Better informed about Europe
Following the French and Dutch rejections of the draft Constitutional Treaty, dialogue with the European citizen has become a Commission priority. This Action Plan consists of a series of measures aimed at professionalising and modernising the Commission's communication methods.
Communication to the Commission of 20 July 2005, "Action Plan to Improve Communicating Europe by the Commission" [SEC(2005) 985 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
Communication is one of the main objectives of the Commission presided over by José Manuel Barroso. It is based on three main principles, namely:
- listening: the citizen must not only be informed but must also be listened to;
- communicating: citizens need to be informed in order to be able to participate in the democratic debate;
- connecting with citizens by "going local": good communication must meet the local needs of citizens.
This Action Plan represents the first phase of the process to improve communication. It will be followed by a White Paper for the creation of a genuine European Public Sphere. The Commission has begun by taking specific measures to modernise and professionalise all of its departments.
Involving the whole of the Commission in the communications strategy
The new communications strategy requires participation of the whole of the Commission. Commissioners need to devote more time to communicating, for example when travelling to Member States. Every member of staff at the Commission must be an ambassador for it, i.e. must be capable of informing the public or the press about the Commission's policies. Internal communication and training in communication must therefore be developed, and communication professionals will need to be recruited for this purpose.
The Commission urges all the Directorates-General to draft their policies in clear, simple and precise terms. It also suggests that the most important proposals should be accompanied by a "layperson's summary", and where necessary by a communication plan. To help the public find their way more easily around Commission documents, presentation needs to be unified, for example through the use of slogans and symbols. The Commission also intends to simplify the identification of the authority represented in its contact centres and information relays. Finally, the Commission will widely publicise its consultation procedures, through the portal " Your voice in Europe ", to give citizens easier access to the consultation process.
While all members of staff of the Commission are urged to become involved in the new communications strategy, certain players have a key role to play in its implementation. These include the:
- Directorate-General for Press and Communication, now renamed DG Communication so as better to reflect the Commission's new strategy: within DG Communication: a "planning and coordination" team will be responsible for preparing the communication agenda, based on contributions from all the other DGs and DG Communication's own departments. This planning and coordination team will be responsible for ensuring the implementation of this Action Plan, which will involve defining communication plans oriented towards the general public, i.e. focusing on fewer subjects but approaching as many EU citizens as possible. In order to listen to citizens and find out what their expectations are, DG Communication will analyse the results of Eurobarometer surveys, media reporting, feedback from the Commission Representations in the Member States, from the contact points and the information relays, and from consultation processes. The results of all this research should enable messages to be better targeted. Finally, DG Communication will be responsible for evaluating the impact of the actions taken, i.e. determining whether they have been effective, cost-efficient and relevant;
- Spokesperson's Service, responsible for relations with the media: this Service will communicate the Commission's political priorities to the media, as well as a story-led news agenda aimed at the general public. It will also rebut false information. Finally, the Commission has been asked to review press releases in order to reduce their number, improve their quality and adapt them to local audiences;
- Commission Representations in the Member States: these have a key role to play in implementing the Action Plan at local level, since they can identify the target audiences, sound out their expectations and respond to these expectations in the audience's own language. To increase the impact of the Commission Representations in the Member States, the Commission proposes promoting visits by Commissioners to the Member States, in particular to the regional and local media. Heads of Representation and press officers will be encouraged to act as spokespeople on behalf of the Commission and to refute false information. The Commission Representations will adapt their communication plan to the communication agenda. They will also develop their own activities in this field, adapting them to national needs. Finally, they will network with the Commission's information relays to spread the message at local level.
Better use of existing communication tools
In order to inform EU citizens and stimulate their interest the Commission intends to improve the use of the communication tools preferred by the public, which include:
- audiovisual services: the Commission will develop better networking of TV channels in Europe and of broadcasters, as well as the audiovisual news agency " Europe by Satellite ";
- internet: The EU website " Europa " is the largest public website in the world. The Commission considers it necessary to ensure that the best technologies are available, as well as the latest developments in the private sector, such as blogs. DG Communication will appoint an editor for Europa to structure and simplify the website. DG Communication will concentrate its intensified editorial efforts on a news site and on a number of general sites for young people and other key target audiences;
- Commission publications: the Commission will continue to produce publications, but along the lines "less is better";
- citizens' contact centres and information relays: the Commission will continue its support for citizens' contact centres and information relays, notably through the Europe Direct free phone line. These information points provide a platform for non-specialised audiences to express their interests and receive information. The Commission proposes networking all of these information points;
- visitor groups: the Commission will devote particular attention to journalists, national and local politicians, civil society and to young people;
- cooperation with journalists: the Commission will step up cooperation with journalists through training for journalists on EU affairs and through accommodating more student journalists in the Commission's programme of internships;
- events: the organisation of events such as conferences, seminars or multilingual internet chats will play an important role in the Commission's communication strategy.
The Commission realises that in order to implement all these measures substantial resources will need to be allocated, in terms of both budget and personnel. This is because all the DGs will be devoting more time to communication. In addition, the Commission Representations in the Member States will need to be reinforced considerably in order to achieve greater communication impact at local level.
This fact sheet is not legally binding on the European Commission; it does not claim to be exhaustive and does not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Treaty.