Monday

27th Jun 2022

Opinion

TTIP: Winning the regulatory battle, losing the communications war

  • The number of ‘neutral’ stakeholders is shrinking (Photo: zoetnet)

Debate on major policy issues is not about black and white arguments where the “true” one wins. Discuss food safety or the quality of democracy and there will be strong views on each side.

The art of persuasion blends with the art of political campaigning. It’s frustrating to see how most supporters of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the free trade agreement and regulatory cooperation between the EU and the US, forget this.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

TTIP itself is no small issue: it has the potential to increase GDP on both sides of the Atlantic by 0.5 percent, create hundreds of thousands of jobs and make the transatlantic alliance a global standard-setter for chemicals, cars, air quality and so much more.

A neat idea. But as things stand it will die before it’s born.

In the anti-free trade camp, a campaign group has created a populistic yet highly visual and easy-to-understand video featuring well-tested fear buttons (chlorine chicken, states overruled by shady courts etc.)

On the pro side, European Commissioners have written in The Guardian that “[t]he European Commission that took office at the beginning of November has two overriding priorities: jobs and growth. In pursuit of those goals, increased trade is a no-brainer.”

You can read that as “how dare you not support our goals”. How exactly will this win over the undecided, let alone opponents?

Messages

Increasing outreach and multiplying the channels through which the Commission, private companies, institutions or individuals who support TTIP, speak, will not do the trick. What might though, is when the content and quality of the messages are radically rethought.

Advocating for, or campaigning against free trade is an important part of anyone’s identity and political conviction. Therefore rational, cold and distant arguments like GDP growth will fall flat.

Messages, not arguments, must be created. Made to Stick says it all: any message that wants to be memorable should be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional…and be a story.

The chlorine chicken approach certainly ticks many of these boxes but would often be dismissed by corporate communicators as populistic, inaccurate and missing the point.

All of that is probably true. But how does anyone expect active support for TTIP by promoting it with the worst gobbledygook you can find, such as “economy of scale”, “cutting back customs tarriffs”, “helping emerging economies” and contributing to “jobs and growth”?

Where are the numbers, the life-like examples, the inspiring stories or outrageous frustrations? Where is that family business in Italy who have been making mozzarella for centuries but are virtually banned from exporting to the US due to “regulatory burdens”?

Surely the pro camp have better arguments than “forg[ing] new economic opportunities that will sustain and grow jobs in the face of significant global challenges”?

Increasing the transparency of the negotiations and giving access to documents is a good step in gaining credibility – though the business-sceptical NGOs are never going to be satisfied anyway. That’s fine.

Just like a political campaign, those favouring TTIP must speak first and foremost to those ‘on the fence’, not the solid supporters of the opposition party. The problem is that the number of ‘neutral’ stakeholders is shrinking at an alarming rate, as the communications vacuum is continously filled by the opponents of TTIP.

And when TTIP supporters do speak, a 12-page official document is not going to be effective. The message needs to be condensed into digestible chunks.

Myths

Debunking myths is tricky territory. First, it’s worth reading the Debunking Handbook, especially the part on how not to repeat distortions or lies in your efforts to bring the truth to light.

Tackling TTIP communication as an exercise in attitude change will be much more effective than putting forward dry numbers and figures hoping these will win over hearts and minds.

And finally, remember that you are talking to real people with fears, hopes and aspirations; they are the voters that Members of the European Parliament represent, and they are the ones ultimately benefiting from the deal - as long as you can convince them.

Andras Baneth is managing director of the Public Affairs Council’s European office and a strategic communications expert. This article represents his personal views.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

How to enhance EU cybersecurity

The Hungarian hacking allowed Russian intelligence to read 'over the shoulder' of an EU member state for an extended period of time. The difficulty for the EU is that it's not one nation, but a combination of 27 cybersecurity policies.

Competing options for EU enlargement

We now have French president Emmanuel Macron's "European Political Community", European Council president Charles Michel's "European Geopolitical Community", and former Italian PM Enrico Letta's "European Confederation" — among others.

Column

China's support for Russia challenges Europe's Peace Order

China's soft support to Russia is deeply troubling for Europe. Here is the EU's biggest trading partner signalling that it is on the side of Russia, its aggression, and its challenge to the post-war international order.

Sturgeon's 2023 'referendum' gamble for Scotland

The independence campaign launch featured a new Scottish government report, comparing the UK's economic and social record with those of other European states — and arguing, unsurprisingly, that Scotland should be independent as a result.

News in Brief

  1. Possible terror attack halts gay pride in Norway
  2. Belgian PM: Gas shortage requires joint response
  3. Bulgarian MPs set conditions for lifting enlargement veto
  4. Latvia: We need a brigade-size Nato force to 'feel safe'
  5. Deal reached on controversial energy treaty reform
  6. EU carbon emissions from energy up 6% in 2021
  7. Germany step closer to gas rationing
  8. Albania: EU 'disgrace' at lack of enlargement progress

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. EU summit's uncertainty in the face of economic war
  2. Next winter's gas looms large at EU summer summit
  3. Ukraine becomes EU candidate after 120 days of war
  4. How to enhance EU cybersecurity
  5. Competing options for EU enlargement
  6. MEPs demand to exit 'ecocide treaty' after reforms 'fail'
  7. Finland optimistic in Turkey talks over Nato
  8. Hungary's global-tax veto seen as 'blackmail'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us