20th Jan 2020

Brussels ups battle for better EU communication

  • It is a "major" but "realistic" policy, says Ms Wallstrom (Photo: European Community, 2006)

The European Commission will on Wednesday (3 October) publish an overhaul of its communications strategy, representing a substantial rethink after years of turning a blind eye to the impact of EU policies on citizens.

Communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom aims to move from the current "totally ad hoc" approach to "creating political ownership" for what Europe stands for.

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One of the basic proposals in the strategy is to get both MEPs and member states to agree on communication priorities each year - until now Brussels' approach to communication has been piecemeal and fragmented.

According to Ms Wallstrom, common issues for next year could include climate change, energy, communicating the new Reform Treaty and mobilising voters for the 2009 elections.

Ideally the Swedish politician would like to see average turnout for the European elections in two years time of "over 50 percent" - as a result of her new communications policy.

It is currently around 45% on average and reached only around 30 percent in some member states in 2004, when the last European elections took place.

Ms Wallstrom proposes beefing up EU representations in the member states – making them more than just "storage for brochures"; setting up European political foundations and developing a new internet strategy to promote debate about Europe among citizens.

The move comes as a fresh survey by Tomorrow's Europe shows that 87.9% of Europeans have either "never" or only "just a few times" discussed EU matters with citizens from other EU countries.

But despite talk at many levels about the need for better communication, something that became a hot Brussels topic after the shock EU constitution 'No' votes in France and the Netherlands in 2005, the EU's next treaty is not set to be its best example of transparency.

A mini treaty

Likely to be agreed by the end of this year, the new Reform Treaty is a dense maze of protocols, footnotes and cross-referencing and is likely to remain a mystery for most EU citizens.

Responding to this criticism, Ms Wallstrom says she will produce a "consolidated version" that "will be more accessible."

The commission version would "focus on content" and "what it means for citizens."

But there is a limit to what the commission can do without a legal basis for communication.

Ms Wallstrom would like an article "acknowledging the citizens' right to information" written into the new treaty.

She pressed for one during a treaty meeting last month but admits she is unlikely to get anywhere.

Without it she says, the commission will continue to remain open to charges of "EU propaganda."

However, her paper does press member states to do more to teach people about the European Union.

"Young people at school should learn the basic facts about the EU," says the paper.

"We are just pointing it out [in the communications strategy]," says the commissioner, noting that education remains a national issue.

Proper education would stop the "blame game" of national ministers holding Brussels responsible for unpopular decisions while taking credit for popular EU decisions, believes Ms Wallstrom.

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