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White Paper on Communication
In order to bridge the gap between the European Union and its citizens, the Commission has decided to make communication a policy in its own right. This White Paper thus aims to create a European public space, and to achieve this it puts forward five areas for action to help citizens obtain information and express their opinions.
Commission Communication of 1 February 2006, "White Paper on a European communication policy" [COM(2006) 35 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
This White Paper has made it possible to launch a broad consultation to improve communication and enhance public debate in Europe. For six months, the Institutions, EU citizens and stakeholders had the opportunity to make their contributions to European communication policy.
The Commission identified five areas for action. Specific proposals, which the consultation was intended to address, were put forward for implementation in each area. The Commission also organised a series of "stakeholder forums" which gave specific interest groups the opportunity to state their opinions on these matters. Lastly, from spring 2006, it has been publishing Eurobarometer surveys.
Defining Common Principles
The European Union's communication policy derives from several principles such as the right to information and freedom of expression, the inclusion of all citizens in public debate, diversity and participation.
To put these principles into action, the Commission is submitting the following measures for consultation:
- Drawing up a European charter or code of conduct on communication: This document will gather together the common principles on communication and ask all the stakeholders to commit to them;
- Launching a web-based citizens' forum: This forum will allow citizens to be consulted on the content of the European charter or code of conduct on communication.
Improving civic education and connecting citizens with each other and with the public institutions: if we are to involve citizens more, these are the goals we must achieve. The European Union can provide support for Member States with regard to civic education thanks to programmes such as Leonardo da Vinci, Socrates, Erasmus, Youth in action, or programmes in the field of information technologies.
In order to connect with citizens, both direct contact between citizens and the EU and indirect contact, such as Internet discussion forums, should be promoted. In fact, the Commission has designed a programme, Citizens for Europe, which enables EU citizens to meet and organise public debates on Europe. It also intends to take stock of existing schemes to exploit their full potential.
Lastly, to connect citizens with public institutions, European Institutions should first be made more accessible and more transparent. The European Parliament and the Council have made significant efforts in that direction. As for the Commission, it has established minimum standards for consultation, launched its own European Transparency Initiative, and intends to make a determined effort to promote multilingualism.
To keep in touch with citizens, the Commission is taking action in the following areas:
- fostering the exchange of best practices with regard to civic education, developing of common educational tools, and lastly, getting European teachers who teach civic education into a network;
- connecting all European libraries digitally;
- setting up new meeting places for Europeans;
- extending the programmes which enable citizens to visit the Institutions;
- adding online forums to EU websites;
- reviewing the minimum standards for consultation to ensure a more balanced representation of interest groups;
- organising joint open debates during which the three main Institutions would take questions from the public.
Working with the media and new technologies
There is not enough media coverage of European issues. To improve this, the Commission would like to begin by making Europe more human. It is too often seen as faceless - it needs a clear public identity. Also, more account needs to be taken of the national, regional and local dimension. European issues should not only be addressed by specialised media - they should also be debated nationally and locally. The European Institutions should also put European policies in a local context. Lastly, the potential of new technologies needs to be exploited more fully. New technologies should not only be promoted, as they are one of the tools of cross-border democracy, they should also be made more widespread to grant everyone access.
In order to involve the media more effectively in communicating on Europe, the Commission proposes to:
- devise a European communication policy that encourages the public authorities to work more with the media;
- equip the EU Institutions with the best communication tools and capacities. To achieve this, Europe By Satellite should first be upgraded, but also a European programme for training in public communication should be set up to provide officials from European and national institutions with training in communication;
- adapt the information provided to the media to the needs of the local populations;
- draft a report on information technologies and democracy in Europe in order to better assess citizens' access to the new communication tools.
Understanding European Public Opinion
In this area, the Commission has already successfully developed tools to analyse public opinion, such as Eurobarometer surveys, and independent social research on European issues. Furthermore, the methodology for Eurobarometer surveys is being reviewed.
Additional measures could be taken to gauge European opinion:
- strengthening cooperation between the European Institutions to design and plan Eurobarometer surveys and disseminate the results;
- accompanying every new Eurobarometer survey with public debates;
- organising polls and surveys on EU communication from spring 2006;
- setting up a network of national experts on public opinion surveys;
- creating an independent observatory for European public opinion.
Creating a European public sphere requires commitment from everyone involved: the Member States, the EU Institutions, local and regional authorities, political parties and, lastly, the civil society organisations. For the benefit of all of these, the Commission is putting forward a series of actions to enable them to participate more in communication about Europe:
- increasing cooperation between the national and European levels: the vehicles of cooperation could be either financial or operational, such as making available the European information networks and relays. Meetings between national ministers and European Commissioners will be built up. Lastly, Member States could organise public and parliamentary discussions on the Commission's annual strategic priorities;
- increasing cooperation among national authorities dealing with public communication with a view to developing joint initiatives and sharing best practices;
- communicating more about the EU's role in the world: this is an effective way to involve the citizens of Europe themselves. To achieve it, more resources need to be allocated to diplomacy;
- increasing cooperation between the EU Institutions with regard to informing citizens, for example by improving the organisation of the InterInstitutional Group on Information;
- having the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions increase their efforts to organise regional and local discussion of European issues;
- encouraging political parties to become more involved in European political issues;
- encouraging civil society organisations to devise targeted cooperation projects in the field of public communication.
Organisation of the consultation
The consultation process on this White Paper is planned to last six months, from February until July 2006
At the end of this consultation, working groups comprising representatives of the Commission and of its partners have been set up for each of the areas for action identified. They have been asked to produce concrete proposals for action. The Commission has outlined a number of measures in this Communication to improve the way the EU informs and listens to the public. They are the result of the extensive White Paper consultation, launched in February 2006, which has since then prompted hundreds of responses.
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.