Improve national reporting and keep the message simple, EU professionals tell Wallström

Margot Wallström’s new role of Communications Commissioner will be no easy task. A new report presents her with key recommendations on how to better communicate the EU to its citizens.

In an open letter to Margot Wallström, Friends of Europe, EURACTIV and Gallup Europe have presented the findings of the study, saying that the new commissioner had a “huge task” ahead of her.

Can EU Hear Me oct 2004

Ten key recommendations were distilled from the report, including the following:

  • Wallström to visit all Member States during the first six months of her term to listen to citizens’ views of the EU, find local supporters and beneficiaries of EU integration and meet national media representatives and leading policiticians.
  • Promote the 
    benefits of EU membership by researching and professionally communicating the advantages for citizens of their country belonging to the EU. Popular ‘good-will ambassadors’ should be employed to promote the benefits of Europe.
  • Keep the message simple by cutting back on boring detail: stick to three key points.
  • Encourage the media to report on political differences at EU level and react more quickly to events by setting up an EU newsroom to feed international media with up-to-date footage on EU developments. Invite journalists to Brussels for intensive training courses on EU reporting. Establish better contacts to national and regional media.
  • Streamline the EU’s communication and reporting structure by getting institutions to co-operate more closely and cutting down on administrative hurdles.
  • Adopt a decentralised approach by making national governments responsible for communicating EU policies and setting up ‘Communications Task Forces’ at member state level.

A high number of senior politicians, officials and communications experts have expressed their views on how to improve the EU's communication efforts. These are a few of the reactions:

Jean-Luc Dehaene, MEP and former Belgian Prime Minister: "You can explain at a meeting that Europe is good for stability and peace, but when people arrive home, they don’t see the link. People know, but don’t experience it anymore. Information at the local level is easier because there it is mostly immediately visible for the citizen."

Elaine Cruikshanks, European CEO of Hill & Knowlton: "When advising spokespeople we are often told that their content is too complex to be attractive. However, when looking at their issues more closely, it often is a matter of tailoring the content in a relevant way, and releasing it at the right moment."

Giuliano Amato, former Prime Minister of Italy: "An institution that is only perceived as the regulator of the size of apples cannot raise any sort of emotional attention."

Eberhard Rhein, former Director in the European Commission: "The Commission has to supply information in the most intelligible and non-technical language. It must constantly check what is important to the average citizen and explain why."

Alojz Peterle, MEP and former Prime Minister of Slovenia: "I think people need an insight into the decisions that are taken. They also need to find out more quickly – better access to what is going on in meetings."

Nikolaus van der Pas, Director General for Culture and Education: "We should give a coherent message about the on-going fight between the Commission and the Parliament and the Council. Fights about new initiatives are a reality."

Commissioner António Vitorino: "If they (Member States) continue to use Brussels as a scapegoat when things go wrong at home and talk about ‘bloody Brussels bureaucrats’, we will not be able to put across information about the concrete measures that make their lives more safe."

Friends of Europe, EURACTIV and Gallup Europe have jointly published a report entitled 'Can EU Hear Me?', dealing with the communications deficit of the EU and ways in which its institutions can better connect with Europe's citizens.

The report is the result of a year-long project, which is made up of an opinion poll, a survey of political leaders and opinion makers, plus findings of a study group. Over 3,500 representatives from industry, media, civil society and EU institutions have participated in the opinion polls and surveys conducted in the framework of this project.

The resulting recommendations have been presented to the new Communications Commissioner Margot Wallström.

Margot Wallström will take up office as Commissioner for institutional relations and communication strategy on 1 November 2004. She will also be Vice President of the Commission.

Her main remit is to strengthen the Commission's capacity to communicate both from Brussels and in the Member States during the coming process of ratification of the Constitution. She will also be responsible for strengthening the Commission's relations with national parliaments.

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