Wallström in push to change EU communications strategy

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In a new plan to be unveiled today (3 October), the Commission will propose that member states and EU institutions put an end to the “Brussels blame game” and join forces around a common communications strategy in order to win back support from citizens for the 2009 European elections.

A new plan to “Communicate Europe in partnership”, to be unveiled on 3 October by the Commission, proposes an “inter-institutional agreement” to align communication priorities among EU institutions and member states.

Priorities are to be laid down in “management partnership” agreements negotiated with each national government, in order to try to get the message across at the local level.

Climate change and energy, the EU’s new ‘Reform Treaty’, growth and jobs and mobilising voters in the run-up to the 2009 European elections should all be among the common priorities for such an inter-institutional agreement, said Margot Wallström, Commission Vice-President in charge of institutional relations and communications strategy.

It is also the Commission’s wish that member states do more explanatory work at an early age with the inclusion of basic education about European integration in school curricula.

“It has to start with the civic competences and the civic education. EU citizens have a right to know and to be heard,” Wallström told a group of Brussels journalists on 2 October.

The new initiative will not be equipped with extra financial resources, she said, but is intended to be included in the Commission’s annual work plan and could then receive funding from the existing community budget.

EURACTIV has seen a recent copy of the draft plan, which is outlined in more detail in a previous story (EURACTIV 1/10/07).

Some citizens' NGOs are have raised concerns that these efforts may not go far enough, as there is no legal basis for an EU communication policy.

Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström admitted that "ideally [a legal basis] should be there", pointing out that "in a modern EU Treaty, there should also be a paragraph on communication". However, not all member states support the inclusion of such a clause in the new EU Treaty text currently under discussion at the Inter-Governmental Conference, and many are cautious about opening up new issues that are outside the mandate of the IGC, which was so heavily fought over at the June Summit.

"It is up to the Portuguese Presidency in that case to get a paragraph to acknowledge the citizen's right to information," Wallström concluded, saying she was "not sure if they dare to stretch the IGC mandate".

Jan Seifert, President of the Young European Federalists (JEF), said that a legal basis for EU communications was necessary. "If we really want to be serious about EU communication policy we need a constitutional base embedded in the Reform Treaty." 

"Today there is a lack of agreement and priorities between the institutions when it comes to communication policy. Instead of working together, each institution is more concerned with its own powers," Seifert deplored.

Up to now, the three EU Institutions - Parliament, Commission and Council – have pursued their communication efforts separately, using different instruments and pursuing their own priorities.

Moreover, there have been few initiatives to take communication of crucial EU policies to the national or local level, often resulting in their rejection by citizens, as was illustrated by the fate of the Services Directive and the proposed EU Constitution in France.

With this new plan, the Commission seeks to end the "Brussels blame game" whereby member states and EU institutions refuse responsibility for conveying key political messages to citizens.

  • By end 2007: Commission to adopt a new strategy on how it intends to communicate via the Internet.
  • Early 2008: A new audiovisual strategy will be issued.
  • Spring 2008: Commission to present a follow-up to its 'Plan D' ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2009.

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