Background material on Europe direct contact centre
European Commission - MEMO/05/151 04/05/2005
Brussels, 4 May 2005.
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:
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:
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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.