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5th Mar 2021

Year's delay for Commission paper on communicating with citizens

  • Jean-Claude Juncker is the latest president of the European Commission trying to bring Europe closer to citizens (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has had to postpone publication of a strategy paper on communicating with EU citizens by a year - due to other political priorities.

According to the commission's work programme for 2019, presented last week, the paper is now scheduled for the second quarter of 2019.

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  • A banner outside the European Commission's Berlaymont building in 2014, promoting the European Parliament elections. 42 percent of citizens say they are not interested in the May 2019 election (Photo: European Commission)

The commission's work programme for 2018 had planned the document's publication for the second quarter of 2018.

"The commission work programme always gives indicative timings for planned initiatives, and these can of course change according to political priorities and current developments," a commission spokeswoman told EUobserver in an emailed statement on Tuesday (30 October).

The strategy paper is, confusingly, called: 'Communication on how to make the Union more united, stronger and more democratic in communication terms'.

The confusing title is caused because 'communication' is both EU jargon for the type of document, as well as the topic of the planned paper.

The non-binding 'communication' is a regular means by which the commission shapes debates, lays down options for legislation as well as long-term goals.

This year alone, the commission has already published 97 'communications'.

The commission spokeswoman could not yet reveal much about what will be in the strategy paper.

"It is too early to prejudge the content of the communication in detail," she said.

"The intention is to review the practices of the past five years and to analyse challenges and opportunities for EU institutional communication in the future, taking into account the fast-evolving media landscape and communication culture in Europe," she added.

Asked for the reason of the one-year postponement, she referred to "the work on other urgent issues in the past months", listing the 2021-2027 EU budget, as well as other measures on migration, border control, and fighting terrorist content online as examples.

"There is also an obvious link with the 10th political priority of this commission – democratic change – which makes it all the more pertinent to publish it closer to the European elections in May 2019," she said.

'Remote' EU

Ever since its inception, European integration was faced with legitimacy issues.

Already in 2001 the commission wrote in a white paper about the "gap" between European citizens and policymakers in Brussels.

"Many people are losing confidence in a poorly understood and complex system to deliver the policies that they want. The Union is often seen as remote and at the same time too intrusive," the commission document said.

"Democratic institutions and the representatives of the people, at both national and European levels, can and must try to connect Europe with its citizens," the commission said 17 years ago – a message that is as valid in 2018 as it was in 2001.

There are some positive signs.

According to a recently published Eurobarometer survey, 46 percent of respondents said their voice did not count in the EU. This was the first time since 2004 that more respondents (48 percent) agreed than disagreed with the statement "My voice counts in the EU".

However, in the same survey 42 percent of citizens in the 27 countries that will remain in the EU post-Brexit said they were not interested in the 2019 European Parliament elections.

Jean-Claude Juncker is the latest EU commission president to try to close the gap between citizens and 'Europe', since November 2014. Wednesday (31 October) will mark the day that there is one year left in Juncker's term.

Days after he took office in the Berlaymont building in Brussels, Juncker sent a document to commission staff – a 'communication' to be precise.

In that communication, Juncker wrote that the 28 EU commissioners – known collectively as the college – are "the public faces of the institution".

"Their success in terms of media and public perception depends on their ability to communicate convincingly on a large number of issues in all member states and to be seen as a strong team contributing positively to the achievement of the key objectives and priorities of the commission as a whole," the commission president wrote.

The 2014 document also said that the commission spokespersons service should ensure "media coverage of the commission through a pro-active strategy focused on the main political messages as defined by the college".

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