What can we learn from the Greens’ online debate?

On Tuesday 19 November the European Greens held the first online debate between the four hopefuls in the party’s open, Europe-wide primary election.

Co-hosted by Debating Europe, the Google Hangout allowed the four contenders – French MEP José Bové, Italy’s Monica Frassoni, the German leader of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, Rebecca Harms, and fellow German MEP Ska Keller – to answer voters’ questions directly as they vied to become one of the Greens’ two candidates for the European Commission presidency.

So how did it go? And what can we learn from the debate?

There was certainly a (relatively) high level of engagement. The questions for the debate came from Twitter, and the use of the #greenprimary hashtag increased from a daily average of 150 tweets to 750 tweets on the day of the debate.

Data from Keyhole shows that 70% of the tweets seem to have come from four countries – Spain (23%), Belgium (19%), France (17%) and Germany (11%). Around a quarter of these tweets were in Spanish and about a half in English – the language of the debate – even though only seven per cent of tweets came from the United Kingdom, Ireland or Malta. It could legitimately be classed as a ‘European’ debate.

What about the content? You can judge for yourself by watching the debate again at the bottom of this post. Online, there was (perhaps) surprisingly little discussion of the content and more about the fact the debate was taking place (underlining the innovation of this type of discussion and process).

The most retweeted tweet was by José Bové, just before the debate, in which he said: “An ecological Europe- the only subversive dream that empowers citizens and protects our planet #GreenPrimary”:

Technologically, the event was not so smooth: with a moderator in Brussels, the three MEPs in Strasbourg, and Monica Frassoni at a noisy Warsaw airport, the potential for hiccups was enormous, and there were a number of lost or dodgy connections and wrongly-muted or -unmuted telephones. A debate in Brussels may have been a more polished exercise, but the medium was probably, in some ways, the message – highlighting the Greens as innovative and ‘different’.

Indeed, the Greens are using a variety of social media channels, infographics, videos and more to build interest in their election campaign. They are showing what can be done on a small budget.

However, there is much more work to be done by the Greens – and the other European political parties – to reach out to the hundreds of millions of potential voters across the continent.

Marek Zaremba-Pike

The campaign manager of the European Greens, Johannes Hillje, will speak at our Europe Decides event on 4 December – more information here.