15th Jul 2020


Communicating Europe together

  • Ms Wallstrom - the EU needs to talk better with citizens (Photo: European Community, 2006)

For a number of years, European politicians have been facing up to the serious problem of disconnection of European citizens from decision-making at EU-level.

In the media it has surfaced from time to time, when turnout is low in European elections, or when a majority in a member state reject a treaty their government has signed up to.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

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

... or subscribe as a group

After some obligatory handwringing, the issue has been dropped, and everyone in national capitals and in Brussels, has largely gone back to business as usual.

Unfortunately, in practice, this has often meant playing the blame game. When an EU policy is popular, it can be presented as a national achievement, and when it is unpopular, it is easy to blame Brussels.

Each time this happens, the result is a greater disconnection between the decisions of the EU and the understanding of those decisions by most Europeans.

But in today's world, we can no longer afford the luxury of this way of working. If we need the EU to deal with the global challenges we face in these uncertain times, all involved in EU decision-making have a responsibility to discuss, inform and explain the issues in a way that does not undermine the very political structure we have set up to address them.

If people are not adequately informed, in a language they understand, about the issues and policies their governments and representatives are signing up to, then we risk generating a crisis of legitimacy.

Part of the problem is that there has been no real forum to address the issue in a concerted way. From time to time, there has been a lunch of European ministers to look at communication policy, but there has been nothing systematic, little follow up and no basis for concrete collaboration such as a Council decision.

Of course it is a deeply sensitive matter since all institutions and the member states will always rightly guard their right to communicate independently. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, the message grows in political importance.

Making a little bit of history

Three years ago, after the French and Dutch no votes, the European Commission started looking at ways of addressing this.

We began by looking at ways we could work with the European Parliament, through our offices in the member states, and then we began to develop individual partnerships with member states. But we still needed some kind of joint commitment at the highest levels, a way to breathe political life into the efforts and goodwill of those working on the ground.

In the last few months, thanks to the commitment of the French presidency and the political will of the parliament, we have reached an agreement.

In Strasbourg this week, a little bit of history will be made. Together with vice-president Vidal Quadras of the European Parliament, and French secretary of state Jean-Pierre Jouyet, I have signed a joint declaration on communicating Europe in partnership.

The text will commit all our institutions, and the EU's member states, to working together in planning and prioritising how we communicate Europe to citizens.

With united efforts we will shift the communication focus from institutions to citizens, from monologue to dialogue, from history to the future and from Brussels to Brno.

Of course it does not mean that we will end the blame game overnight. But it is an important start, and it will strengthen all of us as we work to encourage participation in next year's European elections, or to explain the EU's role in the fight against climate change as the world moves towards deciding the post-Kyoto framework next year or efforts to cooperate to ease the financial crisis.

The agreement is a joint recognition that communicating Europe is now a primary task for the EU.

Margot Wallström is Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for communication


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

Brussels to educate Ireland on EU realities

The European Commission plans to help the Irish government communicate "Europe" better to citizens after June's shock No vote on the Lisbon treaty, with a new inter-institutional agreement to pull together the PR efforts of the main EU institutions.


Four tweets broke Facebook - good news for EU regulators

Facebook PR chief Nick Clegg tried to make us believe that it is comparable to a phone company. Nothing could be further from the truth. His company decides which messages users see. It literally "ranks" content.

Good news on the European Citizens' Initiative

Although slightly elaborate, the Citizens' Initiative is an important instrument to boost popular participation in the EU legislative process, as well as to engage citizens in the policy making process of the Union.

Italy has a responsibility, too

Little wonder the leaders of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden are unwilling to sign off: they're not going to give money so the Italians can fund a tax cut in the middle of an economic crisis.

News in Brief

  1. EU Commission loses case against Apple tax-ruling
  2. EU drops environmental rules to speed Covid-19 vaccine
  3. MEPs close gap between lab and real car-emission tests
  4. Serbia and Montenegro off EU's safe travel list
  5. Saudi millions put Spanish royal family in spotlight
  6. EU says no state aid to tax-haven linked firms
  7. First elections in North Macedonia since name change
  8. Protests in Belarus after Lukashenko challengers barred

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Orban raises summit stakes with 'blackmail' conditions
  2. Antwerp's Uigher refugee from China: where's my family?
  3. UK bans Huawei from 5G network in major U-turn
  4. Four tweets broke Facebook - good news for EU regulators
  5. Good news on the European Citizens' Initiative
  6. EU prepares response to China over Hong Kong
  7. EU to keep corporate sponsorship of presidencies
  8. 'Passengers' became 'lenders' to airlines hit by pandemic

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us