Thursday 19 March 2009

Image and the EU: Are they starting to think about it?

Everyone knows that the EU has an image problem, though it's not exactly clear what can be done about it (though I personally think it requires some structural and institutional changes). Communication problems about the EU are chronic not only at the EU level itself, but even at national level.

Still, in an election year it's harder for politicians and even EU bureaucrats to avoid the feeling that something must be done. The elections are, after all, an obvious opportunity to reach out to the public and to attempt to get them more involved in European politics. Though it was always going to be, of course, an uphill struggle.

So the EP has unveiled a plan for more spending and more promotion on the campaign trail, as well as plans for more co-ordination of electoral campaign strategies (based around a choice of 4 of 10 "themes") in order to give the elections a more European character. The lack of clarity over what the powers of the new EP will be (due to the problems of Lisbon Treaty ratification*) will make the task of sending out a clear message harder in some respects. I hope that the Lisbon issue won't be focused on too much - it would be far better in my opinion, if candidates and parties focused on providing a clear message of what plans they have to use the powers they currently have to work on the issues facing the electorate. Dredging up constitutional issues, which the EP has no control over, is not a good strategy, and it isn't likely to help MEPs connect with voters. Showing the voters how their votes can make a difference on practical issues would be more effective than focusing on more abstract constitutional questions.

And even Barroso may be showing some dim awareness of the need for good PR - on Wednesday he got into the Irish Times for having a pint of Guinness with Bob Geldof in Brussels on St. Patrick's Day. Though he spoilt the occasion by making a "St. Patrick's day wish" for an Irish yes to Lisbon. By all means promote Lisbon, but it would have been much better to celebrate the occasion for what it is, without turning it into such an obviously pro-Lisbon PR stunt.

I don't expect a big difference, but hopefully there will be more engagement with voters.

*I'm still of the opinion that it would be wrong to push having another referendum before the guarantees are decided on and worked out.


  1. Retaining one Commissioner per member state depends on the outcome of the Irish vote, but otherwise how many times and in which form do the assurances need repeating?

    The are already in the Lisbon Treaty (even if distortive no campaigns told a different story) and they have been politically agreed by all the heads of state or government.

    How much is there still to decide and to work out?

  2. There is a better alternative than Lisbon: Free Europe Constitution. And you can vote (YES!) about it.

    Vote Yes or No at

  3. Perhaps the assurances should be repeated (explicitly) at the end of each new Treaty, unless there's a change of policy on one. It could save a lot of time...