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10.1.3.  The need for a European 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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