Europe’s wealth at a glance

Forecasts for 2023, show that across the EU, the median wealth per adult is on the rise. However, it is still unclear if the distribution of wealth will become more balanced in the future. Germany tops the ranking of EU countries with the highest number of millionaires holding more than $ 50 mln of wealth.

The Credit Suisse Research Institute published its ninth edition of the Global Wealth Report. The document provides up-to-date information on global household wealth, as much as insights into the potential dynamics of wealth-growth until 2023. The Global Wealth Report databook defines net worth as “the marketable value of financial assets plus non-financial assets (principally housing and land) less debt”.

We scraped the data provided by Credit Suisse to take a look exclusively at some facets of the evolution of wealth across EU countries, such as:

  • the forecasted development of the median wealth per adult across the EU between 2017 and 2023
  • the projection of the numbers of millionaires in EU countries with wealth, respectively, higher than 1 mln US $ and 50 mln US $
  • the evolution of the difference between the average and median wealth per adult in EU countries between 2017 and 2023

In the first two charts, we provide an insight into the “world of millionaires” across the EU. We follow the distinction offered by the report, which splits this wealthy group into two groups, at a threshold of 50 mln US $ of individual net worth. For the sake of readability, we clustered the countries into three groups, respectively occupying the front, middle and end of the ranking (based on starting positions, in 2017).

Focusing on the front runners of this particular “league”, the forecast for 2023 shows that Germany tops the ranking concerning the absolute number of millionaires holding more than $ 50 mln of wealth in assets, followed by the UK and Italy.

(Continue reading the article at European Data Journalism Network)

FakEU roundup: Syria gas attack, UK poisoning prompt accusations of misinformation

Two weeks ago, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Wassili Nebensja, called the chemical attack in Douma “fake news” created by Syrian rebels and Western powers. Some right-wing politicians across Europe, such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini, echoed this narrative.

Over the past few weeks, the discussion on misinformation has closely tracked major geopolitical developments.

Two weeks ago, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Wassili Nebensja, called the chemical attack in Douma “fake news” created by Syrian rebels and Western powers. Some right-wing politicians across Europe, such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini, echoed this narrative.

Downing Street rejected these accusations. In the aftermath of the military strike organized by France, Great Britain and the U.S., authorities in Washington said that online activity of Russian-related trolls exploded (the precise numbers have been challenged by the DFR Lab). Meanwhile, Labor’s shadow Home secretary Diane Abbott was criticized for using an irrelevant composite picture in a tweet critical of the military operation in Syria.

Continua su Poynter, 25.04.2018

FakEU: Europe’s anti-fake news efforts get pushback

After the European Union’s high-level expert group on fake news presented its report to the press in early March, El Pais reported that Brussels won’t undertake specific legislative action against fake news.

After the European Union’s high-level expert group on fake news presented its report to the press in early MarchEl Pais reported that Brussels won’t undertake specific legislative action against fake news. On the contrary, the experts suggested that co- and self-regulation with — and by — the media sector are more effective tools to fight the spread of misinformation (Euractiv). Similar views were outlined in a different context by London Mayor Sadiq Khan as he spoke to a crowd at a South by Southwest (SXSW) conference.

Nevertheless, over the past few weeks, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel faced pressure again over the issue amid the outbreak of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. In a letter addressed to Gabriel, Julian King, the EU commissioner for security, called for a plan to counter the spread of fake news and digital propaganda via social networks.

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers from the Paris-based HEC institute and New York University filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman. The target of the legal action is the European External Action Service’s (EEAS) East Stratcom Disinformation Review, which catalogs articles that the EU believes to be Russian misinformation or propaganda. The lawyers claim that the recommendations set out by EUvsDisinfo are in violation of, among other rights, EU laws on freedom of expression (Le Monde). However, 16 international affair analysts took the side of the European service in an op-ed published on EUobserver.

Continua su Poynter, 11.04.2018

FakEU roundup: Officials are calling on journalists in the fight against fake news

In Austria, two weeks ago, the vice chancellor and leader of the far-right FPO party, Heinz-Christian Strache, was fined 10,000 euros for having accused ORF journalist Wolfgang Armin of spreading of fake news. In a similar row, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused the French media outlet Médiapart of having spread fake news against him in 2012, in relation to the ongoing Libyan-campaign finance case. Médiapart promptly replied to the accusations.

Last week, the president of the German Federal Republic, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, invited journalists and bloggers to discuss the spread of misinformation at his Bellevue residence in Berlin. Steinmeier called for traditional media and recognized information sources to stand out as “islands of trustworthiness” in the public sphere. Meanwhile, however, a new study conducted by the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung investigated the role played by traditional media outlets in the spread of fake news. The authors claimed that well-established media outlets, such as Bild and Die Welt, created fake news that were later exploited by right-wing politicians via social networks.

Continua su Poynter, 23.03.2018

This week in FakEU news: advances and pushback

A new study by the German conservative foundation, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, called for the EU to support fact-checking and media-literacy initiatives in the Western Balkans to tackle Russian propaganda.

In France, Emmanuel Macron’s proposed initiatives against fake news continue to make headlines. Last week, Le Monde got hold of the draft bill that aims to hinder the online diffusion of false information during campaigns. The document was forwarded by the Elysée to the deputies of the president’s party and outlines the guidelines of the future law. An extensive review of the document was published later by Next Inpact, and  a commentary can be found on HuffPost. The draft bill will need to be examined by the French Constitutional Council before entering the phase of Parliamentary debates at the end of April.

Meanwhile, the French Minister of Culture, Francoise Nyssen, spoke to Le Figaro about the legislative process kicked off by the government. Nyssen said that the law is necessary to safeguard the democratic system from abuse. Nevertheless, some analystscontend that the bill might emperil freedom of the press.

In Spain, Parliament’s National Security Committee called for the government to take action against fake news. Through a non-binding recommendation, the committee asked the government to actively participate at the EU level in the development of strategies against the threat. The left-wing coalition Unidos Podemos voted against the motion.

Continua su Poynter, 14.03.2018

FakEU#1: a roundup of the most interesting articles on misinformation from or about the EU

Much of the global conversation around “fake news” has centered around the United States. Yet increasingly it seems that actions in the European Union may have a more lasting effect on the misinformation ecosystem. For that reason, every fortnight starting today, we will be summarizing press coverage on the topic from or about the EU. To give Poynter readers perspectives they may not have encountered yet, we’ll be prioritizing articles written in languages other than English.

In its yearly report on the state of information consumption, the Italian communication authority (AGCOM) wrote that 2017 was “characterised by the rise of ‘fake news’ as a structural phenomenon within the media landscape.” According to a survey conducted by AGCOM, some 54 percent of Italian citizens claimed to access news through social platforms and algorithms. Interestingly, among the latter, only 24 percent defined the sources as “reliable.” In another survey, conducted by Demost, one out of two Italian citizens said they believed a story that turned out to be fake news on the internet. An analysis conducted by the Italian security service Department of Information Security (DIS) raised concerns about information biases caused by fake news agents in the context of the upcoming general election on March 4. However, the Italian Minister of the Interior, Marco Minniti, recently said that there is no concrete risk in sight.

In France, the debate surrounding Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to develop a law against fake news continues to make the headlines. On Feb. 13, the French Minister of Culture, Françoise Nyssen, announced that the law will enable public authorities to suspend the activities of media that are judged to act “under the influence of foreign powers,” and make space for a special judicial procedure aimed at identifying fake news. Some critical commentaries relative to Nyssen’s proposal can be read on Le Mondel’expressSlate.fr and Radio France International.

Continua su Poynter, 28.02.2018

Corbyn can kick off a revolution among Europe’s political elites – an interview with Michael Hartmann

Michael Hartmann is a German sociologist and political scientist. During his academic career he has analysed the transformation of European and global elites. He spoke to Alexander Damiano Ricci about 30 years of changes in the European ruling class: from Thatcher to Corbyn, from Podemos to Syriza, from the Eurosceptics to Maastricht.

Michael Hartmann is a German sociologist and political scientist. During his academic career he has analysed the transformation of European and global elites. He spoke to Alexander Damiano Ricci about 30 years of changes in the European ruling class: from Thatcher to Corbyn, from Podemos to Syriza, from the Eurosceptics to Maastricht.

Professor Hartmann, what is the elite?

The elite is comprised of people who have the ability to significantly influence social developments thanks to their institutional position or economic status. More specifically, elite representatives are members of the Government, leading profiles within the public administration and the judiciary of a country, as well as chief executive officers of large national companies. Specific people working in the media sphere can also be brought into the picture.

How many people make up the elite of a country?

About 2000 people.

How accessible is the elite?

It really depends on which elite-branch and country we are talking about. For instance, in Germany, 75% of the chief economic officers who are part of the economic elite stem from the richest 4% of the population. Among German political elites, on the other hand, the figure drops down to 50%. In France the numbers are slightly different and rise to 90 and 60%, respectively. This implies, on the one hand, that the economic elite is more exclusive than the political one, generally speaking. On the other hand, it tells us that France has more “exclusive” features compared with Germany.

In recent years there has been much talk of the influence of the ‘ordoliberal’ economic theory on European elites. Would you agree with that?

Ordoliberalism is a theoretical paradigm rooted in the German political elite. The neoliberal Anglo-Saxon paradigm, on the other hand, continues to be the reference among economic elites, in general. Anyhow, concerning the fundamental choices of economic policy, such as those relating to taxation and fiscal policies, both doctrines claim that taxes must be lowered.

Can you describe the evolution of European elites over the last decades?

We observed the last significant turn within elites when Thatcher took power in the UK. More specifically, at that time within the British Conservative Party the neoliberal paradigm gained traction. The transition was accompanied by a fully fledged shift in the composition of the Government’s staff. If, before Thatcher, the Labour government featured 30% of people stemming from the upper bourgeoisie, that same number reached the staggering proportion of 80%. From an ideological point of view, all other European countries subsequently followed that paradigm shift.

Today, in the UK, Corbyn is driving a new transformation. Can the latter be understood as another historical structural change of the elites?

Definitely. And, by the way, it is not a coincidence that this new change is occurring in Thatcher’s country. Several generations of British citizens experienced the consequences of neoliberal policies. The increase in university fees with the resulting indebtedness of younger generations, the crisis in the real estate market and the phenomenon of “zero hour” contracts are significant examples. But now the “zeitgeist” has changed. And Corbyn says: “For the many, not the few” …

Credit: Flickr/R Barraez D´Lucca. Some rights reserved

Is there a massive dose of populism in Corbyn’s rhetoric and strategy?

No. Corbyn grasped “the” thing: there is a feeling that for 35 years politics has operated exclusively in the interests of wealthier classes.

Using your analytical lenses, thanks to Corbyn, the British political elite could change with the next election. But not the economic one …

That’s right. And the latter will lead a fierce opposition to Corbyn. However, the Labour leader can count on the support of social movements, the grassroot and intermediate levels of his Party, the trade unions and, last but not least, significant chunks of the public administration. And, of course, Brexit divided the economic elite.

What do you mean?

Brexit is a symptom of the poor cohesion within the British economic elite. If compared to other economic elites in Europe, the former is the only one that has undergone a massive process of internationalisation. This dynamic created a gap between the economic elite and the conservative political ruling class.

Will Corbynism also affect other countries in Europe?

Yes, there are mechanisms of imitation at play.

Yet, that imitation process did not happen if we look at the establishment of Podemos for example…

Podemos has to be understood as a political phenomenon strictly related to the Spanish real estate crisis of the late ’00s.

Not even Syriza delivered change at a European level …

In that case the German elite wanted to show that there could not be an alternative to the status quo. A strategy that could not be used in Spain at the height of the crisis: European political elites relied upon the ability of Rajoy to deal with social upheavals.

Yet, speaking of smaller countries, Portugal managed to establish an alternative …

… Which, with all due respect, does not affect the European public debate.

The point is, why should the United Kingdom become a model? In the end, it just decided to leave the European Union.

The United Kingdom has historically been a point of reference for anybody interested in politics. Moreover, a disruptive change in one of the main European social democratic parties cannot go unnoticed.

In fact, it also happened with Tony Blair and the ‘Third Way’…

Of course, the years of Schroeder bear witness. Now instead, especially for the young SPD levers, Corbyn is “the” model.

What about Schulz and the rest of the national SPD leadership?

Only some local representatives overtly endorsed Jeremy Corbyn.

So there will be no substantial changes in German social democracy, thanks to changes in the Labor party in the short term?

I don’t think so.

Earlier this year, after the German general elections, rumours spread about an internal struggle within the German left-wing party, Die Linke. What’s going on?

First of all, it makes no sense to talk about a crisis within Die Linke. Secondarily, the point is that the left has to live with a substantial mutation of its electorate. Leftist parties attract young people with high levels of education, not the victims of the economic system. This truth holds for anyone: Die Linke, Sanders in the US, or Corbyn in the UK. And it creates disruptions.

With all due respect for leftist parties, this is not good news …

Subordinate classes want to see a change. But for years the left did not exceed the 10% threshold. That’s a fact. As a result, nowadays voters opt for a “scandalous” choice like the AfD (Alternative for Germany), sending a signal to the system.

In an interview, you said that elites hold the main responsibility for the crisis. Are you a populist?

No. Yet, populism sheds light on real problems. Some people think that ordinary people get duped by populists.

Would you argue against that?

People are able to assess their living conditions better than anyone else. And the variations of the latter represent the benchmark for judging economic and social transformations at large.

Still, why would elites be the main culprits of the crisis?

They are, because, at any level – political, economic, administrative, judicial and in the media – they have made sure that the living conditions of the majority of the population have remained unchanged or worsened.

I insist. You are giving a few thousand people responsibility for the living conditions of millions of citizens. How can you claim that?

Because we are talking about people who, by definition, have the ability to “significantly influence” economic and social changes.

Can you give us some concrete examples?

The best example is still the setup of fiscal policies. Today we are obsessed by the goal of achieving a budget balance. However, there are two options to get there: spend less and cut welfare services, or use the tax lever to recover resources where they are accumulated, that is to say among large companies and wealthy classes.

So what?

The second road is never traveled. Moreover, there are narrow circles of people, the elites precisely, who have the last word about it.

That’s not true: political decisions are the result of a process …

This does not mean that the final decision is not taken by a few people.

That’s why we have intermediate bodies that can tackle these decisions and oppose them.

Too bad that the weakening of trade unions was, in many cases, a goal of the very same elite.

Nowadays, in response to global neoliberalism, political forces across Europe are increasingly discussing the return to a sort of economic patriotism. Do you think that would be the right solution?

No. Some issues need to be managed at a continental level. It is necessary to remain in a European framework somehow. But it is true that the national level remains the relevant playground for assessing the social effects of policies.

For some, however, the problem relies on “Brussels”…

Even today, contrary to what many political parties are ready to admit, the national level holds great autonomy. Again, fiscal policy remains a national instrument. The latter tool can be used to counteract capital flight or, for instance, implement redistributive policies.

Too bad there is the Maastricht Treaty in the way. Or are you saying that the latter does not count for anything?

Significant redistribution policies can be implemented within the 3% deficit rule. Secondly, the Maastricht ceiling can be overcome. Schroeder showed it first in early 00’s.

The ECB at dusk. Flickr/Christian Dembowski. Some rights reserved

Should Italy do the same today?

Of course, Italy is far too important for the EU. Nobody would risk letting the country go away. That’s why, a lot of budgetary flexibility will be granted to Rome. After all, the Commission did the same with France. At the same, time, I do not believe that a majority of Italian citizens would favour an exit from the Union or the Euro.

But don’t you think that an “Ital-exit” would represent a quicker way to solve the crisis?

No, there is no need for that. It would suffice that Italy, France, Germany and Spain implement coordinated progressive policies at the national level.

Too bad that a part of the Italian population thinks that Berlin operates only in the German national interest. In other words, some do not see enough political will for a change in Germany. By virtue of this immobility even people on the left have started talking about leaving the Euro.

The exit from the Common currency area does not solve the problems, let alone the dependence on Germany. When Mitterrand, during his first government, tried to make economic policies in the French interest, there was no Euro around. Nevertheless, there was a point of reference: the German D-Mark, an economically and politically strong and binding currency, as much as the Euro is today.

Yet, national authorities could de-valuate at will restoring competitivity. 

That’s true, but the German central bank still remained the point of reference. It was France that called for the Euro, with the aim to tie the hands of the Bundesbank, not vice versa. We might argue if that worked out, but a come back of national currencies is an illusion, because the latter does not lead to decreasing German economic power.

Could it loosen the political influence of Germany?

The failure of the negotiations between the CDU, the FDP and the Greens in the context of the so called “Jamaica” coalition, shows that German political power is crunching. If Angela Merkel fails to establish herself at home, she will also have a hard time at the European level. It means that there will be opportunities for a change. Furthermore, the German political elite will have to react to the transformations led by Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Macron in France.

How?

That’s hard to say. The most  important point is that Corbyn and Macron are moving in diametrically opposed directions.

(Political Critique, 29.12.2017).

Photo CC Flickr: Andy Miah

Brexit: a story of two tales

Over the past few months, the British EU Referendum has been the most prominent issue in the European political debate. The most recent opinion polls show that the gap between Remain and Leave has been narrowing, in a crescendo of heated discussions that are taking place both offline and online.

In this study, we look at how the referendum has been publicly discussed in the UK on Twitter. The latter may well be considered a political arena, where supporters and opponents of Brexit express their views and back the respective campaigns. More precisely, we are interested in understanding the development of the thematic focus of the general Brexit debate as well as the behaviour of particular groups of users.

Data overview

Between 04 April and 09 June 2016, we collected 3,139,049 UK-based tweets by means of a keyword match criterion and through a Twitter “stream” application programming interface. In order to obtain an unbiased starting dataset, we performed a preliminary manual review of Brexit-related conversations prior to collection, and opted for the three campaign-neutral keywords “brexit”, “euref” and “eureferendum”.

For the purposes of this analysis, we divided the tweets into two groups using the six hashtags most often associated with the Remain and Leave campaign respectively. Taken together, these hashtags can be seen as the “battlegrounds” in which Twitter users’ conversations about Brexit take place. Results are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Numbers of users, hashtags and tweets for Remain and Leave battlefields
Table 1: Numbers of users, hashtags and tweets for Remain and Leave battlefields
Left and right in the referendum debate

To fully grasp the dynamics behind the Twitter Brexit debate, we then examined the nature and content of tweets over time and the profile of the users contributing to the discussion. As a first step, by analyzing tweets’ metadata, we were able to infer the political preferences of users. More precisely, through natural language processing techniques we separated users who clearly identify themselves as engaged or interested in politics from those who do not.

The Leave campaign battlefield is heavily patrolled by right-wing users. It should be noted, however, that this is mostly due to the massive activity rate of Ukipatriots within the right-wing field.

We further differentiated, in the former group, between “left-wing”, “right-wing” and “others” (the latter being a residual category for anybody who could not be placed in either of the two sides of the traditional political spectrum). We then fine-tuned the analysis by breaking up the left- and right-wing groups into more specific areas: “Labour” and “Non-Labour left” (green party, trade unions, socialists) on the one hand; “Lib-Cons” (Tories and liberals) and “Ukipatriots” (UKIPpers and nationalists) on the other. Table 2 shows the size of these groups as well as data on their Twitter activity.

Table 2: Number of users, tweets and tweets/users for Left-wing and Right-wing political groups
Table 2: Number of users, tweets and tweets/users for Left-wing and Right-wing political groups

Table 3 shows user activity divided by camp. Interestingly, for all political subgroups, with the exception of Labour, activity rates are higher on the Leave side than on the Remain side. The table also shows that the Remain side is composed of a majority of left-wing profiles, whereas for the Leave field the opposite is true. If we look at the number of tweets instead, the picture is much less balanced: the Leave campaign battlefield is heavily patrolled by right-wing users. It should be noted, however, that this is mostly due to the massive activity rate of Ukipatriots within the right-wing field. Indeed, inside the Leave campaign, each Ukipatriot tweeted on average 48 times, largely outperforming Liberals and Tories (18 tweets), the non-Labour left (9.3 tweets), and Labour profiles (8.6 tweets).

Table 3: Number of users, tweets and tweet/users of Left- and Right-wing groups divided by Remain and Leave camps
Table 3: Number of users, tweets and tweet/users of Left- and Right-wing groups divided by Remain and Leave camps
Talking Brexit

We then analysed the language of tweets to detect the themes at the centre of the Brexit debate. We first sorted tweets featuring “informative” content (that is, one or more reasons for either Remain or Leave) from “propaganda” (namely tweets expressing support for one side without mentioning a clear reason). The distribution of “informative” and “propaganda” tweets turned out to be constant (35% and 60% respectively), across both political subgroups and campaign fields.

Second, we classified the “informative” tweets into three categories: “Economy & welfare”, “Sovereignty & migration” and “Other”. The first group includes discussions on jobs, the welfare state, international trade. The second includes talk about the limitations of sovereignty imposed by the EU, the Union’s democratic deficit, the EU’s bureaucracy and corruption, and the issue of migration and border control. Table 4 shows the distribution of tweets across thematic categories, cross-tabulated by user’s political position.

Table 4: Number of tweets of Left- and Right-wing political groups divided by theme
Table 4: Number of tweets of Left- and Right-wing political groups divided by theme

Generally speaking, we found the “Economy & welfare” topics scoring highest across all political groups and subgroups, establishing itself as the main thematic battleground.
Yet, if we look at the distribution of tweets between political fields, we see that in relative terms over the total, “Sovereignty & migration” discussions weigh more on the right-wing side than on the left-wing one.

Even small groups can become “agenda setters”, when acting online in a coordinated and organised fashion, especially in highly polarised debates.

We found as well differences within the two main political fields. Within both political families, Labour and Tories were relatively less prone to tweeting about “Sovereignty & migration” than the non-Labour left and Ukipatriots. Strikingly, within the left-wing field more than 70% of the tweets dealing with this topic come from “left-activists”’ profiles–a distribution even more unbalanced than on the right-wing side, where UKIPpers are responsible for “only” 58% of the tweets on these topics. At the same time, while within the right-wing area both subgroups tweeted approximately in equal numbers about “Economy & welfare”, labour users were slightly more active on this front than left-activists.

Approaching the big day

Our results show that the Leave battlefield is generally more populated in the Twitter debate on the referendum. Contents, slogans and hashtags pertaining to this side have been more actively propagated and more widely discussed. This, of course, does not necessarily translate into a higher success rate, in terms of penetration, on the part of the Leave campaign messages. Yet it indicates that even small groups can become “agenda setters”, when acting online in a coordinated and organised fashion, especially in highly polarised debates.

This is confirmed, first, by the heavy presence and activity of UKIP users (who can unambiguously be considered as Brexit supporters) in the Leave as well as the Remain battlefield, and second by the fact that, in general, all political groups of activists (with the exception of Labour) are more active in the Leave battlefield. Soon after the closing of the polls tomorrow, we will find out whether, or in any case to what extent, the social media activism of the Leave side translates into real political results.

(EuVisions, 22.06.2016)

CC Photo Credits: seth m

 

 

Corbyn’s EU-turn speech as seen from Twitter

The Labour party (and the Remain field?) might therefore have lost some support from those leftist voters who are more prone to anti-austerity rhetoric and more sensitive to the argument that the European construction has lost its solidaristic flavour.

 

On April 14, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn held a long awaited speech outlining the party’s position with respect to the EU referendum to be held on June 23.

In committing to campaigning for the Remain side, Corbyn amended his longstanding sceptical stance towards the European Union. He warned that a victory of the Leave campaign would pave the way to an aggressive Tory government, which would endanger those worker rights that are currently safeguarded by EU legislation.

The Telegraph wrote that by focusing on “worker rights” and scaremongering about a new Tory government, Corbyn tried to make an appealing case for the Labour base to back a stay-in vote.

The British press covered extensively Corbyn’s U-turn on the integration project, which attracted a lot of criticism from the Brexiteers’ front. Although negative feedback came mostly from the right, even from inside Labour it has been argued that Corbyn’s recent support of the EU project is not genuine but hides instead a move to consolidate his leadership of the party.

From inside Labour it has been argued that Corbyn’s recent support of the EU project hides a move to consolidate his leadership of the party.

Labour backbencher and former Welfare Minister Frank Field argued that Corbyn was unable to connect with the Labour base and warned that his repositioning could lead to a massive loss of support in favour of UKIP. Given Corbyn’s longstanding Eurosceptic views it seems that it might be exactly his own constituency to be at risk here. In a recent article on The Telegraph, Ben Riley-Smith and Kate McCann even suggested that Jeremy Corbyn might decide to reconsider his support to the Remain campaign in order to re-establish a connection with the Labour rank and file.

Is Corbyn really losing support because of its new pro-EU stance? How did people react to his speech? On April 14 and 15, 25,581 unique Twitter users produced 55,357 tweets containing the word (or hashtag) “Corbyn”. By looking at these tweets, we tried to answer the above questions.

How did people react?

We used natural language processing techniques to sort tweets into different categories. After discarding irrelevant tweets, we separated attitudinal tweets – i.e. tweets containing some kind of reaction to the speech or the speaker – from news recast or merely descriptive tweets. We then separated tweets expressing a negative sentiment or disagreement with Corbyn from the rest. Table 1 shows the results of this procedure.

Table 1
Table 1

Recent poll results show that Corbyn’s announcement did not have a significant impact on the Brexit issue, and that Britons are still evenly distributed between Remain and Leave. In the Twittersphere however, the prevailing reaction was negative. As shown in Table 1, out of 28,056 attitudinal tweets, 10,095 (38%) are positive (or neutral) tweets, whereas 17,151 (62%) are negative. This confirms the view that the microblogging platform is a medium where voices of protest are more visible.

Corbyn losing Corbynistas?

By analyzing the tweets’ metadata, we were able to separate those coming from leftist tweeters from the rest. We identified 1,528 users as “leftists” and 1,761 as “other” (a residual category including all remaining politically-oriented profiles, ranging from Liberals to Tories and Ukippers).

Table 2
Table 2

We cross-referenced these data with the classification based on the text of the tweet: Table 2 shows the distribution of tweets between “leftists” and “other” users. Our results indicate that only relevant tweets are almost evenly distributed between the two groups. Indeed this distribution becomes unbalanced when we look at those classified as attitudinal and negative: in other terms non-leftist users become “louder”.

The Labour party might therefore have lost some support from those leftist voters who are more sensitive to the argument that the European construction has lost its solidaristic flavour.

However, and most importantly, almost one out of three negative tweets (that is 1,399 tweets) comes from the leftist area. Even more surprisingly, we found that almost 40% of the users who reacted negatively belong to the same area. In other words, per-user negative tweets were fewer on the left side of the political spectrum than for remaining users. This, in turn, implies that non-leftist users were more active in expressing their disagreement.

Left and right Brexiteers: sharing a common ground

As expected, Corbyn’s pro-EU speech provoked a lot of criticism from the right-wing Brexiteers, conservatives and UKIP supporters. However, a considerable negative reaction also came from leftist Twitter users. We tried to shed some more light on these results by processing the negative tweets through text clustering applications. In terms of content, the “leftist-negative” and the “other-negative” fields share a common ground, namely the criticism of Corbyn’s previously highlighted U-turn on Brexit. In particular, it is the political “coherence” of Corbyn — often labeled as a former “man of principles”– to be at the centre of concerns. Austerity-related groups of terms, on the other hand, appear more often among leftist users.

The Labour party (and the Remain field?) might therefore have lost some support from those leftist voters who are more prone to anti-austerity rhetoric and more sensitive to the argument that the European construction has lost its solidaristic flavour.

However and most importantly, the proximity of leftists and right-wing Brexiteers highlights the need to transcend the traditional left-right distinction when it comes to the politics of European integration. As recently stated by Raphael Behr, “we are in a strange world now where two distinct sets of politics–the old one that follows left-right lines, and a new one that operates around an EU in/out axis–are running concurrently and on top of each other”.

(EuVisions, 06.05.2016)

CC Photo Credits: Bob Peters

Renzi vs Juncker: a social media analysis

We focus on the recent war of words between Renzi and Jean-Claude Juncker, triggered by the latter’s critical remarks towards Italy during the Commission’s new year’s press conference. The Renzi-Juncker quarrel is the latest, and certainly one of the most visible episodes in what some have called a new fault line in European politics.

Over the past few weeks, a rift has emerged and deepened between the Italian government, led by Matteo Renzi, and European institutions, most notably the Commission. Disagreements between the two sides span many areas, including immigration, energy policy and banking. The latest chapter in the saga is being played out in the budgetary field, in which Italy claims the right to more flexibility (and a higher deficit) than the Commission is willing to concede.

The clash between Italy and the Commission is as communicative as it is political. From the start, the ways in which both sides have addressed one another have been as important as the substance of their respective grievances. In an unusually sharp exchange, for instance, Renzi recently reminded the Commission that the times in which Italy would be “remote-controlled” from Brussels are over. As a reply, the Commission let it be known that it actually struggles to find any institutional interlocutor in Rome.

As with any communications battle, much of the row between Italy and the Commission is taking place in and through the media, including social ones. Here we want to analyse the effects and resonance of this clash in the Twitter-sphere. In particular, we focus on the recent war of words between Renzi and Jean-Claude Juncker, triggered by the latter’s critical remarks towards Italy during the Commission’s new year’s press conference. The Renzi-Juncker quarrel is the latest, and certainly one of the most visible episodes in what some have called a new fault line in European politics.

An all-Italian affair

Given the highly personalized nature of the incident, our research strategy was to collect all tweets mentioning both Renzi and Juncker, on January 15 (the day of Juncker’s press conference) and for the following five days. Over the monitored period, a total of 8,724 such tweets were written across languages. The figure below shows their temporal flow.

Fig 1: Renzi-Juncker – tweets over time (click to enlarge)

As the chart shows, after a very brief moment, on January 15, in which the numbers of tweets in Italian and other languages were close, the Renzi-Juncker Twitter conversation became an almost exclusively Italian affair. Overall, of the tweets collected, 7,839 (89.9% of the total) are in Italian, 574 (6.6%) in English, 90 (1%) in Spanish, 57 (0.7%) in French and 9 (0,1%) in German. That German users ignored the Renzi-Juncker exchanges is particularly remarkable given that in these sorts of debates their country is often accused of being the Commission’s favourite—if not its puppet master.

The lack of a foreign reaction to the Renzi-Juncker clash is consistent with the view, held by many (in the first place in Brussels), that Renzi’s motives and objectives in the quarrel are largely domestic in nature. Weakened by Italy’s still underwhelming economic performance and some scandals involving his government, the argument goes, Renzi is for one thing trying to divert attention towards a “foreign enemy” and rally support around himself in time for next spring’s local elections. For another, he is preparing for a possible infringement procedure against Italy by pre-emptively shifting the blame onto the Commission.

That the quarrel was followed only in Italy is, in a sense, an advantage for Renzi as it insulated the debate from those audiences – primarily the German one – that might not be too sympathetic to Italy’s complaints. Granted, it also insulated it from (potentially) more benevolent audiences, such as the Spanish or the French one.

A gamble that backfired?

Generating a domestic debate might be a good strategy if one’s objective is simply to distract voters from other topics. It can, however, backfire if the debate ends up being dominated by negative sentiments. Following a method outlined in a previous article, we have tried to answer this question by separating, in the subset of Italian tweets, those expressing criticism of Renzi from the neutral or positive ones. Overall, 4,759 (60.7%) tweets belong to the former camp, while 3,080 (39.3%) are in the latter. For a politician well versed in the use of Twitter like Renzi, this was not a very good performance.

Fig 2: Renzi-Juncker – negative tweets word cloud

The above word cloud illustrates the frequency of terms in text-only anti-Renzi tweets (i.e. excluding re-tweets of URLs). Some recurring criticisms concern the uselessness (inutile) of Renzi’s attacks on the Commission, and the suspicion that his “song and dance” (manfrina) was largely for domestic purposes. In addition, many did not see Renzi’s fight for flexibility as credible, coming from a “puppet” (burattino) of powerful financial lobbies.

These last accusations are quite interesting because to a significant degree they are levelled against Renzi and Juncker at the same time. More generally, tweets that are negative towards Renzi are often also critical of the Commission president and the EU. If gaining some support among Italian Eurosceptics was among Renzi’s goals in the quarrel, his strategy—at least judging from the Twitter-sphere—did not work too well.

(OpenDemocracy, 26.01.2016)