Updated: Sep 27, 2021
This is a message for the mainstream pro-European audience who reads EURACTIV, aka the EU-bubble: we need to get better at communicating our Union.
Sebastián Rodríguez is a political consultant and entrepreneur, founder of the European campaign playbook, a community of pro-European campaign, communication and public affairs professionals.
Luckily for us, I believe that we are in the best position ever to explain why the values underpinning the European Union are worth fighting for.
This is why we cannot waste any opportunity to communicate Europe, especially now that we have a process like the Conference on the Future of Europe: an unprecedented participatory, bottom-up exercise involving all Europeans and supported by a digital and multilingual platform.
First, let’s understand our communication problem
We analyzed the data on interactions mentioning the Conference on Twitter, in collaboration with Graphext, a Spain-based data start up. What we found seems to support the following conclusions:
There is a monologue, and not a conversation, about the Conference. In other words, there is little contrast and exchange of ideas. Instead, what we find is too much amplification and repetition of the messages coming from the central accounts
That monologue is taking place mostly inside the EU bubble. More than half of the accounts mentioning the Conference are, in fact, the usual EU-bubble accounts (see inner circle in the graph below) and they only interact between them. On the other hand, there is a group of accounts (outer circle) aiming at participating in the conversation, but not interacting with the accounts in the inner circle.
The team at Graphext built this network map and, yes, you can find yourself on the map. The data can be accessed through this link:
With the above in mind, this article will cover four simple steps that we can all take to improve how we communicate about Europe and, more specifically, about the Conference on its future.
Step 1: Language matters
Terms, and words, exist in contextual relationships that determine their meaning, their connotations and denotations. In other words, the language we choose creates meaning in our minds and in the minds of others.
So think carefully which selection of words you are going to use when having a conversation about the Conference and the future Europe. Here are a few ideas:
Avoid the word “citizen” in the context of the Conference. Though technically valid, it may come across as derogatory and, most importantly, it will surely put people off. We could use a more simple alternative: Europeans.
Use storytelling, or the art of telling stories, in order to make abstract concepts understandable. For example, you can describe how you feel about the European Union by sharing that story that marked you for life.
Do not use acronyms and, if there is only one thing everyone should take away from this, that would be to stop calling it “CoFoE”.
And, this is Europe, so using only English to impress your peers won’t cut it. You need to communicate in as many languages as you can.
Step 2: Aim for an authentic conversation
If anything, the Conference on the Future of Europe is the time for the know-it-alls in the EU-bubble to start listening to Europeans. Here’s how you can do it:
Strike a conversational tone in your communications: ask people for their opinions and listen to what they have to say.
Go off-script: this is not the time to repeat your well-rehearsed lines to take
Treat the conversation as if you’re having a conversation with your friends
And remember: persuasion is not always the end goal. You won’t be able to convert everyone you interact with into a fervent EU-believer, but what you succeed in achieving is to recognise every person’s dignity and respect their legitimate demands. This would be a good start for future conversations.
Step 3: scale from local to European
Don´t be afraid of connecting a local or national debate to an European one. In fact, our arguments about Europe are stronger at that scale.
For example, if we are talking about migration, you can pose the question: how are we going to manage this challenge if we act alone?
Or, if you are discussing how to bring jobs to your local area, then make the following point: how are we going to compete for good jobs with China, the US or India if we are not united?
One last example, if you are into the conversation about the benefits of staying vs leaving the EU. You can talk about the shortages in supermarkets in the UK, the broken promises about the money that would be freed up to be spent on health, or about the rising tariffs and lost trade opportunities. This is no longer “project fear”, but “project real”.
If you need more convincing, you can see what our adversaries are doing. More recently, Orbán advertised his proposals for the future of the EU in major European newspapers, including the membership of Serbia.
Step 4: Innovate with the formats and platforms
Let’s be clear: nothing beats a face to face conversation with your group of friends or over dinner with your family when you are back at home.
Second best alternative is to make the case on social media. You can try new formats and platforms to reach new audiences, for example the audio-only platforms such as Clubhouse or Spaces, where a vibrant and nascent community of professionals (not necessarily from the bubble) is being formed.
In conclusion, most people in the EU bubble already feel that the battle is lost. They’re both right and wrong. As it happens in football, if you do not show up the day of the match, the other team automatically wins.
By refusing to even show up, we are handing our future over to those who want to destroy our political project.
DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.