EPP-coordinator for REGI, MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij sheds light on the importance of engaging citizens and improving communication with the EU
In the Brexit-debates there was hardly any evidence of the EU’s contribution to urban and rural development. Many stories were kept untold. I am convinced there are many beneficiaries ready to tell about the outcome of their work. Europe-wide there is a need for a more profound citizen communication with the EU.
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Jean-Claude Juncker discussed in the State of the Union the importance of the Citizen’s Dialogues. Europe by doing, putting experiences in the centre of it. Although the dialogues originally started in 2012, they became a focal point to the debate on Europe’s future, initiated in March 2017. Since that period over 130 Citizen’s Dialogues were held, spanning 27-member states and more than 80 towns. All European capitals hosted dialogues, but also many smaller cities got the chance to organise events.
The 160,000 citizens that attended these events got the chance to exchange views with members of the European Commission and express their concerns. In the light of this initiative I have launched the action “Let the Stars Shine”, together with eight fellow EPP Members. It is our goal to engage citizens and find ways to improve communication about and by the EU. We want to encourage citizens to share their experiences with the EU programmes. There are countless of examples: companies who could develop innovating new technologies thanks to EU support. Thousands of students who can study in other European countries due to the Erasmus-project.
These personal narratives are our “stars”. With our initiative “Let the Stars Shine”, we want to highlight projects and proposals from our member states that tell a story to the community. My action started in the Netherlands in the small rural town of Dinesen on 30th August together with Commissioner Cretu. During the coming months, my colleagues from 8 different Member States will take this action further. We invited beneficiaries of EU funds to step forward and submit their results. By the end of this year we look at their innovative ways of communication used to involve citizens, cities and regions in the project.
We invited several communication experts to share their fresh perspectives on how to tackle this communication issue. Their conclusion was clear: not just communicate more, but communicate in a different way. Martijn Groenleer, professor of law and governance at Tilburg University: “I believe it is not about better communication on the EU, but about more and better internal communication within the EU. It is expected that this will lead to a more coherent and visible EU policy with a more uniform impact throughout the Union”.
Ryan Heath, the senior EU correspondent at Politico, shares this opinion: “The EU flag and signs attached to EU projects are a good visual clue to the EU’s wide impact. Another way for the EU to have more of its impact felt is to focus on what only it can do well. Instead of having a finger in every pie, the EU could afford to focus more on projects that simply couldn’t happen without it”.
Luckily this view has been gaining momentum lately. The “Let the Stars Shine”-initiative does not stand on its own. The European Commission has recently launched a call for proposal on new communication strategies on EU Cohesion policy.
Moreover, the parliament’s recent proposals on communication in the Omnibus-trilogue are positively received by the European Commission and Council. The aim is to enable beneficiaries to communicate on the effects of the EU programmes and measures, also in the years after the project is finished. This is clearly what was missing during and after the Brexit referendum.
The EU flag has 12 stars, a symbol of unity. I believe the EU has many more stars out there, waiting to shine. It remains unclear what such stars might have delivered in the Brexit debate. But there is room for improvement. If we do not tackle these issues seriously, we spoil the support the EU has built. Let the Stars Shine.
MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij
EPP-coordinator for REGI
Tel: +31 70 342 48 20