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Life hacking EU websites to find relevant information – my #h4t contribution

Image by Franco Follini - Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0

Given that from what I see the EU Hackathon this week wasn’t really (meant to be) a contribution to more EU transparency, I thought I’d do a little life hack of EU institutions’ websites as my contribution outside the competition. These examples show how Google or other special searches can make your life much – or at least a little – easier when trying to find relevant information in the messy or hard to use maze of EU websites.

Example 1: Finding Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)

a) Usual way of finding the page of an MEP on the EP website: Go to the Europarl website. Click on “Your MEPs” in the top menu. Chose “By name” in the menu on the left. What you get there is a search where you can only search for surnames. Just remember the first name of an MEP? – No chance.

b) Life hack with Google search: Search for full names, like EP president “Jerzy Buzek“. Search for first names, like “Jerzy“. Search for a second name, like “Weber” in combination with “Germany”. Now just replace the names in each search with whatever name you are looking fore.

Example 2: What was on the Commission’s agenda?

a) Usual way of finding recent topics on the Commission’s agenda: Go the Commission website. Choose “The European Commission at work” in the “About the Commission” box. Click on “Weekly Commission meetings” in the “Day-to-day” column. Find the “agenda of the next Commission meeting” link in the text. Select the year “2011” – and there you’ve got the list of all Commission agendas of 2011 in PDF format. Now go through each of the documents to see what was on the agenda.

b) Life hack with Google search: Search for a subject like “agriculture” in all 2011 agendas. Or search for the “Single Market Act” in all agendas (since 2002). Or maybe you want to search for the agenda of “26 April 2005” (note: Commission usually meets on Wednesdays). Or the agenda of the 1870th meeting of the Commission. Just replace the topics, date, number in the search to find what you are looking for.

Example 3: Finding topics in EU Council agendas

a) Usual way of finding topics in past EU Council agendas: The most intuitive way would be to first go to the Council website. One would click on the button “Council Meetings” and one would be confronted with a list of several hundred meeting boxes each of which contains a link “agenda” that would need to be checked to find relevant topics. However, these agendas are “press agendas”, less technical maybe but sometimes lacking import details like document references. And the press area agendas end with 2006.

b) Alternative way of finding topics in past EU Council agendas: On the Council website, one would choose the top menu “Documents“. There one finds the link “Agendas of meetings of Council preparatory bodies“. On the next page there is a link to “the Council of the European Union“, where one can find all the full agendas going back to 1999. In order to find a subject therein without search, one needs to open every individual file.

c) Life hack with Google search: Actually, Google isn’t that helpful in this case, at least I couldn’t figure out a good way to search for topics with the agendas provided in the press area. The Council’s document design and storage is too messy for a simple Google search.

d) Life hack with the advanced Council document search: Actually, the last link in (b) is already a hidden life hack using the Council’s document search. However, in order to find topics in Council agendas, the document search needs to be refined:

On the Council website, one would choose the top menu “Documents“. In the blue top box there is the link “Access to Council documents: Public Register“. Usually the simple search should be enough. Insert “OJ CONS” (stands for Council agendas) into the field “Subject matter” and then put any search term like “Single Market Act” into the field “Words in Text” and search now. Note: The option “Date of meeting” is useless because most agendas are not tagged accordingly. If you want to find a meeting in a specific period (or a topic on the agendas of this period), use the advanced search, do as before but work with the the option “Document date” instead of “Meeting date”. Note that documents are usually issued some days (or even weeks) ahead, so don’t limit your time periods too much.

Example 4: Finding European Parliament Library Briefings

See my post on European Parliament Library Briefings.

Now, these were only some examples of life hacking EU websites. Finding EU information and documents, especially filtering the masses of information, often needs a little creativity. And I’m sure one can come up with even more ideas – would be glad hearing yours!

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