Minority SafePack advice to ongoing initiatives: adapt to the new setting
For a successful European Citizens’ Initiative, you need a strong cause, clear messages, wise strategy, good planning, committed people, a large pan-European network, financial resources, online and offline visibility. In these extraordinary times you will find these harder or impossible to come by.
Two years ago, this time of the year we were in the finish line of our European Citizens’ Initiative: Minority SafePack – One million signatures for diversity in Europe. It is an initiative asking for EU protection and promotion for the autochthonous national minorities and language groups of Europe. The European campaign, coordinated by the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), used not only its own human resources, but also a campaign team put together especially for this campaign and also the resources of FUEN’s member organisations and new partners which joined us along the way.
The Minority SafePack Initiative (MSPI) is not a regular ECI: instead of focusing on one single issue, it had to take into account the numerous problems traditional minorities must face in different Member States and try to find comprehensive solutions to those problems. It contained nine proposals ranging from a European Language Centre for small languages to the accessibility of audio-visual content. As our main target groups were the citizens belonging to minority communities and our initiative focused on language rights, we made a big effort to communicate with them in their mother language. In order to do so, we focused on the most relevant issues for the specific group. We ended up communicating in over 30 languages, mostly regional languages that are not official languages of the EU. Remember: beyond the 24 official EU languages, up to 50 million EU citizens speak one of 60 regional or minority languages. To do so we crafted hundreds of messages tailored to the different target groups. These messages resonated better with the target audience due to the language: imagine being one of the 41 thousand Ladin speakers in Northern Italy and seeing a post in Ladin on your social media feed!
The last weeks were frenetic: we worked harder than ever and the numbers kept rising, as we reached the national threshold in more and more Member States. It all ended on the 3rd of April 2018, with 1,320,246 statements of support (out of which 1,128,385 were validated by national authorities) and 11 Members States in which we managed to pass the threshold. In the last week of the collection we were able to add an extra 250.000 signatures to be on the safe side if not all signatures are valid. They never are all valid.
Would this be possible now? The answer is a categorical NO.
I do not have to tell you how much Europe and the whole world has changed in the past few weeks. Right now, the priority list of issues of the EU citizens looks like this:
And that’s it. There is no number two. People are worried. They do not want to get infected, they do not want to infect others, they are worried for their parents, grandparents, for their jobs, they are worried for the next day and for the future.
In this climate, even as the first phase of the confinement comes to an end, it is still difficult to try to come up with a different agenda. The COVID-19 issue is so important that anything else seems relative in relation to it. As your cause is probably unrelated to this topic, it is not the most relevant right now for the millions of European citizens. Nevertheless, the worst of the COVID-19 seems to phase out and on-going initiatives will need to adapt to the new setting.
Our experience is that the best results are achieved with a mixture of channels, these need to be adapted under the new circumstances. Online presence, media coverage, local endorsers and volunteers together make the best combination. Collecting signatures on the streets or going door-to-door is, of course, still out of the question, as nobody would want to risk the health of their volunteers or supporters. This is also not the best time to convince local supporters: it might be difficult for them to be the face of a campaign which tries to steal attention from the all-important issue of coronavirus. Media coverage might still be possible, try to squeeze in your topic as media outlets will start to look for other topics than corona, and the same would apply to online ads.
What about the time lost? I am confident that the European Commission will come up with a solution to extend the period for collecting statements of support for ongoing ECIs.
Of course, funding may also be tricky for those extra months, but your financial supporters will probably be flexible. Remember, you are not the only ones facing these problems, and the larger the scale of the problem the bigger the need to find proper solutions.
Although the collection of signatures is over, the Minority SafePack also faces some serious issues: after a successful meeting with the European Commission, where we presented our legislative proposals, the Public Hearing in the European Parliament, scheduled for 23 March has been postponed, as well as the plenary debate in the EP, initially scheduled for April 22. According to the ECI regulation, the European Commission should make its position on MSPI public before 10 July. As you can see, we also face uncertainties, but we are willing to wait as long as it is necessary for the right solutions and we trust the Commission will find the best solution for all parties involved. On behalf of our Citizens’ Committee we already informed the EC that given the extraordinary circumstances we would agree with the extension of the reply deadline of the EC to September 2020 and later. You should do the same, make sure that on your side you prove flexibility and understanding.
What you also can do in the meantime is to evaluate your work and results so far, to analyse what went well and what not, refine your strategy and try to figure out what would make your cause relevant once this period is over. You should also start to prepare your post-signature strategy; your job is not done once you get the validation certificates. You should look at the next steps and work on your lobby strategy. People will gain new experiences during this crisis, which might even help them to better relate to your cause. You can also prove your social responsibility by communicating with your supporters and audience, let them know that their health and security is the most important for you. They will appreciate this gesture.
And a last advice: do not lose your optimism. These are hard times for all of us, but we are all in this together, and together we will face it, and we will overcome.
ContributorsLoránt Vincze, President of the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN)
Loránt Vincze is the President of the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), the organisation that launched Minority SafePack, the 5th successful European Citizens' Initiative in EU history. During 2017-18, Loránt served as the coordinator of the pan-European campaign of Minority SafePack. After the successful conclusion of the signature collection phase, he was elected to serve as a Member of European Parliament on behalf of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania in 2019.
- Signature collection
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