EU strengthens its communications strategy to build the trust of citizens

Undoubtedly, 2017 is a crucial year for the European Union. Following the Brexit vote in June 2016 and the anti-European Trump’s election in November 2016, as well as the nationalists’ voice (Lepen, Wilders) increasing all around Europe, the Union will certainly have to give its battle to go ahead.

Apart from the political challenge, expressed emphatically with the presence of the 27 EU leaders declaring unity in Rome last week, the Union has to face another more important one: The battle of communication.

“After the crisis, the EU found itself in an uncharted territory”, said European Commission’s Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication Mikel Alvarez, in an event on March 28th. “There is a decline of trust of citizens (towards the institutions) in the last 10 years”, he added, mentioning the necessity for the EU to execute an integrated communication strategy.

One intense critical point about the structure of the EU is its lack of communication with the European citizens. Brussels is considered as a place of punishment for the “untamed” member states, institutions are blamed for producing bureaucracy, while the EU officials are considered as faceless technocrats who have no relation with reality. On top of that, the financial crisis and the migration enlarged the negative criticism, strengthening Euroscepticism all around Europe.

“We have to construct a narrative of hope and show what the EU can do for Europeans, showing the human side of the policies”, said Alvarez, emphasizing at the importance of using different communications channels, taking into account the needs of citizens belonging in different target groups, nationalities, age and cultures of Europe.

In this regard, the EC’s Communications chief presented some relevant projects. The “InvestEU”, an online campaign informing the citizens about the impact of the Investment Plan on the citizens, the “SMARP” project, a campaign involving the EC employees’ active presence in social media and the “60 Rome”, including 60 minutes’ videos of people describing the benefits of living in the Union.

Mediating the EU policies to the public

Communication plays an increasingly important role in the EU affairs. The EU bugdet, directly or indirectly, covers various communication activities. For instance, €185,5 million are spent for the “Europe of Citizens” programme during the period 2014-2020, aimed at strengthening the European identity. Another programmes are the European Citizens’ Initiative and Debating Europe, an online platform of discussion.

Raising awareness activities, social media campaigns, events’ organization are among the top priorities of the EU-funded programmes. To that extent, the broader communication of projects and the dissemination of their outcomes to the public are intensely encouraged by the Commission.

The European Parliament has also repeatedly emphasized at the build of trust between the EU and the citizens. EP communication activities include the usage of digital tools, streamlined videos in 24 languages, audiovisual material and an intense presence in Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. In addition, the MEPs are constantly increasing their online presence, while an important part of their expenses is spent in various events such as conferences, exhibitions, film projections, etc.

Photo: European Commission