26 March 2011

Extention of Nuclar Policy Debate in German Bundestag to Twitter (Once Again) Shows Political Potential of Social Media

[Gov. Spokesman S Seibert]
Even though this blog is focussed on IP issues and not so much on nuclear politics and social media usage by politicians, I consider the somewhat exceptional parliamentary debate of March 24 in the German Bundestag worth noting, since it once more provides a preview on the future impact of social media on western democracies - which certainly should be an issue at least for legal and political bloggers.

After the severe problems of Fukushima's nuclear plant became evident, the German center-right government under Angela Merkel (Christian Democrats) initiated a nuclear moratorium, according to which the seven oldest nuclear power plants - two of which lying in center-right governed Baden-Württemberg where state elections are held this weekend - are shut down for at least three months, only about four months after the lifespan of nuclear power plants has been significantly extended by the government.

Assumptions of parts of the media and many citizens that the moratorium has been set up only for electoral tactical reasons have been unintentionally confirmed by talkative Economics Minster Rainer Brüderle (Liberals), who frankly disclosed to lobbyists of nuclear industry that "in view of the upcoming state elections pressure weighs heavily on politics, which is why decisions are not always rational". One can lively imagine that Chancellor Merkel was not amused to hear that her Economics Minister considers her politics "not rational". 

Now, during Thursday's parliamentary debate, we experienced an astonishing exchange of words between Government spokesman Steffen Seibert (@RegSprecher) and opposition politician Volker Beck (@Volker_Beck) of the Green Party - via twitter.

[Volker Beck]
Seibert tweeted during Merkel's government statement that "Chancellor Calls in Parliament: EU should decide today in Brussels to import no more oil from Libya". Shortly thereafter Beck directly answered: "What do you actually say to Brüderle's nuclear confession: all just political campaign". Seibert replied: "Wrong. Federal government is taking unforeseen disaster in Japan serious, nuclear power plant inspection has nothing to do with election campaign". Beck then countered: "Does Brüderle lie or has he not told the [lobbyist] that the temporary closure of nuclear power is just campaign?". 

Even though spokesman Seibert said after the debate that exchanging arguments via Twitter would "certainly remain an exception", it has been a premiere in Germany, that a parliamentary debate is extended to an interactive extra-parliamentary sphere on the internet. This may of course entail new challenges for politicians and parliamentary rules of procedure, but could also be a chance for parliamentary democracies to become more close to the people, transparent and modern.

However, as experienced in connection with the re-election of Federal President Horst Köhler on 24 May 2009, when e.g. MP Ulrich Kelber (Social Democrats) unofficially tweeted the result 15 minutes before President of Parliament Norbert Lammert officially announced Horst Köhler's re-election, social media tools are not always safe in the hands politicians. Kelber's tweet has been much criticised, e.g. by Volker Beck who considered this the "protocolary worst case", so that parliamentary secretaries prohibited using twitter and similar services in the Presidential Elections of 30 June 2010, which became necessary after Köhler's surprising resignation.

The 2010 presidential election, by the way, in which the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Mr Christian Wulff (Christian Democrats) won over anti-communist human rights activist in the GDR and first Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, Mr Joachim Gauck (impartially), has also been special in the sense that it was influenced by the internet community like no election before (see earlier post).