As part of a renewed communication strategy, the European Commission is planning to boost pan-European TV channel Euronews, giving the broadcasting company extra funding to establish a bureau in Brussels.
"The Commission will explore options for a more sustainable financing of Euronews. The building up of a Brussels studio for Euronews will be encouraged," reads a note which the Commission will publish today (27 October).
The idea is contained in the first EU Citizenship Report, which enlists a number of proposals aimed at improving the lives of EU citizens living abroad within Europe.
Obtaining valuable information about what is happening at EU level is seen as an element that can improve people's lives and understanding of what the EU does for its citizens.
"Independent media reporting about EU affairs is an important cornerstone of well-informed EU citizens and European public discourse," argues the Commission in the report.
"However, there is still a long way to go until there is a true European media landscape which stimulates informed debates about EU policies," adds the Commission.
The document also underlines that "reports on US policies are considered more relevant than news about EU affairs in many member states," echoing a report produced by French MEP Alain Lamassoure in 2008.
Euronews to set up bureau in Brussels
To counter the current situation, Brussels has identified Euronews as the main driver of EU-related information and plans to increase its share of funding in all-news television.
"Euronews is currently the only TV channel that covers news from a European perspective and dedicates significant slots to EU affairs. Euronews does not yet have a studio in Brussels that would allow for direct reporting from the capital of the European Union," says the report.
In the document, the Parliament "recognises the importance of Euronews extending its range of languages to cover all the EU member states (and beyond) and to continue being a model of independent television journalism which will promote objectivity in news, quality in politics and transparency in advertising".
However, with a likely higher share of funding coming from the EU budget, the independence of the channel may be called into question. In its report the Commission is already dictating the line to follow, making clear that Euronews "should improve its format in order to get as much impact and reputation as other international news channels".
Euronews representatives were contacted by EURACTIV, but they declined to make any comment at this stage. Sources close to the matter confirm that plans to set up a Euronews bureau in Brussels are already ongoing and that the new office might become operational in April.
Later today, Euronews will also launch at the European Parliament in Brussels a new service in Persian. The pan-European channel already broadcasts in nine languages.
The idea of opening a new journalistic bureau in Brussels is good news for the EU press corps, which has experienced a phase of significant downsizing in the last year. Several correspondents were called back home due to a growing shift of attention from European to national affairs.
Although the lower number of Brussels-based journalists is also due to a change in the way the Commission delivers its press badges, the decline of full-time correspondents has been acknowledged by the International Press Association.
Other proposals in the citizenship report
The proposal concerning Euronews is one of 25 actions outlined in the Commission report on citizenship. Among the others, the EU executive plans to increase guarantees for EU tourists by means of improved passenger rights, better consular protection and reimbursement in case of failure by travel providers.
Car owners also are going to benefit from less red tape when registering their vehicles in other EU countries. Social security rights should be more easily transmitted from one country to another, and consumers will get help seeking redress in case of disputes over trade in other EU countries.
Communicating Europe has long been a primary concern of the EU executive, with the need to boost popular trust in the European project becoming more important following the rejection of the EU constitution by French and Dutch voters and the initial rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish.
The EU tried to modernise the institution's communication practices by giving the mandate in 2004 to a full-time commissioner, Margot Wallström, who came to the conclusion that the only way forward was to give the new commissioner control of citizenship legislation and the accompanying programmes and budget.
Taking stock of this experience, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso decided for his second mandate to regroup communication and citizenship, while considering the greater institutional overhaul sparked by the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty.
The new commissioner in charge of communication and citizenship is the experienced Viviane Reding, who is enjoying her third mandate as commissioner. In a document leaked by EURACTIV, she proposed last June a 14-point list of measures to undertake in order to improve EU communication.