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10.1.1.  Information efforts of the European institutions

    At present each of the three main European institutions has its own means and instruments to carry out its information policy. While preserving full autonomy, the Parliament and the Commission have established an Inter-Institutional Group on Information to coordinate their policies. They carry out jointly some priority information campaigns on subjects of topical interest, such as the euro (before its circulation), the new enlargement of the Union or the climate change in Europe. The Commission Representations and the European Parliament External Offices in the Member States are co-operating locally on an ad-hoc basis. Although it shares some means of communication with the Commission and the Parliament, such as the Europa server and the Europe by Satellite (EBS) - a television news instrument offering live coverage of the institutions' work and news summaries - the Council has a separate information and communication policy from the other institutions. As it has few budgetary resources for this purpose, it operates its own relations with the press and media. In general, except for a limited co-operation between the Commission and the Parliament, the three main European institutions have independent and heterogeneous information activities.

    Although in its White Paper on a ''European communication policy'' the Commission acknowledges that the success of this much needed policy depends on the involvement of all the key players – the other EU institutions and bodies, the national, regional and local authorities in the Member States, European political parties and the civil society – it does not explain how these players would get involved in the communication partnership. Instead of proposing a European Parliament and Council decision or regulation, which would engage all European institutions and Member States to participate in the communication effort, it advocates a ''European Charter or Code of Conduct on Communication'' which would define common principles to be followed by the players on a voluntary basis. Instead of proposing a common civic education for young Europeans, it invites the Member States to explore the best ways to bring together European teachers in this field with a view to exchanging ideas on innovative approaches to civic education. Instead of proposing that each important new European measure (directive, regulation, decision) be accompanied by an explanatory press release in all official languages, it encourages EU institutions to explore with a wide range of media players how to better provide the media (pan-European, national and local) with material which is relevant for them, with a view to adapting the information to the needs of different countries and segments of the population. Instead of asking each Minister participating in a Council session, which would have adopted an important measure, to comment in his or her own words the common press release, it calls for a partnership with the Member States to publicize public and parliamentary discussion on the Commission’s annual strategic priorities and discussions between national ministers and European Commissioners or other such matters, which might be of interest for the Commission but of no interest at all for the general public.

    The information and communication strategy for the European Union implemented by the Commission with the hypothetical voluntary synergy of the Member States, which should improve perception of the European Union and institutions and of their legitimacy [COM/2002/350], is clearly inadequate, as demonstrated by the indifference of citizens at the European elections of June 2004. Expressing its concern at the low voter turnout in those elections, the Brussels European Council (18-19 June 2004) recognised the need to strengthen a sense among the citizens of the importance of the work of the Union and its relevance to their daily lives. It would be up to the Commission to propose that the Union faces this need with a common communication policy.

    As a matter of fact, the Commission is the main provider of information on the EC/EU. Major European affairs and problems, which occasionally attract television attention, are presented and commented in the press room of the Commission by its President, the competent Commissioner or a spokesperson. Rarely is press attention focussed on the European Parliament and almost never on the Council of Ministers. Although it practically monopolises European information, the Commission is not a secretive organisation and is even a good provider of information, as far as its activities are concerned. Its Representations in the capitals and other major cities of the Member States are open to the interested public. Its Office of Official Publications publishes hundreds of documents every year on all common policies. Its Europa server on the Internet gives free and user-friendly access to more than 60 databases, each of which contains several hundred thousand documents in the 23 official languages of the European Union [Regulation 1/1958, consolidated version 01.01.2007]. All the documents listed in the footnotes of this book are accessible at the Eur-lex database. The addresses of the general and of some of the most interesting free sites of Europa are the following:

    ·        Europa gateway;

    ·        information for citizens;

    ·        EU News;

    ·        European legislation

    ·        common policies;

    ·        books, publications;

    ·        Who's Who in the institutions;

    ·        Business opportunities (public procurement).

    Moreover, the Commission does not make any secret of its intentions concerning legislation in preparation. All its proposals as well as the acts adopted by the European Parliament and the Council are communicated directly to the press the day of their adoption in ''Europa Press room''. In case of preparation of new policies or changes in existing policies, the Commission publishes Green Papers (reflection documents inviting a debate on the options of a policy before the preparation of proposals) and White Papers (general documents announcing a programme of actions). A White Paper usually presents the points of view of interested parties (organisations, associations, institutions…) at national and European level on a Green Paper, along with the conclusions and intentions of the Commission. This step by step approach is meant to promote an exchange of views between the Commission and the interested parties on legislation in preparation.

    Article 10 of the Treaty on European Union stipulates that decisions are taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen. Article 15 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU specifies that any citizen of the Union and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State has a right of access to documents of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, subject to the principles and conditions defined by these institutions. In December 1993 the Council and the Commission approved a code of conduct laying down general rules on such right of access [Code of conduct and Decision 2001/840]. On the basis of this code the Commission introduced practical procedures, which enable the public to have simple, rapid and decentralised access to its documents [Decision 2001/937]. The Council has also made available to the public certain categories of its documents (almost 60% of all its documents) [Annex III, Decision 2001/840]. A regulation defines the principles, conditions and limits (on grounds of public or private interest) governing the right of access to Parliament, Council and Commission documents provided for in Article 15 of the TFEU in such a way as to ensure the widest possible access to documents [Regulation 1049/2001]. The Parliament, the Council and the Commission [Decision 2001/844] have amended their rules of procedure accordingly. However, the Council still meets behind closed doors when acting as legislator, a fact that hinders the transparency of the legislative process.

    Transparency must go hand in hand with the quality of drafting of European legislation. A declaration to the Final Act attached to the Amsterdam Treaty noted that the quality of drafting of European legislation is crucial if it is to be properly implemented by the competent national authorities and better understood by the public and the business world. It urged the three institutions involved in the procedure for adopting European legislation [see section 4.3] to lay down guidelines on the quality of the drafting of the said legislation, which they did [Interinstitutional agreement]. The Commission has pledged itself to codify and render readable the European legislation [COM/2001/645] and it presents an annual report giving a factual account of how the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality are applied and explaining the Union's policy-making process [COM/2003/71, see section 3.2].

    The information policy of the Commission is designed to contribute to the objectives of transparency and accessibility of European legislation. The aim is to inform citizens of the nature and the scale of the challenges facing the European Union, to demonstrate the comparative benefits of European integration and to show people in concrete terms, at local level, the effect of European policies on their daily lives. To attain these objectives the Commission uses several instruments, such as: the Commission Representations in the Member States, which act as discussion and information fora and as centres for coordinating national relays to reach both the public at large and specialised audiences in the Member States; and the Europe Direct site, which provides a dialogue in all the languages of the Union through a free number, e-mail, letter or fax, enabling citizens and businesses find out about their rights and get advice about all sorts of opportunities in the EU, e.g., European programmes that can help implement projects. Various other activities of the Commission are designed to improve the dissemination of available information. They include the activities of the Publications Office of the Union and of the Statistical Office, the management of the historical archives of the European Communities and the provision of information to universities.

    The Publications Office of the European Union publishes and distributes, on behalf of all the institutions, the Official Journal of the European Union (OJ) and other publications [Decision 2009/496]. The Official Journal is published every day in the 23 official languages of the Union and every year contains more than a million pages, giving a measure of the work volume of the Office for Official Publications and its importance for citizens who want to keep abreast of European affairs. The distribution network of the Publications Office is built on an increasing number of bookshops in the Member States and in several third countries.

    In addition, all the legislation of the EU/EC (Treaties, secondary legislation in force, legislation in preparation and Court of Justice decisions) is stored in the interinstitutional computerised documentation system on European law. Responding to the enlargement of the EU and the European Parliament's call, in a resolution of 19 December 2002, for free access to CELEX, the new EUR-Lex site is merged with CELEX to provide free access to the vast corpus of existing documentation on the law of the European Union in 23 languages. For example, this system can supply without supplementary research the text of a basic regulation and all its subsequent amendments. We should emphasise once again, however, that this excellent and free information source is useless, unless one knows the exact references of the legislative act, Court ruling or Commission proposal, as mentioned in the Europedia portal.

    The Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat), which works alongside national statistical offices, aims at developing a "European statistical space" based on a set of standards, methods and organisational structures that make it possible to produce comparable, reliable and relevant statistics throughout the Union. It draws up statistics that attempt to meet the needs of the general public arising from the various common policies: economic, industrial, agricultural, social, regional and so on. The European Statistical Governance Advisory Board provides an independent overview of the European Statistical System [Decision 235/2008]. The general statistical classification of economic activities within the European Communities (NACE), adopted in 1990, is one of the cornerstones of the Union's statistical system and is often adopted by the countries of the EFTA and of Central and Eastern Europe for their own statistical purposes [Regulation 3037/90]. The Member States have agreed to pass on data subject to statistical confidentiality to the Statistical Office, on condition that all the necessary steps are taken to ensure confidentiality [Regulation 1588/90]. The Eurostat database provides electronic versions of all publications free of charge.

    Comparable, reliable and relevant statistics throughout the European Union are a source of growing interest to the general public. Article 338 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU stipulates that the production of European statistics shall conform to impartiality, reliability, objectivity, scientific independence, cost-effectiveness and statistical confidentiality. A Regulation establishes a legislative framework for the systematic and programmed production of European statistics on the basis of uniform standards or, in specific cases, of harmonised methods with a view to the formulation, application, monitoring and assessment of the policies of the Union [Regulation 223/2009, last amended by Regulation 2015/759 and Decision 2012/504]. Another Regulation provides the framework and lays down the objectives and outputs for the production, development and dissemination of European statistics for the period 2013 to 2017 [Regulation 99/2013, last amended by Regulation 1383/2013]. Indices of consumer prices and of household consumption expenditure are harmonised [Regulation 2016/792] short-term economic statistics [Regulation 1165/98] and labour force sample surveys intended to provide comparable statistics on the level and structure of employment and unemployment [Regulation 577/98, last amended by Regulation 545/2014]. A Regulation established a common framework for the production, transmission and evaluation of comparable labour cost indices in the Union [Regulation 450/2003]. Other Regulations concern: the trading of goods between Member States [Regulation 638/2004, last amended by Regulation 659/2014]; national and regional accounts in the Union [Regulation 549/2013]; quarterly financial accounts for general government [Regulation 501/2004]; the harmonisation of gross national income at market prices (GNI Regulation) [Regulation 1287/2003];  the systematic production of Community statistics on the information society [Regulation 808/2004, last amended by Regulation 1196/2014]; European statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) [Regulation 1177/2003, last amended by Regulation 2017/625]; European statistics on tourism [Regulation 692/2011]; and European demographic statistics [Regulation 1260/2013].. A Programme for the Modernisation of European Enterprise and Trade Statistics (MEETS) aims to provide high-quality statistical information on the structural changes in the European economy and its business sector [Decision 1297/2008].

    Researchers into European integration now enjoy access to the European Community/Union historical archives. Under the 30-year rule, the archives of the ECSC have been open to public consultation since 1952 and those of the EEC and Euratom since 1958 [Regulation 354/83, last amended by Regulation 2015/496]. The Archis data base lists the files stored in the archives of the Florence European University Institute. In addition, the Council has recommended to the Member States to increase cooperation in the field of archives in Europe [Recommendation 2005/835].

    The Commission also promotes teaching on European integration at university level, notably by granting financial support for the setting-up of "Jean Monnet chairs", a symbolic term for full-time teaching posts devoted to European integration. The Jean Monnet Project “Understanding European Integration” is designed to encourage the development of centres of excellence on European issues at universities and support academic initiatives related to the teaching of European integration (theory, history, economic, legal, social and political aspects). Actually, the Jean Monnet network consists of more than 1600 professors specialising in European integration studies in Europe and many non-European countries. The European Community Studies Association network ("ECSA-net") on the Internet, coordinated by the Commission, provides up-to-date information for the Euristote database on research into European integration, Jean Monnet chairs and courses, postgraduate research and degrees, European documentation centres and a worldwide directory of specialised teachers and researchers.

    10.1.2. The deficiencies of the actual information activities

    A cursory view of the information activities of European institutions gives the impression of a flood of documentation - coming mainly from the Commission - rather than of an information drought. But floods can be more harmful than droughts, if the soil is not prepared to receive the overflow. In this case, the soil is totally unprepared, because the citizens do not and never will make an effort to get the existing information, but rightly expect that they will be automatically informed, through their familiar media, about European affairs and decisions that are of interest to them. When they say in Eurobarometer surveys that they want to be informed about the institutions and policies of the EU, they mean that this information should come to them, not that they should go after it. Useful as they are to interested persons (researchers, interest groups and other specialists), the Commission publications and Internet sites are ignored and are therefore useless for the large majority of citizens.

    Indeed, information by the Commission suffers from two inherent defects. Firstly, it is addressed to a few initiated persons rather than to the average citizen, who does not read sophisticated publications or surf in the Europa server of the Commission. Secondly, information by the Commission reflects mainly its own proposals rather than the policies decided upon by the governments of the Member States and the Parliament of the peoples of the Union. Therefore, journalists and through them the public get the - partly right - impression that, through its information activities, the Commission defends its own policies rather than the common policies of the Member States.

    The result of information deficiency, combined with disinformation on the part of eurosceptic media, is the indifference or, worse, the dissatisfaction of citizens, who quite sincerely believe that, instead of progressing in the field of European unification, the European Union is a theatre of infighting among European politicians; that it is totally unable to monitor global phenomena - such as globalisation, climate change and international conflicts - and that it is even responsible for some of their national problems, such as unemployment and the cost of living. It is this mismatch between high expectations and totally or partly false perceptions of the public that endangers European unification. The indifference and/or dissatisfaction of citizens, demonstrated in European elections, opinion polls and referendums, must be recognised as a major failure of the integration process and a grave danger for its future.

    10.1.3. The need for a common communication policy

    The treaty of Lisbon, like its predecessors, does not mention an information and/or communication policy of the Union. Although it declares that ''decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen'' (Article 10 TEU), it does not obligate the European institutions to actively inform the citizens about the policies and legislation that they adopt and implement. It is strange that, whereas the citizens themselves recognize their problem of understanding the European institutions and decisions, the political leaders ignore it or underrate it. If they ever examine seriously the Eurobarometers or other opinion surveys in their countries, they will understand that the citizens do not ask for a direct participation in the decision making process of the Union, but for a clear information as to how and why decisions are taken and as to what bearing they have on their lives. If this demand of the citizens was taken seriously into consideration, a common information and communication policy, covering all other common policies, could easily be conceived and implemented.

    By common information and communication policy we mean a policy with a common set of guidelines, decisions, rules, measures and codes of conduct adopted by the European institutions and implemented by the European institutions and the governments of the Member States [see section 1.1.2]. Although the Treaties do not explicitly call for such a policy, the Commission could, on the basis of the abovementioned Helsinki mandate of the European Council, take the initiative to propose it to the other institutions, as it usually does concerning all policies and measures. The Commission is the appropriate institution to consult, through a Green Paper, national and professional experts, formulate and propose, in a White Paper [see section 10.1.1], a common information and communication policy with common goals, common means and multi-level implementation: European, national, regional and local. Thereafter, the Council and the European Parliament, with their own committees and experts, could work on the proposals of the Commission to make them acceptable to all parties concerned. The ensuing common communication policy should entail two basic elements: a common information and communication strategy of the European institutions and the governments of the Member States and a structure to carry it out, with at its head a European Press Agency.

    The common strategy should encourage and give guidelines to the European institutions and the governments of the Member States to participate, together with regional and local authorities, in the common information tasks, in respect of the specific national and regional information needs. Coordination between the information services of the European institutions and the governments of the Member States should be assigned to a European Press Agency (EPA), i.e. an inter-institutional body, based in Brussels, depending from and representing all the European institutions: not only the three decision-making institutions of the Union, the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament, but also the European Ombudsman, the European Court of Justice, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. The European Press Agency should have a budget sufficient to allow it to carry out its tasks. It should subsidise the ''Euronews'' TV channel, which broadcasts European news, to permit it to transmit in all the official languages of the EU. In addition, it should subsidise national and regional media to diffuse, on prime time, five minutes of European news provided by the EPA.

    The attention of ordinary citizens should be attracted primarily to the activities and decisions of the main institutions, which have an effect on their professional and everyday lives. Press-conferences should present both the important proposals of the Commission and the major decisions of the Council and the Parliament. In the latter case, apart from the spokesmen of the institutions, it would be interesting to have the president of the Council and the chairman of the relevant parliamentary committee present a fresh decision to the press. Such a presentation should explain the problem addressed, the consequences of inaction, the reasons calling for common action in preference to individual action by the Member States, the main objectives aimed at by the decision and the most important means provided for attaining them. But, this common presentation should only be the basis of the information campaign on important decisions. On this basis should be built nationally oriented information by the ministers and the members of the competent parliamentary committee involved in a decision, addressed to the national media both in Brussels and at home.

    It would, indeed, be quite reasonable that, upon adopting an important European law or measure, the responsible ministers give an accurate account to the journalists of their countries of the reasons of this law or measure, its goals and its effects on the professional or daily lives of the citizens of their states. Thus, each minister participating in the Council, which would have taken an important decision, would present in his or her own words and language the decision taken and/or circulate a press-release to national and regional media, based on the common press-release prepared by the European Press Agency. If he or she had voted against the measure taken, he or she should explain his or her disagreement, but also the reasoning having prevailed among his or her colleagues in the Council. The same information function should be performed by the members of the European Parliament, who should explain, through the media, why they have voted for or against a measure, along with the objectives and means agreed by the Assembly. Disapproval of a decision should not prevent the authorities and politicians of a Member State from participating in factual information about it. As a matter of fact, the concept of a common information and communication policy and respect for the democratic functioning of the institutions implementing it would call for the dissenting minority to join the majority in implementing a measure agreed by the latter.

    Journalists, commentators and politicians of the opposition could, of course, criticise the measure taken and eventually blame the responsible minister for not having well defended national interests. In this way, citizens would have the double benefit of having a first-hand account of the reasons and objectives of a European measure, together with the arguments for and against it. They would thus be incited to think about the measure and take a stand on it, as they do about national measures and options. They would also come to know who and how represent them in Brussels. Eurosceptic media would, then, hopefully, avoid spreading false information about European decisions. In any case, they would not be able to claim that decisions are taken in secret by the "Eurocrats of Brussels", pointing at the Commission, when the citizens would be able to see for themselves that their own representatives, Ministers and European MPs, take part in the decision-making process in Brussels and can be appraised for their negotiating skills or called to account for any harm to national interests, actually or supposedly brought about by a common measure co-authored by them.

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    Your roadmap in the maze of the European Union.

    Based on the book of Nicholas Moussis:
    Access to European Union law, economics, policies
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    Translated into 14 languages


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