On Monday, Forum 311 -an association of young French professionals in Brussels- organised a debate on the theme “Communicating Europe: Mission Impossible?” I couldn’t go. Fortunately, other bloggers attended, and thanks to them I could read two reports of the debate. They are quite different in style and content. While communication professional, Michael Malherbe, makes a detailed presentation of the themes that were discussed, un Européen jamais content chose to report on the atmosphere of the debate. If you can read French, you should definitely visit those sites.
Although European institutions have made remarkable efforts this year to “communicate Europe” with a view to prepare the European elections, the turnout has been yet again lower than the previous vote. This is a depressing fact for the communicators of Europe, hence the title. One has to admit that they did do their best. Consequently, they can’t help but think it is a lost cause. It has been mission impossible. Willy Helin, Head of the European Commission representation in Belgium, went as far as calling it a “suicidal mission”. What if the problem actually laid in the very expression used to solve it? “Communicating Europe”: why not “communicating with Europe”, or even “communicating with (or between) Europeans”?
At the time of the debates on the French “non”, the Dutch “nee” and the Irish “no” to the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty, each time I was stroke by the reaction of Eurospecialists from all sides. The vast majority shared the same analysis: had Europeans been more informed, they would have voted “oui”, “ja”, “yes” in chorus. Maybe. Possibly. But as with this debate, the problem isn’t there.
What is needed is not to “communicate Europe” i.e. to spread the good word of the enlightened elite to the uneducated, but to communicate in Europe, between Europeans about Europe. The idea of “communicating Europe” is didactic. Institutions provide information on what they are, but it just works one way. They send information towards recipients – the European citizens – while they haven’t even asked for it. The idea of “communicating with Europe” or “between Europeans” is interactive. The point is to foster debate about Europe. I think the main problem of the European communication is that it is institutional, i.e. consensual, depoliticised, and as such, non polemical. Consequently, it is boring. The whole problem is here.
Although I am sorry about the result of the referendum on the European constitutional treaty in France, I still think something utterly positive happened during this campaign. For once, we talked about Europe! The French have been passionate about this campaign. Everybody talked about it. Why was that? Because there were opposite sides that confronted one another over comprehensible political choices, because there were lively debates, because for the first time, Europe got politicised. I am convinced that the solution to the problem of the gap between the European institutions and the Europeans is the politicisation of Europe. That’s what my political activism is driven by.
Alright, I can already hear you say “here is another mission impossible!” Because national parties (some) are against it, because national political cultures are too different one from the other (is that really so?), because Europe is too complicated (not more than national political systems), because people are not interested in Europe (self-fulfilling prophecy?), and so on, and so forth… Despite all that, I still believe in it. Dislocating these prejudices by building bridges between national politics and European politics is precisely the focus of this blog. For there is no such word as “can’t” – literally translated into my mother tongue as “impossible is not French”. I know a similar expression exists in Dutch: “Onmegelijk bestaat niet”, which means “Impossible doesn’t exist”. Do you have a similar expression in your own language? The floor is yours!
Photo Credits: European Parliament on Flickr