(Taken from this month’s Espresso)
As Espresso and its readers are well aware, communication is key, be it when communicating to the press, externally or internally, or in times of crisis. Sometimes a business shies away from communicating, sometimes it has a strategy to promote to the outside world, and sometimes it is forced to communicate out of necessity as a result of a crisis.
In this sense, the EU is no different. After the infamous “non” and “nee”’ referenda on the EU Constitution in 2005 it was decided that what the EU needed to do was “communicate.” According to EU-logic, if it communicated what it was doing citizens would experience a road to Damascus moment and start voting “oui” and “ja” instead.
Five years later, and it would appear that citizens are still as apathetic as before. Who’d have thought it?!
Time for a revolution – specifically, a “communication revolution.”
New Communications Commissioner Viviane Reding – an experienced operator on the Brussels scene and not to be messed with – wants to bring about a culture shock. In a letter to President Barroso she outlines her vision for communicating Europe, some of which could be considered controversial by the very people she is willing to target.
Firstly she states that the EU project can only work if the Commission is perceived as the EU government. An interesting notion, given that unlike every Member State government the Commission doesn’t have much of a democratic mandate from the electorate.
Similarly, the plan to centre communication in the figure of President Barroso – largely unknown outside political circles, the Brussels bubble, and his home country of Portugal – seems both ambitious and questionable, since President Barroso cannot be said to be democratically elected either.
Despite the fiery rhetoric then, this is far from being a revolution.
In response, Espresso would like to humbly propose that reforming how the Commission communicates should be preceded by reforming the EU institutions themselves; so if you want a revolution, here it is.
Firstly, Commissioners should be elected, either on the EU or Member State level. This would immediately engage citizens, and whilst there is no reason to suppose turnout would be particularly high it would at least make the Commissioners beholden to their electorate. This already changes the dynamics of the communication flow and provides the Commission President with more limelight than is currently the case.
At times of crisis the EU, like any business, needs to communicate – but an EU communication revolution cannot happen without a prior institutional revolution. Since the latter is unlikely to take place, the former will be rendered redundant.
Food for thought, Ms Reding.