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Brussels, 4 May 2005.

Background material on Europe direct contact centre

1. Europe direct contact centre – an introduction

The EUROPE DIRECT contact centre offers a free telephone and e-mail service which citizens can use from anywhere in the European Union to find answers to questions they may have about the EU and EU policies, be it about the EU Constitution, the EU institutions or on very practical issues related for instance to mobility.

EUROPE DIRECT was launched during the UK Presidency in Cardiff in June 1998 by the European Commission President Jacques Santer and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The service started to operate in the EU-15 in 2000. On 1 May, 2004 the free 00800 telephone number was made available in the 10 new member states and the service became operational in all of the 20 official languages of the newly enlarged EU.

In 2004, EUROPE DIRECT was used by almost 80,000 EU citizens. This number represented an increase of some 60% in comparison to 2003. Currently, some 10-12.000 enquiries are answered per month. In the early days, the majority of queries originated in the larger EU-15 countries such as France and Germany. In 2004, about 9% of all queries came from EU-10 countries, with another 9% originating from countries outside the EU. With a view to further increase the visibility of the service, the European Commission will be organizing a number of events in different member states and in particular in the enlarged EU throughout this year.

2. Europe direct – how it operates

The EUROPE DIRECT service offers:

  • • A single free phone number (00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11) which can be reached from anywhere in the 25 EU member states.
  • • A normal telephone number (+32-2-299.96.96) which can be dialled from anywhere in the world and for which normal telephone charges will apply.
  • • An e-mail service through the website where users can send questions by e-mail to which they receive a response within a few days.
  • • A Web Assistance Service through the same webpage where users can go online for a direct ‘chat’ with a EUROPE DIRECT agent, who will provide them with an answer in ‘real-time’.

When contacting EUROPE DIRECT either by e-mail or telephone, users will receive an immediate response to their general queries about the European Union. More complex questions may be signposted by the service’s information agents to experts or specialised problem-solving services for follow-up (like for example Signpost). If and when appropriate, users will also be referred to other EU sources of information and advice on national, regional or local levels.

All queries are handled by EUROPE DIRECT’s multilingual staff of currently 30 communication agents who are based in Brussels. The EUROPE DIRECT operators undergo an extensive training programme which enables them to adequately deal with a wide range of issues. The service’s performance is monitored on a daily basis by Directorate-General Press and Communication of the European Commission, which also functions as a “back office”, i.e. it handles questions of a politically sensitive or extremely specific nature directly or through liaison with the relevant services. All these elements combined enable EUROPE DIRECT to operate as a high-quality information service providing personalised answers to citizens’ questions.

The opening hours of the service are Mondays to Fridays from 9h00 to 18h30 CET; outside these hours, users may leave a message on the EUROPE DIRECT voicemail system.

3. Europe direct – most frequently asked questions

Questions asked by users of the EUROPE DIRECT service cover many policy areas. The topics most frequently raised by users in 2004 were:

  • EU institutions (12.5%), which includes queries about the EU decision-making processes, proceedings, the European institutions, for example: Where can I find the agendas of the forthcoming meetings in the ECOFIN council? Where can I find the list of countries that will hold the Council Presidency in 2006?
  • Employment and Social Affairs (11%), which includes queries on pensions, working conditions, equality between men and women in the work place, for example: Can you advise me how I should look for a job in another member state?
  • Requests for contact details (11%), which concerns queries related to contact details of departments, units or people working for one of the EU institutions, for example: Can you give me the phone number of Commissioner Wallström’s Head of Cabinet? Can you tell me who the Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs is?
  • EU History/Treaties (10%), which includes queries about EU symbols (anthem/flag), previous enlargements and the future EU Constitution, for example: What were the cost/benefits for Spain/Portugal/Austria joining the EU? When did the Treaty of Nice enter into force? Which are the member states which will hold a referendum on the European Constitution?
  • Moving inside the EU (9%), concerning citizens’ questions about the free movement of people inside the EU, the rights of 3rd country nationals, for example: As a retired UK national, can I go and live in Spain and still receive my pension there – what are my rights? My wife does not have the nationality of an EU country – we will soon be moving to Sweden; what are the formalities we have to observe?
  • EU funding programmes (7%), which includes queries on funding programmes in various areas such as: My son was accepted to study at a university in London and I would like to know how he can apply for a scholarship for this year abroad? I am interested in funding programmes for starting up a small business, where can I find more information on this?
  • Out of scope topics (5%), concerning subjects which are not covered by EU policies but national legislation and where EUROPE DIRECT therefore has to refer back to national authorities, for example in the areas of taxation or social security systems.
  • Enterprise policy (5%), which concerns queries on e-business, enterprise policy, entrepreneurship and industry sectors such as: Which products have to mention the new date of expiry applicable for certain cosmetics?
  • Education and youth (4.5%), this involves among others queries about conditions of participating in one of the numerous education and youth programmes at EU level.
  • Requests for specific documents and statistics (4%), which concerns queries such as for example: I would like to have a map of the regions in the Czech Republic specifying whether or not they are eligible for Regional Aid under Objective 1 or 2 . Can you help?

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

4. Types of queries

EUROPE DIRECT can be contacted by telephone and e-mail. With regards to queries made by e-mail, users can either choose to send their questions per e-mail and wait for the answer to be e-mailed back to them, or they can chose to find the answer themselves through EUROPE DIRECT’s web assistance system, a tool designed to help users navigate through the main EU website – EUROPA – while receiving practical guidance on how to find specific EU documents and information. The web assistance system operates in real time, which means that a EUROPE DIRECT information agent is personally guiding the user through the information displayed on the EUROPA websites.

Looking at the source of enquiries in more detail, the majority of users in 2004, namely 52%, preferred to use the telephone as a means of contacting EUROPE DIRECT. E-mail queries represented 41% of all queries, while web assistance made up for 7% of the total number of queries. Although EUROPE DIRECT has seen the numbers of queries made by e-mail rise in the past number of years, a slight majority of queries were still made via the phone, and this pattern reoccurred in a majority of member states. Exceptions are countries such as Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia, where a majority of citizens preferred to contact EUROPE DIRECT via e-mail, but also Italy and Denmark, where there was a slight majority preferring e-mail to phone as a means of contact. Queries coming in from outside the EU (8,8% of the total amount of queries in 2004) were almost exclusively received via e-mail. This can simply be explained by the fact that the costs of sending an e-mail from outside the EU will be lower than the costs of making a call to EUROPE DIRECT from outside the EU.

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