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article imageFrench Socialists catch the Twitterbug

By Michael Cosgrove     Jul 21, 2010 in Technology
Twitter has finally seduced French politicians, and yesterday’s use of the microblogging service during what was supposed to be an off-limits-to-press-and-public debate on controversial retirement reform plans caused eyebrows to raise.
The non-use of Twitter during important private parliamentary meetings in France had been the norm until yesterday, but all that changed when the opposition Socialist group finally decided to use it to relay what was happening during a crucial debate.
The UMP majority party, having decided that the meeting of the French Social Affairs Committee convened to discuss proposed retirement legislation would be closed to the press and the public, decided in turn to counter-attack by using Twitter to break the silence in real time.
Besides, they could claim that the UMP had started the trend seeing as UMP member Lionel Tardy had already been rebuked for his Twitting activities during the parliamentary audition of Jean-Pierre Escalettes, the ex-president of the French Football Association who resigned at the end of June following France’s World Cup fiasco.
Thus it was that yesterday witnessed a determined Socialist opposition campaign to the UMP’s closed-doors decision, much to the delight of both press and other observers who naturally picked up everything that was twitted. A breathless Gaëtan Gorce, Socialist Deputy for the Niévre, announced proudly that “I have discovered the tool needed to transmit details of the commission debate of the retirement law.”
Few Socialists are known to use Twitter, and despite their status of Neophyte Twitters, the Socialists did what can only be described as a thorough job, not missing the least event, or non-event. So Eric Woerth, the Minister who is piloting the law, is late? The intrepid Jean-Marc Ayrault jumps on it, twitting “Woerth, absent, is asked to respect parliament and ordered to get here by the commission.” The highly-assiduous Parisian Deputy Sandrine Mazetier relates a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings and rejected Socialist amendment proposals and she courageously denounces the Minister’s attitude. “Great start, I don’t think. Woerth has improvised a pressconf in the commission chamber whereas the meeting is supposed to be private.”
Even though Twitter’s message length (140 characters) doesn’t allow long analysis of what was being said, some deputies did manage to express their sentiments. “A debate in a bizarre atmosphere” wrote Claude Bartelone, and in a lyrical turn of phrase, he announced that “It’s true of course that on the Titanic the orchestra played until the last moment.” A great romance writer in the making if ever I saw one.
Criticisms were rife of course. “A debate on retirement reform in the finance commission: such a lack of preparation” sighed ex-minister Pierre Moscovici.
At least one Socialist did respect the traditions however. The politically-correct action of Gaëtan Gorce deserves a mention here. In answer to a question by a colleague, he twitted “Concerning myself, I’d like to say that I’m leaving the chamber to relate the events and to protest this closed-door censorship.”
But at the end of the day, no-one was caught twitting or reprimanded, indicating that the Socialists may finally have mastered the fine art of twitting unnoticed.
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(This article was adapted by Michael Cosgrove from the original French version in le Figaro and both were published on the Figaro website today July 21 2010, the English version being in the paper's Figaro in English section.)
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