The Brief – Make Europe ‘sticky’ again

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

European decision-makers and civil servants agree: Europe still has some work to do to improve how it communicates. Despite recent improvements, the EU machinery must make its messages “sticky” or it will fail to win the hearts and minds of the new Europeans.

The end of the cycle is here. Some MEPs are in full campaign mode, while others are thinking about where they can retire. Leaders, including Jean-Claude Juncker, look back to see what they did wrong. Others, like commissioner Carlos Moedas look for lessons learnt during the past mandate.

The EU has a “perception” issue, the Portuguese commissioner told an audience of mostly EU functionaries last Monday. “Europe is the best place to be in the world…Why don’t people believe it?”

The problem is communication, he said. And it is not a temporary challenge, but a “deeply structural” one.

He is right. Contrary to what some believe, communication is not only about delivering messages.

Words come first to shape our decisions and actions. And you better believe it, not only because John wrote it in the Bible: some of the greatest political beasts and policy nerds in Brussels are living proof, chief among them the all-powerful (and feared) Martin Selmayr.

A communication campaign could make a Catholic country become one of the first nations in the world to approve gay marriage (Spain, in case you wondered). But it could also mislead citizens to vote against remaining in the EU.

When it comes to comms, Moedas is among the best in the college. Having a less influential dossier, compared with his colleagues Margrethe Vestager or Pierre Moscovici, made him a passionate storyteller of research and innovation achievements and opportunities.

More broadly, he has also proposed a more mission-oriented narrative for Europe, an idea that your Brief author has very much subscribed to for years.

Because you have to start from somewhere, Moedas proposed having more ‘political’ titles for EU legislation. While US legislators came up with the ‘No Child Left Behind’ act, in Europe we have “The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training”.

This criticism is shared by Parliament officials, who are willing to support punchier titles for our draft directives.

The list of recommendations could be long. As this article imposes verbal discipline, a good starting point could be the Heath brothers’ ‘SUCCES’ formula to make your messages “sticky”. Which means make your communications Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and with Stories.

The EU is learning by its own mistakes. After years of putting all the money on rational arguments, the institutions are becoming more emotional.

The European Parliament picked Frederic Planchon to film his spot for the European Elections. He already proved his emotional gravitas as part of a campaign for IKEA.

Key in his successful short film for the Parliament (more than 33 million visits in YouTube and 83 million on Facebook) was the authenticity, a key ingredient in the magic formula. No actor was hired and some footage was filmed shortly after babies were born.

You may think that not all news may spark the same creativity. But even the oldest stories can be told in an innovative way. Sometimes we only need a good excuse to be creative, like team super Mario.

And above all, communications is nothing without dialogue. Unfortunately, 49% of Europeans feel their voice doesn’t count in Europe. Not only commissioners, but every official and willing EU bubble insider should go back to their hometowns to hear and discuss about Europe not once, but every year.

I was lucky to have done it once… and certainly, I will do it again.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Bad boys, said the European Commission and called on Spain, Italy, France and Belgium to do more efforts to balance their public accounts, citing a slowing economy. Rome accused EU authorities of prejudice.

Berlin’s Re:publica is one of the world’s largest conferences on digital culture. EURACTIV Germany took the chance to head along and sit down with Francesca Bria to discuss Spain’s role in the EU’s digital revolution.

Margrethe Vestager, liberal candidate to be the next Commission top job, believes the key to improving Europe’s environment and fighting climate change will be implementing the laws already on the books.

The French socialists have cast off PES Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans as EU election candidate.

Six years after it launched its ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, China promises to improve the transparency and sustainability of its massive transport infrastructure programme as a way to dispel European concerns.

Pope Francis urged the Balkans to embrace its patchwork of faiths and ethnicities during his visit to North Macedonia, where he delivered prayers and speeches that kept returning to the legacy of an illustrious Skopje native: Mother Teresa.

Look out for…

Sibiu Summit in Romania with the whole EU entourage.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Samuel Stolton]

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