International political PR: The EU´s communication deficit.

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Political PR makes the world go round. While national goverments, especially in Europe, rely heavily on spin doctors to influence the public opinion, it is more than surprising how under-developed the European Union`s communication strategy is.
As decisions are more and more made on a European rather than on a national level, EU citizens started to feel left out of the decision making process and turned away from the EU. The consequence are low voter turnouts in the European elections and decreasing acceptance rates. The EU treaty, an important and necessary step towards a European future, eventually failed because of a lack of public support.

The European Commission (which has the biggest influence on the communication policy of the EU and administers the biggest budget) has been through more than one communication disaster during the last decade, and as a result of that, its public reputation is constantly decreasing. Still they don`t seem to learn anything out of it.

During the 1990s, European citizens started to develope a growing EU-scepticism, which the lacking communication and information policy of the EU was held responsible for. It was deeply determined by a lack of transparency and the constant cover-up of corruption.
In 1999 this culminated in the resignation of the Santer Comission because of the corruption scandal that evolved around Edith Cresson.

Therefore, the following commission devoted itself to the development of a more intensive and more strategical communication program, based on the models of transparency and dialogue. Since then, day-to-day communication has definitely improved: daily press conferences and press releases are available online and easily accessible for journalists and citizens. However, there`s still hardly any coordination or collaboration between the communication departments of the Commission, the Parliament and the Council. They work widely autonomous, which is the main reason why a lot of information is published several times or even contradictory.

This is due to the fact that the communication activities of the EU still have no legal basis. There is no official allocation of competence for information policy (meaning active Public Relations). How can an organization as big as the EU, facing the challenge of communicating to almost 500 million people, have no integrative communication strategy, not even an overall communication department?

The communication of the EU shows an even bigger deficit when it comes to the planning and realisation of campaigns. Up to now campaigns (such as the campaign for the introduction of the Euro) have been of astoundingly bad quality and showed only little effect on the European citizens. Only political or intellectual elites have been addressed or the subject has been communicated in a wrong way. That makes it particularly easy for EU opponents to launch anti campaigns and reach a bigger audience than the actual campaign. After the referendums on the EU treaty in France, 60% of the French citizens said they voted against it, since the treaty was too complicated to understand and too difficult to read. No one bothered to provide the citizens with decent information material.
This could be due to the fact that only few communication experts work for the commission, but rather political scientists. The EU has to begin to value PR, build a decent communication department and spend more money on its campaigns in order to ensure a higher quality and coverage. If the EU is not able to plan good campaigns on its own, it has to consider employing external PR agencies. Bad, half-heartedly realised campaigns only make the European citizens think even more negative of the EU.

The EU`s biggest problem is that there is still no European public sphere, mainly because of the lack of communication. Issues and problems are mostly handled at a national level but never at a European one. It should be the higher purpose of the EU communication policy to change this. Without a united European public, the EU cannot succeed.

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