Politics in the Internet Age
Margot Wallström was born on 28 September 1954 in Sweden. She entered politics shortly after graduating from high school in 1973. She worked as an Ombudsman for the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League. Then, in 1979, she was elected as a Member of the Swedish Parliament where she served for six years.
Her ministerial career began in 1988 when she was appointed as Minister of Civil Affairs – Consumer Affairs, Women and Youth (1988-1991). She later served as Minister of Culture (1994-1996) and Social Affairs (1996-1998).
In 1998, she retired from Swedish politics to become Executive Vice-President of Worldview Global Media – an NGO based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The following year she was appointed as Member of the European Commission, under President Romano Prodi, and given responsibility for EU environmental policy.
In 2004, when the Barroso Commission took office, she became Commission Vice- President with responsibility for Inter-institutional Relations and Communication.
Margot Wallström has received honorary doctorates from Chalmers University, Sweden (2001), Mälardalen University, Sweden (2004) and the University of Massachusetts, Lowell (2005).
Other distinctions include being voted "Commissioner of the Year" by the European Voice newspaper in 2002.
In 2004, together with Göran Färm, Member of the European Parliament, she published the book “The People’s Europe or Why is it so hard to love the EU?” (“Folkens Europa eller Varför är det så svårt att älska EU?”).
In 2010, she was appointed U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Question: How is the Internet transforming politics in the European Union?
Margot Wallström: It has been a steep change with the Internet because never before—not with printed media or television—has one individual been able to do mass communication. Before, you needed the medium; you needed television or access to radio. But today, through the Internet, one individual could do mass communications. And so it’s a completely different scenario communication-wise.
Communication, to me, is a tool for strengthening Democracy. We are not there to sell something. We are decision makers. We are politicians. We are elected in the European parliament, etc. In the parliaments, you need to make sure that communication is used to strengthen democracy, to engage better in dialogue with voters and with citizens. And for the first time you can do that very, very broadly. You can invite people to comment, as we did for the first time on the new chemical legislation outreach. We’ve had more than 7,000 responses - very detailed, very well-crafted, most of them. It was amazing to see that, when you open up that opportunity, people want to participate. They can. They are capable of it. They are much more demanding of course. They want to judge by themselves. So it means a little more difficulty for journalists, for example, because people might bypass the journalists—they want to follow the debate themselves directly online or make up their own minds.
Question: How do you evaluate Barack Obama’s social media-based outreach?
Margot Wallström: He did it masterfully, of course. He managed to not only raise money for his campaign but, this time, from many individuals which made him less dependent on big donors like the oil industry. He also did it using social media to organize: not only send the message, but to organize events and mobilize the voters as well. This was a way to say, “Well we can meet and have a party there,” or “We can have a rally that night” or “We can do information sharing,” or what have you.
He used it to the full potential, not only sending his political message but also mobilizing people—and I think this is what we can learn. And he did it through a simple message that everybody could understand. I’m not sure that it would work exactly like that in Europe, but I think we can learn from this—to have a simple message that people can understand and take to their hearts. So there are a number of things where we can definitely share experiences, and say, “This is something we could do as well,” but also differences–money being one. Money does not play the same role in European elections. You don’t have to do that much fund raising to be a candidate.
Recorded on: July 10, 2009
Margot Wallström believes the Internet and social media have strengthened democracy in both the EU and the United States.
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