Spreading the Europe word
Politics and communication are two sides of the same coin. Therefore it is always a problem when politics fails to be communicated. In this regard, the EU faces a tremendous challenge.
Hence, Communicating Europe to EU citizens and increasing EU coverage have been two important objectives during my first year in the European Parliament.
When I started running for Parliament, I was often met with alienation and indifference when it came to debating EU matters. “Brussels is very far away” and “it doesn’t have anything to do with us anyway”, were phrases I often came across. While it is true that Brussels maybe far away, its influence on national matters should not be underestimated. In fact, the EU has an enormous influence on our everyday lives. Looking at my own country, more than half of all national legislation is based on lawmaking from Brussels.
Therefore it is a paradox that the EU is by and large absent in mainstream media. This may explain why parts of the public are uninformed on EU matters, but it doesn’t justify the media’s poor coverage of the EU. There are examples of substantial EU coverage, but, generally speaking, broadcasters tend to focus on national matters.
However, the media is not the only one to blame. We as politicians carry a huge part of the responsibility, and the aim of increasing the coverage of EU matters must be achieved on several levels. This task does not belong solely to the media, but also to politicians and public institutions.
Both the Commission and the Parliament have taken initiatives to promote a pan-European debate in the past and there have been achievements. The Parliament has been a front runner in using social media and carried out an effective campaign on Facebook during the European election. This has led to more than 80,000 ‘fans’ joining the Parliament’s Facebookpage. The Commission is using online
communication effectively when working on EU Tube and has taken important steps with the European public spaces campaign. And recently a new initiative, “Tweet your MEP”, was launched. The site enables citizens to reach MEPs via Twitter.
There are promising initiatives from the media, too. A European regional network of radio channels-Euranetis working well and broadcasting to countries all over Europe. Likewise, a regional TV network is to be launched in the coming year-also with the aim of broadcasting all over Europe.
The institutional and technological setting has never been better. The Lisbon Treaty is an important step in the democratisation of the EU while new media outlets present new possibilities. The potential for involving citizens has never been higher.
However, the situation has not improved accordingly when it comes to putting EU issues on the agenda in Member States. The key instrument to overcoming this gap is communication.
The problem is not the lack of information; several players-media as well as institutions-are involved in the dissemination of information on European issues but this alone is not sufficient. In other words, there is lot of food but not a lot of appetite. We have to create this appetite and the tool to be used is communication rather than information. Informing is a one-way process whereas communication is a twoway process involving dialogue.
Presence is also a key word. Therefore it is my hope that media corporations and the written press will upgrade their presence in Brussels and consequently their output on the EU.
As we cannot and shall not put any demands on private broadcasters, we have to look at public service broadcasters. This view was backed by the Parliament when my report on improving EU communication was adopted in Strasbourg this September. The report states that Public broadcasters have a responsibility to cover the EU – of course with full editorial independence.
Communicating the EU is a complex task. So far no one has found the Columbi Egg. Personally, I do not think this egg exists. I believe the optimal way of improving the communication of the EU is by using a lot of different approaches, involving media, politicians and public institutions.
A difficult, but not impossible task!