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Foreign Policy Centre

Ideas for a fairer world


Communicating Europe

[Cover of Communicating Europe]

Next Generation Democracy

Claes de Vreese

British Council & Weber Shandwick Public Affairs

April 2003

Download the report (400 kilobyte PDF)

Democracy relies on communication between citizens and those in power. However, at the European level, too often the strategy is to focus on sending out pro-European messages, rather than presenting the EU as a political system with room for disagreement, discussion and debate. Unless the Convention takes account of how the newly constitutionalised EU links to its citizens via the media, it will produce solutions that fail to engage its stakeholders, and will reinforce the 'democratic deficit'. Based on a unique study of the broadcast media across the EU, de Vreese defines how the media actually covers European issues, and lays out some concrete recommendations about how the EU must change. The EU must redesign its communication strategies to take account of the methods broadcast journalists actually use to produce European stories; to use all the advantages the EU has to give the institutions a 'human face'; and to develop strong links between the European level of policymaking and the national media marketplaces.

Executive Summary

Democracy relies on communication between citizens and power holders. The EU suffers from a democratic deficit which is accentuated by a striking communication deficit. In its institutional reform process, the EU needs to take communication seriously – and not by developing communication plans that are self-congratulatory.

Media – and in particular television – are key resources for citizens across Europe when learning about the EU. Strikingly, however, we know hardly anything about how the EU is represented in broadcast news. Nonetheless, journalists are often blamed for contributing to cynicism about EU affairs.

This pamphlet draws on unique studies of media content and public opinion in several European countries. The distinguishing features of news coverage of Europe are that it is infrequent and faceless; but that it is high priority when it does appear, and is no more negative in tone than coverage of national politics.

The paper proposes a number of changes that the Convention should consider in making the European Union and its institutions more communicable to its citizens:

1. Redesign the institutions to take account of political communication and news framing. Useful frames include: the human aspect of news, a conflict-driven story, or an economic loss-or-gain story.

2. Design communication structures to link European level governance with the national systems of political communication. Especially in order to develop effective conflict-driven news, scrutiny in national parliaments has a strong communication potential.

3. Give the EU a 'face' by utilising the communicative potential of Commissioners more and by keeping the EU visible in other places than Brussels by continuing to have Council and other meetings held locally.

"Claes de Vreese, like the FPC, can see which side of history he's on. But he can also see history heading out the door" Peter Preston, the Guardian