Friday, 3 September 2010

Barroso communicating Europe: National and European identities

We do not know if the EU Commissioners gathered in Val Duchesse agreed to shred Viviane Reding’s communication plan and decided to enter the fascinating world of 21st century communication instead, but we do know that we saw both disquieting and promising signs around the time of the Commission’s seminar retreat.

In English on EUobserver and thus widely distributed, Valentina Pop reported Commission president José Manuel Barroso on the defensive, blaming national capitals for the plunge in EU popularity.

Pop’s article seems to be based on the lengthier Barroso interview published the previous day in the Corriere della Sera: “Troppi Paesi individualisti e miopi – Così il progetto europeo si ferma”.

In my view, while the defensive aspects floated to the surface in Pop’s essentially correct summary, in the Italian interview the blame was balanced by more arguments about our identities, as well as proposals and activities of the European Union.

Barroso’s thoughts about our double identities – national and European – as well as a sense of ownership of the European project, are worth noting:

Non possiamo più pensare a una identità esclusiva, dobbiamo abituarci al concetto di identità multipla.

... i problemi non si risolveranno fino a che ogni nazione non vede il progetto europeo come il suo progetto.

In the blog post No National European Vision, The European Citizen noted the difficulties the EU institutions have in communicating what the European Union does, but he made the observations that member state governments do not fall or get re-elected based on their Council voting record, and national political parties are not designed for European politics and issues.

Anti-EU brigade

Gawain Towler (UKIP) sees the reasons for the EU’s unpopularity in simpler terms: because it is unresponsive, bureaucratic, undemocratic and irrelevant to people's lives. Democracy, or the lack of it, is the distinguishing feature between the national and the European level.

On his Telegraph blog, Daniel Hannan (anti-integrationist European Conservatives and Reformists Group) offers Five reasons why the EU is more unpopular than ever. Hannan lists the euro, the bail-outs, the sense of iniquity, the spiralling costs and the lack of democracy, but he offers no remedies.

In the Mail Online, Mary Ellen Synon empties her euroseptic tank, using Open Europe’s spin and her own fantasies to depict Barroso as a midnight stalker.

Are these anti-EU ideas helpful for our understanding? Perhaps there is reason to look at a few entries with constructive intent.

European ideas

On the academic blog collective Ideas on Europe, Giorgi Tabagari deals with the EU as a Scapegoat, showing approval of Barroso’s statement that we won’t solve the problems unless each nation sees the European project as its own. If the EU is merely deemed as a benefit like late Polish president once put quite bluntly, it will never manage to compete with the USA or emerging powers, Tabagari concludes.

In his previous blog entry, The European Union and the Crisis, Tabagari related the history of social policy at European level before offering prescriptions for the future of the European Union:

Once again there is only one way out: a common European fiscal and economic policy ruled by a European government which is properly empowered and thus able to provide an appropriate guidance. We also need a common European budget in support of the economy and of the people. The solution for the crisis should not necessarily be at citizens’ expense. Either we become united or we will perish, for the umpteenth time.

To put matters into perspective, The European Citizen makes a case for arguing with the “facts”, while acknowledging that the Eurobarometer results leave the battlefield of specific policies wide open. He points out the tendentious reporting by anti-EU commentators, supplying a few omitted facts. Among them:

... the trust rates for national governments are over 10% lower, and nobody is suggesting that national governments should stop mooting ideas or bringing forward policies (or, in the other extreme, being abolished to allow for more government from the "more trusted" EU level of governance).


The most vehement anti-EU sentiments reflect a domestic UK legitimacy problem more than they help our understanding of the European Union.

Let them bask in the glory of localism in post-Roman Britain, the ‘patriotic’ rebellions of Queen Boudicca, or whatever (in the spirit of Synon), but the rest of the EU has to think forward.

In my view, Barroso’s remarks on the need for European and national identities were equally directed at us EU citizens as at our national governments. We have to decide if we want the European project and EU level solutions.

Naturally, each one of us has reason to think about what our state could achieve on its own in this world of emerging powers.

Citizens seem to be critical of the European Union’s achievements by May 2010 regarding their main concerns – unemployment and the economy – but open towards EU level solutions.

The Commission and the other EU institutions still have to prove that they are a part of the solution, instead of a part of the problem. The battle of ideas The European Citizen referred to is on, with lessons to draw regarding politics, policies and communication.

Ralf Grahn

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