Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

December 27th, 2008

The authority of Wikipedia

The relationship between the European Commission and the member states can be a fraught one. Having agreed (usually jointly with the European Parliament) a course of action, it’s not uncommon for the member states to find that actual implementation of such agreements is difficult. This is a common situation with international agreements (see Canada’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol), but with the EU there’s a built in mechanism to deal with it. The European Commission, among it’s many other duties, can take a member state to court (“infringement proceedings”) and force it to change national law to be compatible with European law. The European courts have pre-eminence over national courts, so individuals as well as the commission can achieve redress (although it’s a long job – multiple years for resolution).

Statue in the grounds of Hambleton Hall, Rutland WaterIt’s within this context that the report on the implementation of the Free movement of Persons and Residence: Directive 2004/38/EC needs to be read. The directive itself is mostly a clean up exercise, consolidating the existing fundamental right of freedom of movement for EU citizens and some of the more tricky questions that this right raises (when can an EU citizen be deported? can family members that are non-EU citizen’s travel without a visa?) The report on the implementation of the directive paints a fairly poor picture in terms of implementation.

The tactics adopted by the EC in “steps to be taken” reveal an approach I’ve not seen before. As expected the threat of further action against member states is particularly strongly worded: The Commission will step up its efforts to ensure that the Directive is correctly transposed and implemented across the EU. In order to achieve this result, the Commission will use fully its powers under the Treaty and launch infringement proceedings when necessary. However, the next step that particularly caught my eye is the use of Wikipedia to directly communicate out the right of freedom of movement:

Member States and the European Parliament are not the only stakeholders with whom the Commission must work intensively. EU citizens must continue to be informed about their rights under the Directive. To this end, the Commission will continue to treat provision of information on the Directive as a priority and will continue to distribute a simplified guide for EU citizens, making the best use of the Internet, mainly through Your Europe portal, the creation of an article on Wikipedia on the right of free movement and simple “factsheets” explaining citizens’ rights.

A search for “Europe freedom of movement” in Google brings up an official Europa site as the second hit, with Wikipedia’s entry 7th in the list. The commission’s decision to create an article in Wikipedia is therefore not simply a matter of addressing the usually poor web presence of the EU’s official bodies. Indeed the information available on the Europa site regarding freedom of movement is easier to read, and summarises the situation far better, than the multiple Wikipedia articles that touch on the subject.

I think this decision to communicate to Europe’s citizens through a US based charity is a reflection of the perceived accessibility of Wikipedia as a source of information. Even though the content is likely to be very similar, an article on Wikipedia penned by the European Commission is deemed to be more accessible than the same material hosted on Europa.

The picture was taken at Hambleton Hall in Rutland.

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Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

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