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28th May 2016

Focus

Populist MEPs lead Twitter ranking

  • The most popular politicians online are not necessarily the ones doing the most work in the EP (Photo: Tom Raftery)

European citizens are due to elect a new European Parliament in less than two weeks. With two-thirds of MEPs on Twitter, part of the election is being fought on social media.

The number of tweeting MEPs has risen sharply in recent years. In 2011, 34 percent of EU deputies used the site, according to lobbying firm Fleischman-Hillard.

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By mid-April this year, 68 percent (520 out of 766) of MEPs had a twitter account and had used it.

A ranking of followers' statistics on Twitter makes it possible to compare the popularity of MEPs. Marine Le Pen, president of the French far-right National Front, is at the top.

With 281,000 followers by 14 May, she easily beats her French compatriot Jean-Luc Melenchon, co-chairman of the far-left Left Party (202,000 followers).

Eurosceptics are well represented in the Twitter top 10. Aside from Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, who once noted that being in the EP was "depressing", there is Ukip leader Nigel Farage. The British populist, who wants his country to withdraw from the EU, comes in at number three with 128,000 followers.

Eva Joly, a Norwegian-born French magistrate and MEP for the Greens, is number four, with 106,000 followers, and is neck-and-neck with European Parliament President and social democrat Martin Schulz (105,000 followers).

There are several French MEPs in the top 10 because they are active in national politics – the three most popular ran for the French presidency in 2012.

Popularity on Twitter does not, however, necessarily result from hard parliamentary work.

Data from Votewatch Europe, a group which monitors voting, shows that the most popular politicians online often do not show up in the European Parliament.

Twitter's top four (Le Pen, Melenchon, Farage and Joly) are among the 50 most absent MEPs during "roll-call votes".

But some passionate believers in the European Union are popular on Twitter too.

Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek, a former EP president, and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the outgoing Franco-German Green leader in parliament, rank sixth and seventh on the social media site.

Meanwhile, Rachida Dati, the former minister of justice in France, ranks eight on the most-followed MEPs on Twitter. Relatively unknown former Italian TV journalist David Sassoli comes in at number nine, while Harlem Desir, a French junior minister on EU affairs, is number 10.

Although MEPs have a large target audience, this is not always reflected in numbers.

More than 200 MEPs reach less than 1,000 followers. Just over 900 follow Herbert Reul, the powerful chief of the German Christian Democrats in the European Parliament.

French deputy Joseph Daul, president of the European People's Party and their leader in parliament, ranks around 200, with only 3,000 followers.

All Slovenian MEPs tweet

The intensity of Twitter use also varies widely.

On the question of who really writes what, only a few MEPs, such as France's Melenchon, admit in their profile that their assistants manage their Twitter accounts.

Meanwhile, the record for the most tweets is held by Dutch liberal MEP Marietje Schaake.

The liberal politician has already sent more than 35,000 messages. By contrast, the activity of dozens of MEPs is limited to a handful of tweets.

More than 20 deputies wrote their first tweet only in the last six months, such as Belgian MEP Marianne Thyssen, who announced in November: "Today I leave the era of the old Belgians. From now on you can also find me on Twitter."

Slovenia is the only member state whose MEPs are all active on Twitter. Finnish, Croatian and Swedish MEPs are very active too.

Remarkably low are the German MEPs' Twitter statistics. Only half of them tweet at all. Hungarian politicians are among the last to adopt Twitter. At the moment less than one quarter use the social medium.

EU commission: active but unpopular

The European Commission also communicates with European citizens through Twitter. The majority of commissioners – 24 of 28 (86%) – have a Twitter account.

The Netherlands' Neelie Kroes, responsible for the digital agenda, is the most popular commissioner. With over 100,000 followers, Kroes is just ahead of commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele comes in third among his peers.

Some EU commissioners have strikingly few followers given the importance of their portfolios.

Some 11,000 people follow the Twitter account of energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger, while his competition colleague, Joaquin Almunia, has around 3,000. Just to compare: French president Francois Hollande's personal account has 637,000 followers.

"The commission's efforts on social media cannot be measured in terms of absolute numbers only," says commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva.

"Twitter is one part of communication activities pursued by EU commissioners and their teams. They also use other communication tools."

She pointed to EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos, who is not on Twitter but has an active Facebook page. "Communicating with citizens is not just about Twitter," she said.

A ranking of the 200 most followed MEPs by mid-April was compiled by Belgian journalist Lukas Vanacker

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