Thursday

21st Feb 2019

Brussels struggles with communication policy

  • Brussels is still unsure how to get its message across to ordinary people (Photo: European Commission)

Despite years of trying, Brussels is no closer to working out how to effectively communicate with EU citizens and bridge a gap that sees low voter turnout for the European elections and a largely disaffected public.

Luis Herrero-Tejedor, a Spanish conservative MEP who deals with the bloc's communication policy in the culture committee, said he has heard the same arguments and the same proposals for the past nine years.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"Absolutely nothing has changed," he said after listening to a special hearing on the ‘effectiveness of the EU's communication policy' in the European Parliament on Tuesday (8 May).

Outside experts from PR firms addressed the hearing to try and inject some professionalism into the debate and take away the navel-gazing aspect of the discussion.

Speaking in the jargon of the marketing professionals, they said that Brussels must define "exact target groups" and "tailor" its message to its audience.

Nicole Hebert from Associé said it is time to stop thinking of the European citizen as a homogenous body but rather as "multi-faceted individuals."

Too much marketing

EU communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom rejected their overtly marketing-based approach as being too facile.

"This is different from advertising or selling socks," she said noting that "it presents the ultimate challenge" as the commission struggles to disseminate accurate information in the 23 official languages on issues ranging from the number of cod in the Baltic sea, to aid in Africa through to explaining what the different institutions do.

She was backed up by Alejo Vidal-Quadras, responsible for the parliament's communication's policy, who said "we sell values" and that "we want to create European citizens."

While it has long been acknowledged that citizens feel removed from Brussels, communications issues only made it on the commission's top agenda in the wake of the political upheaval following the rejection of the constitution in two founding EU member states two years ago.

But still Ms Wallstrom, the first ever communications commissioner, says there is not enough money for her to do her job properly.

"We can talk about this until we are blue in the face [but] we need more resources," she said with a small €86.5 million put aside for communication purposes last year.

She asked MEPs, who are in charge of the bloc's purse strings, whether they really knew how many people and how much effort it took to get something up on the commission's website within a certain period of time and in all languages.

Aside from the money aspect, she believes the EU has to get more political and be controversial.

A dose of controversy

Controversy and diversity have "such a vital role to play," said the commissioner, who recently stirred the Brussels pot by openly supporting French presidential candidate Segolene Royal in her blog.

She also said that the communications policy needs a programme with "political ownership" with member states and the commission not always singing from the same hymn sheet on promoting Brussels.

Taking an example the commissioner pointed out that EU information offices were only last year opened in the UK while in some member states "you can go through school without learning anything about the European Union."

The commission itself is to publish proposals on how to communicate the EU better before the summer. The paper is expected to contain ideas on education, what the commission can do with its own audio-visual set-up as well as how to strengthen links with national parliaments.

The proposals will come just a short two years before the next European elections with MEPs anxious to avoid a repetition of 2004 which saw record low turnouts, particularly in the brand new member states to the east.

Investigation

EU commission appeals Dieselgate ruling

The Court of Justice of the EU annulled legislation which relaxed toxic emission limits for cars. EU commissioner Bienkowska said the commission will appeal.

EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news

The European Commission has branded the latest campaign by the Hungarian government as 'fake news', after Orban's government accused Juncker of pressing ahead with migration proposals that threaten the country's security.

EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news

The European Commission has branded the latest campaign by the Hungarian government as 'fake news', after Orban's government accused Juncker of pressing ahead with migration proposals that threaten the country's security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. EU commission appeals Dieselgate ruling
  2. 'No burning crisis' on migrant arrivals, EU agency says
  3. 'No evidence' ECB bond-buying helped euro economy
  4. Juncker: Orban should leave Europe's centre-right
  5. College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties
  6. EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news
  7. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  8. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us