European Elections to Be YouTubed

With an eye on the grassroots political campaign of Barack Obama, the communications-savvy US president, YouTube has teamed up with a European broadcaster to try and bring a similar 'Yes we can' buzz to EU politics one month ahead of the European elections.

The video sharing website on Tuesday (5 May) announced it is going to collaborate with Euronews to provide an online forum for MEPs and experts to talk about the issues on voters' minds.

Later this week onwards, EU citizens from across the 27 member states can put a question to those running for office via a new YouTube channel called Questions for Europe.

"People want to be on a level playing field with politicians," said YouTube political communications director Aaron Ferstman, noting that politics and the internet provide the "perfect marriage."

He said that the level of politics on YouTube had evolved from the 'gotcha' moments of exposing politicians' slip-ups to become a real political medium.

"What politicians learned is that YouTube was a very powerful tool," he said, with seven of the 16 US presidential candidates using it to announce their campaign.

Mr Obama used the internet more effectively than any other politician in history, inspiring his supporters to build a parallel campaign online—rebutting Obama critcism, posting messages of support and calling on others to use their vote—in addition to the official one.

Bill Echikson, spokesperson for Google (GOOG), YouTube owner, said that in discussions leading up to the Euronews cooperation, they wondered: "could we bring this to Europe?"

Can it be done in Europe

They admit they are not sure what the answer to this question is, with the EU elections taking place across so many countries, involving so many languages and still largely focused on local issues.

Michael Peters, managing director of Euronews, said his organisation was "really curious" about the type of questions it would get, and thought issues such as abortion could become topics debated EU-wide.

The questions themselves, posted via videos on the Euronews website, will be answered either by Euronews journalists themselves, analysts or politicians.

He said he expected the forum to be enthusiastically taken up by eurosceptics, traditionally more active than their europhile peers. "We are waiting for the eurosceptics, please come!"

Mr Ferstner said YouTube would not take any action to make sure there was a balanced representation of both the pro- and the anti-EU camp.

"It's up to the party being silenced out to establish a presence and become more vocal," he pointed out.

He said he had no information on how active EU deputies already are on YouTube but said experience learned from other countries—YouTube has also been a part of political campaigns with media in Spain, Poland, Israel and New Zealand—shows that politicians should upload frequently, particularly in the last few days before poll day.

Some EU politicians are already learning the power of YouTube and the Internet, if only by accident.

Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative MEP, recently gave a speech in the European Parliament strongly criticising prime minister Gordon Brown for his handling of the economic crisis.

It went largely unreported in the UK press but was an instant hit on YouTube where its popularity subsequently led to Mr Hannan being invited as a guest on US talk shows.

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