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EU: Social Networks Forcing Leaders into Dialogue with Citizens
Source: http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/1423/social-networks-forcing-leaders-into-dialogue-with-citizens
Source Date: Monday, January 30, 2012
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Europe
Created: Jan 30, 2012

Social networks have started to reshape the relationship between citizens, politicians and businesses – leaders at the World Economic Forum have acknowledged. In a session over the weekend, in Davos, the creation of a new online dialogue – which reached beyond its internet origins – was held up as both a positive and a negative. While the likes of Facebook and Twitter had helped the spread of democracy, through the Arab spring, online connectivity also resulted in rushed decision-making and a lack of time to think in the political and business spheres – claimed some delegates.

Analysing the challenges of the "hyper-connected world" and the resultant lack of global leadership, Professor Nouriel Roubini of New York University said: "This doesn't look like a G20 world; it looks like a G-Zero world. There is disagreement. There is no leadership. In a world where we have the rise of many powers, the United States cannot impose its will." On other important global issues ranging from climate change to dealing with the impact of the global recession, disputes had prevented the shaping of effective solutions - claimed Roubini. He added that there was a 50 per cent probability that the eurozone would break up over the next three to five years.

Pointing to the change witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya - New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman said: "The days of the one-way conversation are over, whether you are the prime minister or the chief executive officer. We are all in a two-way conversation. The challenge for political and corporate leaders is to understand the power of what can be generated from below. The sweet spot for innovation is moving down. The sweet spot in policy and politics is moving down." Associate editor at the Financial Times Gideon Rachman agreed. "Both democratic and authoritarian governments are struggling with this," he said. But he warned against exaggerating the impact of social media too far. "You wonder how they managed to storm the gates of the Bastille without Twitter," he quipped.

But European and American leaders were being hampered in their decision-making by the mounting complexity of problems and the fast pace of developments – with the immediacy of the internet, 24-hour news and the blogosphere meaning "there is no time to think", argued Professor Robert J. Shiller of Yale University. "You can't be a leader unless you have time to think and develop yourself." Looking to the picture in Asia, including the fast-growing economies of China and India, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore Kishore Mahbubani said social media was also forcing "two-way conversations" between leaders and their people in the east. "It's about how you respond to the wake-up calls," said Mahbubani. "Things are happening in Asia under the radar screen because of the quiet and unpretentious nature of the leadership. Within the Asian cultural fabric, there is awareness that the role of government is important. People are not trying to overthrow their government. They want to get better government."

Meanwhile, a number of social networks and technological companies have expressed an interest in helping people to make use of the new European Citizen's Initiative. The project launches on April 1 and will allow citizens to petition the European Commission to bring forward legislative proposals in the areas of policy for which it has responsibility, such as the environment, public health or transport. But, each petition will have to gain one million signatures from across at least seven of the EU's 27 member states to be considered. In addition there will be a minimum level of support that has to be won in each country, according to population size – for example 75,250 in Germany and 4,500 in Cyprus.

Former MEP and now Facebook managing director of European Union affairs Erika Mann said: "Social networks can be the partners to facilitate the match between the political world, this initiative and the internet." The commission's plan was similar to the e-petitions system adopted in the United Kingdom. British e-petitions have been celebrated for engaging with views from the public, but have failed to result in any great legislative change - and, therefore, faced widespread crticism. Google's director for public policy Simon Hampton said of the ECI: "Outside of Europe citizens, actions have changed things. It is up to the commission and the citizens of Europe to change things here. The ECI will put the commission under scrutiny, but citizens will expect a response."
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