LoudhailerOK, so am I writing it off before it has even started? Sorry, but I just cannot see how the European Union’s Communication Policy, laid out today in Margot Wallstr√∂m’s White Paper [PDF] can possibly work. The issue is simple. When a poltical body tries to communicate what it does, and does not give citizens a visible way to control what it does, the communications policy looks like propaganda. Hence it is vital that citizens are seen to have control. The White Paper is accompanied by a consultation process – website here – launched today by Wallstr√∂m whose effort and determination for the whole thing is welcome.

Let me put it in simplest terms. When do politicians have to communicate? When they need to win elections. When do citizens have the power to get rid of things they don’t like or support things they do? At elections. When in the European Union does this happen? Never.

OK, the European Parliament is elected. But can anyone tell me how electing the Party of European Socialists or the European People’s Party in the EP ever actually changed the direction of the European Commission or the EU as a whole? Only when that happens will the European Union have something that can really be explained to the people, as the people will themselves be in control. It’s generally called federal government, so of course the Commission could not be brave and propose that in the White Paper, and Margot Wallstr√∂m can in no way be held responsible for that. What we have instead is a list of worthy suggestions to change matters at the margins. These might improve matters a bit, but there is no hope this is going to overcome the EU’s communications problem.

4 Comments

  1. hélène

    Elina & Marko, yours comments on EU communication’s policy are quite interesting. Indeed have you passed Communications competition tests (hope you did and managed to qualify) ?

    what do you think on the last (downgraded) version of communication policy presented by the Commission in october ?

  2. Hi Elina,

    I agree that a sphere is needed to communicate. But there are 2 problems with that. First of all, if the EU is involved with the creation of the sphere of communication, everyone immediately assumes it is just trying to put out its own propaganda – even if it actually is not trying to do that.

    Second, politics and politicians are quite lousy at communicating at the best of times, and in most European countries the level of trust, and hence ability to communicate, between citizens and politicians is dropping. It’s against this background that the EU has to communicate. Hence my thought that the circumstances really must be put in place to mean politicians have to communicate as their jobs would depend on it.

  3. Dear Marko and Jon,

    I haven´t had time to read the paper yet, but I should soon as I´m writing my master thesis on the communication proposals of Plan D.

    There is one point where I don´t agree here, and that is the role of the communications. You both say it can´t help much when there is no true democracy. True BUT! I´m not saying communications is equal to democracy, but the communications creates the space needed for democracy. And without the space for communications that reaches the people that fall under the EU policies, there can´t be real democracy.

    This communications I´m talking about obviously can´t be “messages that come down to people” from the commission. No, there should be some kind of a public sphere created that would reach the audience, that would somehow create something that is called public opinion.

    I read an article today that the EU plans to establish its own tv-station. I think the idea is welcome and needed but it really shouldn´t present press info´s of the Commission but actually take a bit of the same mission as the national broadcasting companies have; to civilize people, produce programmes with high journalistic standars, show European movies and series, create a glimpse of public European sphere. Unfortunately this doesn´t seem likely to happen, but it should! Because if we want European democracy, we need European political agenda and if we don´t have communication channels, where is that agenda presented from the EUROPEAN point of view? National medias always show the national point of view on the topic.

    In the era of globalisation multinational companies have aready shown it is possible to create global audiences. It shouldn´t be that hard in Europe either, if there just was enough of political will.

  4. Good reflection. There is only a minor point I would like to correct – the EPP got the majority at the last European elections and I can say that the Commission is quite in line with it…But it’s a coincidence not to be mistaken with real reflection of the powers in the European parliament.

    What worries me is more that Margot seems to believe (as much respect as I have for her and her will) that communication almost equals democracy. So communicating and opening our debates (EU debates I mean) means democratizing. So, if we have consultations around Europe, we spread democracy, because people have a real input.

    This premise is wrong. Communication should be a normal part of the work of any institution anyway. Democracy means accountability and the possibility to control an institution. For the commission I cannot really say it’s the most accountable institution, although does a valuable job.

    So, we can dismiss the Constitution because it was rejected. I think it should not be forced again through ratifications, if it failed once. But we cannot dismiss this basic fault in the EU structure. There is no serious control over the work of the Commission.

    Whether people on the streets know this I don’t know, but certainly they feel it. This is where I think Margot wants to play her card.

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