EU communication remains an 'ongoing challenge'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Sep 30 13:08:11 UTC 2007

EU communication remains an 'ongoing challenge'
Published: Tuesday 25 September 2007

Green MEP Helga Trüpel talks about the ongoing challenge of
communicating EU policies, the different views among the institutions
over a joint approach and how to ultimately win the hearts and minds
of EU citizens. Helga Trüpel is a member of the Green group in the
European Parliament. She is currently Vice-Chairwoman of the
Parliament's Committee on Culture and Education and a member of the
Committee on Budgets.  To read a shortened version of this interview,
please click here.

Do you think that the Commission's review of its communication
strategy goes far enough? Will it be enough to win over the hearts and
minds of European citizens?
Unfortunately it seems as though Parliament, the Commission and member
states have quite different views on what a joint approach to
communication policy implies. Every institution prefers to stick to
its own powers instead of pooling their abilities together. I was -
and am - in favour of a legal basis for communication policy because
this is the only way to provide for a sustainable means to act on the
ground, but apparently too many of my colleagues are afraid of that.

However, we should not lose sight of what communication policy
effectively means. What we have been discussing over the past two
years has been the instruments of communication. But even the best
instruments cannot help if the content is imperfect. The fact that we
have a clearly under-funded Union, a Reform Treaty weak in ambition
and recent legislation (services directive, REACH) that leaves too
many questions in the blue is no help in creating "good" communication
- and winning the hearts and minds of citizens.

Is the timing not a bit late considering that institutional reform is
already underway, with the new Treaty largely agreed upon by EU

The new instruments prepared and proposed by the Commission are
complementary to the efforts of a new Treaty. Ideally they are
established for its introduction but communicating EU policies in the
right way will be an ongoing challenge, in particular with the new
powers conferred to the Union.

Is there a risk that the EU will pay less attention to connecting with
its citizens, once it has overcome its constitutional crisis, which
had originally triggered the "Plan D" exercise?

I hope not but there is obviously a danger that this could happen.
However, the biggest challenges to a serious information policy remain
institutional: On the one hand we can expect progress because the
European Parliament will be strengthened and therefore its role in
bringing decisions into the public sphere will be too. At the same
time, the Council is still not truly open. Which national public or
parliament is really following the moves of its government in
secretive Council horse-trading?

Which channels of communication do you think are best suited to
reaching out to EU citizens? Do you think that the Commission's
EU-Tube has been a success so far?

There are clearly different channels for different objectives. We all
know that the local newspaper has by far the widest outreach to
citizens but it is not so easy to present often complex EU topics in
this forum. From my own experience I can also see that "meeting
people" is a very effective way. This exercise is currently only (and
surely not yet sufficiently) done by MEPs.

Activities like EU-Tube are a good PR stunt and can reach out to
groups that we do not reach every day. I have also proposed a project
called EuroGlobe which will start at the beginning of next year. It is
a moving stage for communication in which culture, education and
politics meet and discuss European issues.

Where do you draw the line between a good communication strategy and a
PR exercise? How can the objectivity of the information distributed be

You can never grant total objectivity when communicating politics.
Pretending to do so is simply misleading the public. However, the
question is rather how we can ensure sufficient democratic oversight
over what the Commission or Council communicate. And here comes the
role for the MEPs, their groups or European media.

Should there be different ways of communicating for the Commission and

Definitely. The difference between the two is that the Parliament is
the forum of democratic discourse. By definition it has to represent
different opinions and the most important thing is that these
different opinions find their way into the public.

What is your vision for the future of EU communication?

I wish that the debate about the future of communication policy would
soon come to an end, and that we do effective communication through
doing Europe well.

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