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Communication with EU citizens and those of membership-aspiring countries reflects the majority of the Commission’s public diplomacy efforts. This communication is increasing in importance and is especially relevant after the rejection of the European Constitution by the referenda in France and the Netherlands.
The responsibility for carrying out productive dialogue with the public in the member-countries is assigned to the Directorate General (DG) Press and Communication. It is the main planning entity which coordinates the efforts of all other DGs’ communication units into one joint output. The information campaigns directed to the publics within the EU aim at shaping a common European self-realization, citizenship and identity. They are also intended to educate about EU values and the continuous process of EU enlargement. According to the 20.07.2005 Action Plan to Improve Communicating Europe by the Commission, “This Commission has made communication one of the strategic objectives for its term of office, recognising it fully as a policy in its own right. […] By working and planning together, the various Commission departments will improve the communication and image of this institution and of the European Union as a whole.�? However, The Action plan is not just about shaping an image but creating a deeper connection between the citizens of the EU and its institutions.
“Communicating: EU policies and activities, as well as their impact on everyday lives, have to be communicated and advocated in a manner that people can understand and relate to if citizens are to follow political developments at the European level.�? More importantly, the Action Plan shows the Commission’s understanding of public diplomacy as a form of dialogue, mutual understanding and cooperation. “Communication is more than information: it establishes a relationship and initiates a dialogue with European citizens, it listens carefully and it connects to people. It is not a neutral exercise devoid of value, it is an essential part of the political process. […] Listening: communication is a dialogue, not a one-way street. It is not just about EU institutions informing EU citizens but also about citizens expressing their opinions so that the Commission can understand their perceptions and concerns. Europe’s citizens want to make their voices in Europe heard and their democratic participation should have a direct bearing on EU policy formulation and output.�?
The commitment to public diplomacy as a two-way relationship is an important step taken by the Commission. The understanding that a successful political strategy should take into consideration public concerns and expectations is a fundamental public diplomacy principle. It is significant for every public diplomacy strategy, whether it is applied to internal or foreign policies.
Public opinion and participation in the political life of the Union is playing an especially vital role in relation to the ongoing enlargement of the EU. For the successful realization of this process, the European Commission is aided by the DG Enlargement. All communication and information work is carried out within the framework of the Communication Strategy for Enlargement .
The Communication Strategy is another example of public diplomacy as a two-way process. It is a dialogue engaging both EU citizens and those of applicant countries. The Strategy conveys the Commission’s believe that it is not sufficient to simply create an image of the EU abroad, but it is also essential to educate EU publics about the outside world, in this case the prospective member countries. The Communication Strategy represents a well developed public diplomacy strategy. It outlines concrete key objectives in member-states and candidate-countries looking to “generate dialogue with a broad section of public opinion and dispel misapprehensions about the enlargement process.�? In this campaign the Commission’s goal is to promote understanding by providing objective information and “eschewing any messages which could be misconstrued as “propaganda�? .
The Strategy follows a decentralized approach by addressing the general public through various channels and in a specific manner, answering the needs of each individual member or candidate country. The Commission is working in cooperation with political institutions – the European Parliament, governments, parliament and regional assemblies; business and industry – business leaders, trade unions, professional associations; and civil society – non-governmental organizations, religious and intellectual bodies, universities, teachers in secondary and higher education. In addition, the Commission engages in direct dialogue with the public through the Internet server EUROPA, the TV service “Europe by Satellite�?, the question and answer service EUROPE DIRECT. Furthermore, the EUVP and other visitors programs for journalists, officials, teachers etc. have been expanded to include the candidate countries. Many conferences and debates on enlargement issues as well as speeches and visits of EU officials have been organized to further the goals of the Strategy. For example, by 2002 Guenter Verheugen had visited each candidate-country at least twice, for a total of 40 missions. EU Information Centers have been established in the capitals of all candidate countries between October 1998 (Prague) and September 2001 (Sofia). They are responsible for answering all EU-related questions, organizing press conferences, lectures seminars etc. A large part of their budget is spent on publication of brochures such as “EU Glossary�?, “ABC of Community Law�?, “Your Business and the Euro�? and many more. Cultural events have also been utilized as part of the strategy. They include celebrations of “Europe days�? and “Europe weeks,�? yearly film festivals, concerts, language fairs to name a few. The Strategy also provides for a feed-back mechanism to assess the evolution of public opinion. Such instruments are the Eurobarometer surveys and the monitoring and analysis of media coverage of enlargement issues by the Commission’s Representations and Delegations. In addition, some Delegations promote coverage of EU issues with competitions such as the annual Robert Schuman Award for Journalists, awarded since 1998 by the Delegations in Sofia and Budapest, or the Annual Media Award in Estonia.
The information efforts of the Commission are also reinforced by individual communication strategies of each candidate country. Thus the two-way communication effect is fully achieved. The cooperation with governments in the framework of a general and individual communication strategies allow for sharing of experience and distribution of tasks and enhance the work of both the Commission and the prospective member countries. (For an example of an individual communication strategy read this site’s case study of Bulgaria’s Communication Strategy for joining the EU.)
It is fair to conclude that the EU communication strategies utilize a wide range of public diplomacy policies to achieve their goals. They also pursue mutual understanding and cooperation in their approach to communication and information. Therefore, the EU communication strategies could be conceived as well-developed public diplomacy initiatives. Such strategies have currently only been instituted towards member- and candidate-countries, but they could serve as a foundation for developing similar capability with third-countries as well.