On the occasion of the opening of the European Conference on Public Communication (EuroPCom), EU communication professionals made the case for an overhaul of the EU's communication strategy in a bid to reconnect Europe with its citizens. Less and better communication, “going local and allowing for greater involvement of citizens, a positive language focusing on results on the ground, better coordination among EU institutions: here are the main recommendations for a new strategy which emerged from today's opening.
Organised by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in partnership with the other European institutions, the 5th edition of EuroPCom is bringing over two days in Brussels more than 700 communicators from all levels of government, including 78 speakers and high-level political representatives, to debate current EU communication challenges. Along the theme "Imag[in]ing Europe", this year's edition is putting a special focus on the need to rethink EU communication, while exploring the values, stories, media and participatory approaches which can form the basis of the EU communication strategy for the next years.
In his welcome address, Michel Lebrun, CoR President, emphasised: "No communications strategy, no advertising campaign will have any impact on public opinion and civic commitment to the EU unless they reflect a deeper vision of Europe. We need to be clearer about the Union's values and ambitions. We need more straight talking to bring people together in support of a decentralised European project that fosters both participation and creativity."
Reacting on the lessons to be learnt from the last European elections and what it means for EU communication, Mairead McGuinness, European Parliament's Vice-President in charge of communications, stressed that, "The slogan shouldn't have been 'This time it's different' but 'This time it's difficult', namely because of the economic context in which these elections were held. Looking forward to the next five years, she added: "We need to talk about the results and the achievements of the EU on the ground, not the process. We need less and better communication. We need a space to listen, a space to understand".
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy insisted on the need for a "positive language" on Europe and called on politicians at all levels to "speak publicly of their European conviction". He further noted: "What citizens expect from Europe is to be stronger outside, be more caring inside. This is where we must communicate Europe in words and deeds".
As the CoR is drawing up a five-year communication plan on “Reconnecting Europe with its citizens", CoR rapporteur Christophe Rouillon, Mayor of Coulaines and Vice-President of the Association of French Mayors responsible for Europe, pointed out: "We need a more long-term communication strategy, not just instant communication. Communication at local level is essential if the people are to be actively involved in the public debate. We need to put in place listening instruments and work with the local media". In this regards, he referred to the proposals to hold 'citizens' dialogues' with local representatives in EU regions and cities, while insisting that every region should be visited each year by a Commissioner.
The CoR's proposals for a 2015-2019 communication plan, which also include a call for 20% of the EU's communication budget to be decentralised to national and local level, will be presented and debated tomorrow during a dedicated session.
Jane Morrice, Vice-President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), also made an appeal to better use the EU's "own resources", namely its political figures, and called upon MEPs, CoR members and EESC members to, "Go back home and talk to people". She further warned that, "Our messages are far too sophisticated and too subtle for their own good. They have to be bolder".
Providing an inspiring speech to conclude the opening session, Jacques Séguéla from Havas Group - the French advertising agency responsible for designing the new EU branding strategy - underlined that “it was time to federate EU communications around one unique brand, without excluding decentralised communication, whilst also taking into account the specificities and identities of the Member States and regions .
This year’s EuroPCom opening also saw the second edition of the European Public Communication Award to honour outstanding EU-related communication campaigns and projetcs developed by a national, regional or local authority. A jury made up of EU communication experts selected the most appealing and convincing campaign from a total of 28 candidates. The award was attributed to the Finnish fact-checking project "Faktabaari" ("Fact bar") which, in the context of the 2014 European elections, contributed to boost the factual content of the political debate by addressing common misconceptions on the EU.
EuroPCom is a yearly initiative from the Committee of the Regions, organised in partnership with the European Parliament, the Italian EU Presidency 2014, the Council of the EU, the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee. The programme for EuroPCom 2014 features a wide range of workshops, networking sessions and lectures on issues such as reputation building, the impact of "total connectivity", creative campaigning, communicators/artists cooperation and the perception of Europe through arts and culture.