Study: Cohesion’s impact on local audiences still remains limited

Three villagers in South Tyrol/Alto Adige in northeast Italy. [josef.stuefer/Flickr]

Social outcomes in Cohesion policy remain relatively obscure for the general public compared to economic developments, a recent project study has found. In addition to that, the process of reaching local audiences remains a challenge for policymakers and organisations across the European regions.

Developing solid long-term communication strategies is key to a better understanding of the Cohesion policy across Europe, underlines the PERCEIVE study, based on international social media and statistical analysis, and done by a consortium of universities and research institutes.

However, the application of such strategies should continue even when regions reach higher development levels and the EU structural funding gradually decreases, in order to achieve “sustained awareness” and maintain the citizens’ appreciation levels.

From Cohesion to European integration

Cohesion Policy awareness is further linked to European integration and a better understanding of the basic functioning of the EU.

“Those who are aware of the policy tend to appreciate EU developmental policies to a larger extent and, when these two conditions are matched, tend to feel more European,” the study said.

The amount of per capita communication investment significantly affects the perceived satisfaction with the EU actions implemented through Cohesion policy.

In the current programming period, the amount related to regional operative plans makes it likelier for citizens to perceive personal benefits resulting from EU actions, but this is often not accompanied by political appreciation, the study said.

Compared to the previous period, the results of outreach efforts in the regions are even less ambitious. In 2007-2013, positive awareness was only “very modestly” achieved, while perceived personal benefit or political appreciation was not there.

From criticism to Euroscepticism

Whereas Cohesion topics are usually more locally focused, other messages are better spread internationally, the analysis showed.

“To a significant extent, public spheres always display some degree of internationality at the regional level,” the study found, like sharing on social media coverage of specific topics across national boundaries.

But this tendency also relates to criticism and Euroscepticism. According to the PERCEIVE research, expressions of criticism and negative sentiments on social media get more attention and are also the ones most distributed internationally.

What the study also revealed was that the effectiveness of local managing authorities across the Union does not always correspond to the size of a certain region or its visibility on social media.

Differences were noticed also between the areas of focus of the communication policies, as in some cases it was managed at a local regional government level, while in others it focused on the operational plan of a wider region.

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