Monday, October 25, 2004

Can EU hear me?

For over a year now, three organisations, the Friends of Europe (Brussels' liveliest think-tank), EurActiv and Gallup Europe, have been pondering on why the EU is so unpopular, and seeking ideas of how it could improve its image.

Amongst other thing, it conducted a detailed survey of 3,500 “opinion formers” including, I have to admit, myself. However, as to the question on how the EU could improve its image, it clearly did not appreciate my response, which was along the lines of “abolish itself”.

Instead, the triumvirate have published a 35-page report which it has now distilled down into what it claims are "ten key recommendations" to assist Margot Wallström in her new role of communications commissioner.

It suggests that Wallström should visit all member states during the first six months of her term "to listen to citizens' views of the EU, find local supporters and beneficiaries of EU integration and meet national media representatives and leading policiticians."

She should promote the benefits of EU membership by researching and professionally communicating the advantages for citizens of their country belonging to the EU. Furthermore, popular 'good-will ambassadors' should be employed to promote the benefits of Europe.

The triumvirate also offer Wallström the advice that she should keep the message simple by cutting back on boring detail. She should encourage the media to report on political differences at EU level and react more quickly to events by setting up an EU newsroom to feed international media with up-to-date footage on EU developments.

And, of course, from the school of the fully paid-up jolly, she should invite journalists to Brussels for intensive training courses on EU reporting. She should establish better contacts with national and regional media and streamline the EU's communication and reporting structure by getting institutions to co-operate more closely and cutting down on administrative hurdles.

Finally, it argues that the commission should adopt a decentralised approach by making national governments responsible for communicating EU policies and setting up "Communications Task Forces" at member state level.

Actually, these seem somewhat more than ten points but, whatever the number, they are so pedestrian that one wonders why the triumvirate bothered. Clearly, the group has very little idea how to deal with the issue they are addressing. One wonders, for instance, what Wallström can achieve from a whirlwind tour of the all the member states in six months – one every week - and how many "citizens' views" she could actually hear in that time, just supposing she ever got near a "real" citizen.

But, if there was needed a demonstration of how wide the gulf has become, and quite how impossible Wallström’s task actually is, one need only refer to the original report. In a puff for the Friends of Europe, at the end, it shows a photograph of a banquet scene where the assembled masses are huddled together in the main room of what is clearly a spacious hall, while the "great and the good" are not only at the "top table" but are on a raised stage and separated by a balustrade.

Says it all.

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