far behind, this year the total is estimated to reach some 17 000.

The commission has said that replying to that many questions requires the equivalent of 76 people working full-time.

Per question, that works out at 490 euros per answer.

How do we know this?

It's all laid out in an answer to a written parliamentary question...

490 euros well-spent.


Here's how it works.

Word gets down to the commissioner in charge of Inland Waterways and Catering that it's his turn to do a Tweetchat.

It's the way Topcrats aim to show they're in touch with the citizen and on top of their dossier.

In fact it serves only to satiate the social-media twitch of a handful of lobbyists, leaving both them and the commission with the impression that some job has in some way been done with some degree of satisfaction.

1. The Official Announcement

 It starts with an uninspiring invitation from the European Commission.

2. The Commissioner mis-tweets

The commissioner in charge - or rather his cabinet member entrusted with his twitter account - then gets prompted into action.

The tweet goes out late at night on a Friday, and gets the hashtag wrong.

3. The Social-Media Acolyte

On the Monday morning, two days before the big day, some over-eager young social-media comms lackey gets in on the act.

He says he's excited.

He probably is.

4. The False Starters

At this stage a number of lobbyists jump the gun, and start tweeting the #AskBertie hashtag WAY too early.

5. The Social Media Acolyte has a friend. He's also excited.

A day later, Frederik is still excited. He and his colleague Piet have been collating inland-waterway statistics for the commissioner. This, they feel, must be brought to everyone's attention.

6. The Flak Attack

On the day itself, Frederik and Piet tweet selfies, and the spokeswoman finally gets involved. Depictions of the bustling Tweetchat Command Centre give the illusion of dynamism. Exclamation marks seek to underscore youthful enthusiasm for the social medium. When this tweet doesn't get the required pick-up, the head of the spokes service tries to add momentum with a tweet of his own.

7. The Man's a Natural

The commissioner himself dutifully christens the Tweetchat too, with a picture of him sitting by a computer equipped with Tweetdeck, as if to say "Hey, kids, I can use this".

He can't. 

Nor has he ever used the phrase "Fire away!". 

8. The Industry Twobby

At this point the assorted twakeholders unleash their unimaginative twobbying.

The catering industry association has another punt.

9. The NGO Twobby.

The swan-huggers make the most of the moment.

10. The PR Twobby.

Some PR person with a big hotellier client tries to capitalise.

11. The NGO Twobby Again.

And the swan people have another go with a more emotive line.

12. The Snarks Wake Up: Me.

The retweets will have been enough (barely, but enough) to bring the Tweetchat to the attention of others in the EU twattosphere.

At this point I'll probably have a snark.

13. The Snarks Wake Up: Parody accounts.

The better of the two commissioner parody accounts (yes, there's more than one) also tries to crowbar some semblance of humour from the twituation.

14. The Replies: Type A) Platitude

The commissioner's replies live up to the extremely low expectations.

They range from the platitudinous:

15. The Replies: Type B) Platitude

To the platitudinous again:

16. The Replies: Type C) 'I'm a Human Too'

To the 'look-I've-got-a-personality' replies, possibly drawing on the fact that he has a family, or something extraordinary like that:

17. The Replies: Type D) The Inveterate Joker

And the 'look-I've-got-a-sense-of-humour' ones.

Then after all that edification, there's the obligatory sign-off:

18. The Closing Selfie

19. The Post-Match Analysis.

And after it's all over, some freelance social-media 'guru' who can't get a proper job will tweet an 'engagement matrix' graphic for the Tweetchat, purporting to prove something or other.

The world continues inexorably and unaltered on its axis.


Gunther unsays daft stuff

Monday, March 09, 2015 | 0 comments »

When the stable door opens this wide,
horses will bolt.
Internet bites Internet commissioner in the cache.

EU "digital" commissioner Gunther Oettinger has been caught out trying to rewrite a speech he gave two weeks ago.

He made the address on 24 February to a "Digital For Europe" event, seemingly without a script.

The speech attracted snarks at the time for going badly off piste in suggesting companies could be "thrown out" of the European market for not obeying the rules, and for nutty out-of-place references to Napoleon and pigeons.

This was worsened when a few days later, some poor euroserf was tasked with taking a transcript of his speech from the English simultaneous interpretation, and posting it online, which laid out in black and white quite how meandering the utterings had been.

Now it seems someone has redacted the original to try and make it more respectable.

The new version removes the threat of corporate banishment and the gauche analogy with Napoleonic comms.

But the Internet - as Oettinger may someday discover - is a marvelous thing.

Old webpages, Oettinger and his people will learn, don't just disappear. Those clever American search engines that Gunther seems to dislike so much keep an archive.

A cached version of his speech, as well as a video of his blurtings, remain available on the websuperhighwaythingy, and bear testament to the rambling nature of the address.

And a document merge of the original transcript and the doctored version reveals there have been 263 revisions made throughout, most of them deletions. In fact, the second version of the speech is about 1000 words shorter than the 2400 word original.

One can only imagine the time it took to wipe the Tippex off Oettinger's computer screen when he had a first go at editing the transcript himself.


Selmayr shows who's boss

Wednesday, March 04, 2015 | 0 comments »

EU commission prez Jean-Claude Juncker's German chief of staff Martin Selmayr shows who's boss around here...

He could do his back in if he doesn't rein in the deference a bit.