Inside the EU Commission Twittersphere

Getting European commissioners to march in unison isn’t always easy, but when it comes to Twitter, at least, members of the College know very well how to play “follow the leader.”

According to a POLITICO analysis of Commission Twitter accounts, all 26 commissioners follow @vonderleyen — their boss, President Ursula von der Leyen. Such a unanimous following is matched only by First Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans, the polyglot Dutchman who is leading the EU’s Green Deal initiative. 

At the other end of the spectrum, only seven commissioners follow their newest colleague, Mairead McGuinness of Ireland, despite the fact that she had been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 (and first vice-president of that institution since 2017). It is evidence, perhaps, of executive exceptionalism and the general disregard for Parliament that MEPs often gripe about.

McGuinness, who was only confirmed on October 7, may yet build a following. But her Maltese colleague, the equality commissioner Helena Dalli, is clearly struggling, followed by an unlucky 13 of her counterparts. 

Twitter metrics are hardly definitive scientific proof of anything, especially with bots, trolls and other mischief-making manipulators out there. But scanned, crunched and dissected among a limited set of Brussels-based users, the numbers provide an interesting window into the online habits and habitats of EU power players. 

POLITICO’s analysis, no surprise, found that Globish — the stilted bureaucratic English that is the lingua franca of Brussels — is also the Twitter tongue of choice for commissioners, with 78.9 percent of their tweets appearing in English. French is in distant second place, with 5.3 percent of tweets, followed by Italian, Polish and German. 

According to the analysis, which used all tweets put out between December 1 last year when the Commission took office and October 3, Von der Leyen is not the most prolific Twitter user in the College. The prize goes to Janusz Wojciechowski, the Polish agriculture commissioner. But the president, unsurprisingly, is the most effective user of the platform with a stunning 1,753 interactions (likes and retweets) for each tweet she fires out. That’s more than double her closest competitor, Economy Commissioner and former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. 

Wojciechowski, for all of his tweeting, makes little impact, with just 38 interactions per tweet. Only Dubravka Šuica, the Croatian commissioner for democracy and demography, makes less of a mark, with just 25 interactions per tweet. 

The agriculture commissioner, though, cannot be accused of neglecting his area of responsibility while on the social media platform. Of his top five tweets in terms of interactions, three concern when is the best time of day for farmers to harvest grain (if there is no dew on the fields after dusk, Wojciechowski recommends harvesting at night).

When it comes to keeping up with the news, the commissioners have impeccable taste: Nineteen of them follow @POLITICOEurope — the top-ranked media account — while 15 follow @TheEconomist; and 12 each follow @FT and @nytimes. As for politicians generally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not on Twitter, proving exactly why she would be No. 1 if she were. And the world’s loudest and most infamous Twitter user, U.S. President Donald Trump, doesn’t even rank among the top 15 follows for EU commissioners, proving how Washington’s star has fallen in recent years (just seven of them follow the U.S. Twitterer-in-chief and von der Leyen isn’t one of them.)

Among politicians, French President Emmanuel Macron ranks No. 1, with 22 followers in the Commission. Former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, each have 19, while European Council President Charles Michel has 18. In yet another show of executive exceptionalism, all 27 commissioners follow @EU_Commission, while 25 follow Michel’s @eucopresident; and 23 follow @EP_President, the account of Parliament President David Sassoli. 

Take a run through the numbers, and tell us what you think. Don’t forget to share this intro with your followers, and tweet your comments at @POLITICOEurope.

Check the full analysis of each Commissioner’s Twitter bubble in detail.

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