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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
New look for EU assembly website
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News website

Josep Borrell
There are more pictures of Mr Borrell than some readers may want
The European Parliament is hoping to get closer to citizens with a fresh, new website.

It is a "dynamic and attractive information tool", the press release says, unlike the old site which - it now admits - was just "a collection of databases".

The front page now has "easily digestible, lively" news instead of a set of lists.

"We are not an ivory tower on a mountain peak," says the parliament's Spanish president, Josep Borrell, explaining the change.

"We are an institution that is permanently in touch with the daily lives of EU citizens and we intend to convey this through the new site."

Image problem

The smiling face of Mr Borrell beams out from the site more than is strictly necessary.

Twelve dogs holding newspapers in their mouths
Poster pups: Why 12? One for each star on the EU flag?
But at least it is clear what this image represents and why it is there.

Elsewhere, the designers have dug up images that are, frankly, odd - such as the 12 dogs carrying newspapers in their mouths, on one of the online press releases.

Or the picture of a businessman about to fall off a stepladder as he paints a graph on a wall - used to illustrate a story about economic reform.

The new site comes as the EU makes another attempt to improve its dialogue with citizens, in the wake of the rejection of the constitution by French and Dutch voters earlier this year.

"We have not been efficient enough in communicating the EU. We have not invested enough in listening," Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said in July.

Don't call us

The new website does better at communicating than listening.

As Mr Borrell admits, it lacks an interactive tool enabling readers to post comments.

Man on stepladder, painting graph on wall
Clowning around: Economic reform made "fun"?
One of the obstacles, he points out, is that the website operates in 20 languages, from Estonian to Maltese - but he hints this may be overcome in future.

A quick trip around the site shows that it is packed with information, from a flow-chart illustrating the structure of the parliament secretariat to an explanation of what the College of Quaestors does.

It is also easier to find your MEP than it used to be.

A few clicks and you learn that one of the MEPs for London, Gerard Batten, was formerly a bookbinder and that another, Charles Tannock - "Knight Commander (Commendatore) of the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus of the Italian Dynastic House of Savoy" - will be 48 a week on Sunday.

You can also see their speeches, questions, motions for resolutions and any reports they have presented to parliament.

But one curious feature of the old website is reproduced in the new one - you still do not get MEPs' phone numbers, only their faxes.

Here is a secret they do not publicise. All MEPs' fax numbers, in their Brussels offices, begin +322 284 9***; their telephone numbers are identical, except for that 9 after the 284, which must be changed into a 5.

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