EU communication remains an ‘ongoing challenge’

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Green MEP Helga Trüpel talks about the ongoing challenge of communicating EU policies, the different views among the institutions over a joint approach and how to ultimately win the hearts and minds of EU citizens.

Helga Trüpel is a member of the Green group in the European Parliament. She is currently Vice-Chairwoman of the Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education and a member of the Committee on Budgets.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

Do you think that the Commission’s review of its communication strategy goes far enough? Will it be enough to win over the hearts and minds of European citizens?

Unfortunately it seems as though Parliament, the Commission and member states have quite different views on what a joint approach to communication policy implies. Every institution prefers to stick to its own powers instead of pooling their abilities together. I was – and am – in favour of a legal basis for communication policy because this is the only way to provide for a sustainable means to act on the ground, but apparently too many of my colleagues are afraid of that.

However, we should not lose sight of what communication policy effectively means. What we have been discussing over the past two years has been the instruments of communication. But even the best instruments cannot help if the content is imperfect. The fact that we have a clearly under-funded Union, a Reform Treaty weak in ambition and recent legislation (services directive, REACH) that leaves too many questions in the blue is no help in creating “good” communication – and winning the hearts and minds of citizens.

Is the timing not a bit late considering that institutional reform is already underway, with the new Treaty largely agreed upon by EU leaders? 

The new instruments prepared and proposed by the Commission are complementary to the efforts of a new Treaty. Ideally they are established for its introduction but communicating EU policies in the right way will be an ongoing challenge, in particular with the new powers conferred to the Union.

Is there a risk that the EU will pay less attention to connecting with its citizens, once it has overcome its constitutional crisis, which had originally triggered the “Plan D” exercise?

I hope not but there is obviously a danger that this could happen. However, the biggest challenges to a serious information policy remain institutional: On the one hand we can expect progress because the European Parliament will be strengthened and therefore its role in bringing decisions into the public sphere will be too. At the same time, the Council is still not truly open. Which national public or parliament is really following the moves of its government in secretive Council horse-trading?

Which channels of communication do you think are best suited to reaching out to EU citizens? Do you think that the Commission’s EU-Tube has been a success so far?

There are clearly different channels for different objectives. We all know that the local newspaper has by far the widest outreach to citizens but it is not so easy to present often complex EU topics in this forum. From my own experience I can also see that “meeting people” is a very effective way. This exercise is currently only (and surely not yet sufficiently) done by MEPs.

Activities like EU-Tube are a good PR stunt and can reach out to groups that we do not reach every day. I have also proposed a project called EuroGlobe which will start at the beginning of next year. It is a moving stage for communication in which culture, education and politics meet and discuss European issues.

Where do you draw the line between a good communication strategy and a PR exercise? How can the objectivity of the information distributed be guaranteed?

You can never grant total objectivity when communicating politics. Pretending to do so is simply misleading the public. However, the question is rather how we can ensure sufficient democratic oversight over what the Commission or Council communicate. And here comes the role for the MEPs, their groups or European media.

Should there be different ways of communicating for the Commission and Parliament?

Definitely. The difference between the two is that the Parliament is the forum of democratic discourse. By definition it has to represent different opinions and the most important thing is that these different opinions find their way into the public.

What is your vision for the future of EU communication?

I wish that the debate about the future of communication policy would soon come to an end, and that we do effective communication through doing Europe well.

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