49 Future of Europe: information and
communications activities during the "Period of Reflection"
|Joint Presidency and Council Report on Member States' information and communication activities during the period of reflection
|Deposited in Parliament
|4 July 2006
|Foreign and Commonwealth Office
|Basis of consideration
|Explanatory Memorandum of 14 July 2006
|Previous Committee Report
|None; but see HC 34-xxii (2005-06), para 1 (15 March 2006) and HC 34-xxxi (2005-06), paras 1 and 30 (14 June 2006)
|Discussed in Council
|15-16 June European Council
|Cleared, but further information requested. Relevant to the debate on "A Citizens' Agenda Delivering Results for Europe" (reported on 14 June 2006)
49.1 The June European Council adopted a declaration on "the
ratification of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe",
calling for a "period of reflection" following the negative
votes in France and the Netherlands and "a broad debate to
take place in each of our countries, involving citizens, civil
society, social partners, national parliaments and political parties"
in which the European Institutions should "make their contribution,
with the Commission playing a special role in this regard".
49.2 On 15 March we considered Commission Communication
14775/05 "The Commission's contribution to the period of
reflection and beyond: Plan-D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate",
which said that Plan D "gave new impetus to the debate on
the future of Europe by encouraging new ways to draw citizens
into the debate". Although triggered by the French and Dutch
referenda, Plan D was not "a rescue operation for the Constitution",
nor was it limited in time to the reflection period: it was "a
starting point for a long term democratic reform process",
designed "to create a citizens' ownership of EU policies,
to make them understandable and relevant, and to make EU Institutions
accountable and reliable to those they serve". Stressing
the primary responsibility of Member States for responding to
the call for a period of reflection, the Commission said its role
was to assist, not replace, them, and offered a number of ideas
on "how it could, as an institution, contribute to the debate"
and suggested various themes Europe's economic and social
development; Feeling towards Europe and the Union's tasks; and
Europe's borders and its role in the world. National debates would
be energised by visiting Commissioners, regional "talk fests"
and EU Goodwill Ambassadors. This "listening exercise"
needed to ensure that the feedback had a direct impact on the
EU policy agenda and led to clear results that were taken on board
at the end of the period of reflection. Each Member State should
present a synthesis to the Commission and Presidency of the initial
results, which should be made public, in April 2006. A Commission-organised
Conference on "Europe Day" (i.e., 9 May 2006) would
draw together the main conclusions, and an overall synthesis of
the national debates, thus allowing the Austrian Presidency "to
orientate the preparation of the stocktaking exercise at the June
2006 European Council as set out in the declaration by Heads of
State and Government".
49.3 A skeletally thin Explanatory Memorandum from
the then Minister for Europe only said that the Government welcomed
the principles behind Plan-D, looked forward to the proposed Commissioner
visits, insisted that implementation must be in co-operation with
Member States and respect national circumstances, and favoured
further discussion on the detail, framework and feedback process.
He did not mention what action the Government itself had in mind
on ensuring effective UK participation in the process envisaged
in the European Council Conclusions; nor if any visits by Commissioners
or any of the events suggested by the Commission were planned
to take place here; or any of the Commission's other Plan-D ideas,
such as new information-relaying Europe Direct Centres in various
public authorities and universities.
49.4 The EM also gave no idea of what sort of contribution
the Government had in mind with regard to the synthesis of national
debates; nor, it seemed, did the Government wish to seek the views
of Parliament in preparing it. We accordingly recommended the
Communication for debate in the European Standing Committee, along
with Commission Communication 5992/05, a "White Paper on
European Communication Policy".
That debate took place on 23 May.
49.5 On 14 June we then considered a further Commission
Communication, "The period of reflection and Plan D",
which provided "a synthesis of the debates, with particular
reference to the lessons that can be learnt from Plan D"
and included details from a special Eurobarometer survey on the
Future of Europe. It looked at four issues raised in national
debates so far:
economic and social development of Europe;
The European Union and its role;
The borders of Europe and its role in
the world; and
The way the Union works: "Concrete
actions, less words".
It accompanied Commission Communication 9390/06 "A
Citizens' Agenda Delivering Results for Europe" as
the Commission's contribution on the Future of Europe, which we
recommended for debate on the Floor of the House.
That debate has yet to take place.
The Joint Presidency/Commission Report
49.6 The "Report on Member States information
and communication activities during the reflection period"
(the report) is a summary of Member State responses to an Austrian
Presidency February 2006 questionnaire on information and communication
activities carried out in Member States during the period of reflection
(cf. paragraph 49.4 above). The objective is to set out common
approaches and main tendencies and "provide a factual overview
of preliminary national activities". The main findings are
presented under eight headings:
of projects: information
and communication activities employed "all modalities"
but the most appreciated were TV and radio. The most appropriate
subjects for coverage should be "ones which affect citizens'
daily lives". Although there should be debates carried out
by politicians and opinion leaders, the formats should go "beyond
traditional political information programmes" and include
the style of "popular TV shows". The interconnection
between information and communication activities and education
should be strengthened, including in schools and in teacher training.
The Internet is "one of the favourite vectors of national
administrations and representatives of civil society", although,
the report says somewhat delphically, "some recalled negative
experiences with virtual fora, the initial purpose of which was
Topics discussed: the subjects
to which citizens attached the highest priority varied among Member
States. They had no European agenda "as such". Europe
instead "constitutes for them an extension of the national
agenda". EU institutional questions "arouse hardly any
interest". Instead, citizens "attach priority to those
subjects which have had or could have a direct impact on their
Key messages: "perceptions
varied so widely from one Member State to another that it would
be illusory to conceive messages common the EU as a whole".
Again somewhat elliptically, the report says that "a threat
of demagogy exists when positive messages concerning Europe are
launched in an abstract way"; and then goes on more straightforwardly
to say "Information based on real facts [sic] seems to have
a positive impact".
Targeted public/audience: The
report says that, very often, "information on Europe seems
to be addressed to a section of the general public whose considerable
degree of technical expertise gives it a high level of awareness
of such matters". The challenge is instead to capture the
interest of those who are less interested in EU issues;
Citizens' expectations: improving
the quality of life, combating unemployment, increasing security
and protecting the environment "remain at the core of European
citizens' aspirations". European citizens expect answers
at European level, but at the same time express mistrust in the
way in which decisions are taken by the EU institutions
"a process which is incomprehensible to many". Citizens
in a majority of Member States expressed a desire to be more closely
involved in EU matters, but the way in which this desire is expressed
is "far from unanimous".
Using the Internet: all Member
States have made Internet platforms a key element of their European
communication strategies. But the Internet is "a powerful
instrument which requires a considerable degree of know-how. The
mere accumulation of information is not sufficient; such a practice
could, on the contrary, turn out to be counter-productive".
Succinct presentation, clear language and proper adaptation to
the targeted audience are crucial when communicating via the Web.
Co-operation between Member States and the EU institutions in
the field of the Internet is "crucial, since the risk of
duplicating efforts is particularly high".
Lessons learned: it "remains
to be seen" whether the great efforts public administrations
are clearly making in terms of information and communication on
Europe will achieve the expected results, "in particular
when the aim is to increase citizens' interest". Initiatives
aiming to increase civil society's involvement would constitute
a step in the right direction. Ultimately, citizens themselves
are the best communicators "since they can exchange their
ideas with other citizens based on their own direct experiences".
But giving citizens a voice "could not, however, replace
action taken by the political authorities, since the latter are
responsible for conveying clear messages on European issues";
Co-operation with EU institutions:
The report poses three questions concerning the role and the importance
of co-operation with the EU institutions when undertaking EU information
activities; whether a European Communications Policy could have
a favourable impact on national debates, and on EU information
activities in general; and whether it is possible and desirable
to ensure synergy between the activities organised at the national
level and those envisaged by the European institutions. It concludes
that although almost all Member States co-operate with the EU
institutions "with due regard for the principle of the voluntary
participation of Member States":
- the administrative complexity
is such that the potential of the existing mechanisms is not fully
- when promoting or subsidising initiatives, in
particular those proposed by civil society representatives, national
public bodies and Community institutions act too often in an uncoordinated
- planning and advance information on possible
activities co-financed between Member States and EU Institutions
should be improved; and
- "Imaginative solutions are called for to
overcome this situation".
The report was agreed by Member States at the Working
Party on Information on 23 May and presented to the June 2006
The Government's view
49.7 In his 14 June Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister
for Europe (Mr Geoffrey Hoon) says that as the report does not
set out any proposals, there are therefore no policy implications
for the UK. He also says that the UK submitted its response to
the questionnaire to the Council Secretariat on 28 April, with
comments against each of the eight headings. A copy is attached
to his Explanatory Memorandum, and is at Annex A of this Report.
The main features are:
reform, globalisation, energy, security, counter-terrorism and
organised crime as the key topics for discussion;
Information and communication activities
designed to meet the needs of the whole population and focused
on "providing accessible information and supporting a broad
debate on the future direction of Europe";
A new website at www.europe.gov.uk.,
drawing on private sector expertise in design and copyrighting;
using a route whereby experts and members of the public can send
in their comments on economic reform, globalisation and enlargement;
and including "some specific information for particular groups,
e.g., young people, women and businesses";
Research to gauge public opinion and
information needs, where, the Minister says, "minor criticism
of the EU relates to concerns about an excessive and wasteful
budget and associated bureaucracy"; and
Close co-operation with the European
Commission and European Parliament UK representations, particularly
on the Europe Direct project and in utilising Eurobarometer research.
The Minister says he will continue to co-operate
with the Institutions in the UK, which has been HMG practice for
a number of years, and is "open to exploring new forms of
cooperation where these might be mutually beneficial".
49.8 As noted above, one of our bones of contention
with the previous Minister of Europe was the paucity of his comments
on the original Plan D Communication and, in this context, his
failure to provide any indication of what the Government proposed
to submit as its contribution to the synthesis of national debates.
Now that we know that the UK contribution was submitted as long
ago as last April, we continue to be puzzled; likewise as to why
the present Minister of Europe made no reference to it in his
May Explanatory Memorandum referred to above, on the Communication
on the synthesis of national debates, or during the debate on
Plan D when, as we noted in our 14 June report, he continued
to resist all entreaties to outline his views on the central issue
to which all these activities relate, viz., the future of Europe.
49.9 We also note that, although the report was
produced on 25 May, it was not deposited in the House until 4
July. We should be grateful if the Minister would explain this
49.10 From what the Minister says, it would appear
that UK activities have focussed more on what citizens want to
discuss than has been the general case, where the picture in the
report is of an élite talking to itself about matters that
do not interest them, such as institutional issues, and of a decision-taking
process "which is incomprehensible to many". Even though
it is far from clear what the report means when it says that "a
threat of demagogy exists when positive messages concerning Europe
are launched in an abstract way", it is reassuring to hear
that "Information based on real facts [sic] seems to have
a positive impact".
49.11 It would also appear that the UK has endeavoured
to avoid some of the pitfalls of using the Internet, to which
the report refers so elliptically.
49.12 That said, we cannot agree that the report
has no policy implications. On the contrary, it deals with some
of the most highly political aspects of the future of Europe.
Although the report makes appropriate references to greater involvement
of citizens and new formats for presentation and discussion, there
is a clear sense that politicians and opinion formers should retain
control of the debate. There is also no consensus on what the
"key messages" are, or on what constitutes "factual,
accessible information". Suggestions that "Europe"
should feature in school curricula and teacher training are highly
49.13 We therefore consider the report, which
we now clear, as relevant to the debate that we have already recommended
on "A Citizens Agenda Delivering Results for Europe".
Annex 1 UK response to Presidency/General
Secretariat questionnaire on Member State activities during the
period of reflection
1. Types of projects
Since the June 2005 European Council Declaration
on the EU Constitutional Treaty, the UK has undertaken a range
of activities to support debate about the future direction of
Europe. During the UK Presidency, activities ranged from the Hampton
Court Summit and Sharing Power in Europe Conference, to publications,
speeches and articles designed for a range of audiences.
In 2006, the UK launched a new website at www.europe.gov.uk
and an updated 'Guide to the EU' publication. Both provide factual,
accessible information on the EU and future of Europe debate,
inviting the public to contribute views on issues such as enlargement,
economic reform and globalisation. The UK Department for Trade
and Industry has also produced a specialist publication 'Working
with the EU' for business, consumers and employees. In addition
the UK government is working in partnership with the European
Commission (EC) to co-ordinate activities, including on the implementation
of Plan D. In particular, the UK government is working with the
EC on the Europe Direct project as well as feeding into research
processes to assess public information needs.
2. Topics discussed
Discussion in the UK is wide-ranging but key topics
currently include economic reform, tackling the challenges of
globalisation, energy, security, counter-terrorism and organised
crime the approach that all Europe's Heads of Government agreed
at Hampton Court took during the UK Presidency. Online the future
of Europe discussions focus on economic reform, globalisation
It would be difficult to centre national debates
on specific questions due to the different nature of the debates
in different countries. Any move to consider a common core of
topics for national debates would have to consider national circumstances.
UK communication activities have focused on providing
factual, accessible information and supporting a broad debate
on the future direction of Europe.
4. Targeted public/audience
Overall UK government communication activities are
designed to meet the needs of the whole population, including
providing materials in accessible formats. For example, the new
website is designed to cater for all but it also includes some
specific information for particular groups, e.g. young people,
women and businesses, under the 'EU and Me' section. It is intended
that this section will expand over time to address the broad information
needs of the UK public.
5. Citizens' expectations
The internet has proved a useful tool to obtain people's
feedback and engage a broader cross section of the population
in the future of Europe debate. Research to gauge public opinion
and information needs has also been valuable in assessing citizens'
expectations. Minor criticism of the EU relates to concerns about
an excessive and wasteful budget and associated bureaucracy. One
positive in the UK is that there is a desire for more factual
information on the EU.
6. Using the internet
In April the UK launched a new interactive website
on the EU and future of Europe debate at www.europe.gov.uk. An
experienced, professional digital media agency was chosen to work
on the project and have helped deliver a high quality product.
One of the lessons we have learned from previous internet projects
is the need to utilise the expertise of the private sector both
in web development and copyrighting. Proper user research and
testing is also vital in the development of a successful website.
In terms of interactivity, we have chosen a route whereby experts
and members of the public can send in their comments on particular
future of Europe topics. We then publish a selection of those
comments to reflect the broad nature of the debate. The website
has only recently launched and we will continue to monitor and
evaluate its progress.
7. Lessons learned
The most important aspect of the national debates
has been the focus on improving two way communications between
the EU, member states and its citizens. Ongoing communications
activities aim to increase public awareness of the EU in the long-term.
In the UK we have delivered a range of activities to improve information
on the EU and future of Europe debate but we see this as part
of an ongoing process to be built upon in the months and years
ahead. The best way forward would be to continue to improve democracy,
dialogue and debate in the EU and for all member states to build
upon the good work that has been started in the past 12 months.
8. Co-operation with EU institutions
The UK government works closely with the European
Commission and European Parliament UK representations. A particularly
good relationship has developed on the Europe Direct project and
in utilising Eurobarometer research. The UK government is keen
to see further transfer of financial responsibilities to European
Commission representations to improve joint working and more decisions
devolved to representations. The UK would welcome more discussion
on Plan D and is interested in feeding into any new communication
initiatives at the earliest possible opportunity. Co-operation
is best achieved at national, regional and local level and we
welcome the principles in Plan D of 'Going local'.
121 See headnote. Back
Stg Co Deb, European Standing Committee, 23 May 2006, cols
See headnote. Back