“Marx was writing here.”
“Yeah, you know, back in the nineteenth century. Working on a manuscript.”
“Oh, that’s amazing, I thought that the Capital has been written in England.”
“What? The Capital? As by Marx?”
“Well, you said Marx was working on a manuscript here… Did he write anything else?”
“Man, not Marx… the Monks!” I said the monks were working on a manuscript…”
“Aha, well maybe they were Marxist monks then!”
The small talk going on before the start of a session on enhancing European discourse and civic governance in a beautiful Austrian monastery setting was somewhat typical of the way the information flows in Europe nowadays.
There seems to be a great frustration on the impenetrability of the Brussels bubble and the level of information on a national level leading to poor civic governance in European matters. Almost everyone without exception perceives this as a problem. Brussels is pictured as an ivory tower, from which little in a way of explaining gets out to its constituencies and even fewer information reaches it back to the top of the tower. A common criticism is voiced according to which the policy makers sit in a sort of information vacuum with no-one to provide them with an insight but the powerful lobbying industry. There is an element of truth in every cliché, and though the institutions do not work like this, it is necessary to ask how to overcome this division and create a real life information strategy, which leads to more involvement in governance.
This is a complicated issue and one, which is hard to tackle. It is not entirely possible to blame the institutions for the lack of trying – they tweet and use Internet extensively – but their communication strategy still fails to reach a fertile soil. Yet why is this?
The problem boils down to information dissemination and transparent, dynamic flow of information in general. From time to time, we hear voices for a “European Agora” in a sense of media, but frankly there is none. It is not something, which has not been obvious to me until recently – where do you get your information on Europe? Frankly, you are likely to respond from the press or the TV. Yet what press and TV do you have in mind? Probably the national ones. However, would it occur to you to read about national news in your local paper? No, you would look there for fresh news from the municipal council, for festivities taking place around your town and road works in progress. You might find very little concerning national news and moreover it is likely to be skewed information relating only to the impact, which the national affairs are going to have in the region.
It is similar with the national media. They do tend to see Europe through the prism of national interests and happenings. They do consist largely of the nationals of the respective member states with their political affiliations and views. It is not their work to see the bigger picture – to report on policies and news from a European perspective – they are there to cover the national news mostly. The European news is merely a marginal topic and reported from more or less a national angle.
Obviously, there is a chain link missing – no European media having daily impact on your information input – no dailies coming in to your mail box, no TV station to watch your dinner TV news and see an equal share of important stories from all over Europe. Well, we have the European voice. Overly expensive, with a boring format and unexciting news, it is rather a lunch paper for your average Eurocrat than a breakfast paper for a normal citizen.
It is true that the informed consumer searches for his information – be it online or in print – and finds what he needs. However, the EU needs to descend from its ivory tower and acknowledge that it is mostly not dealing with informed, engaged citizens. For the most part, a modern citizen is used to be fed information, not to peck for it. So, either the EU will invest in education of its citizens to a democratic rulers` dream and involve them fully in the discourse – or it has to adapt to their ways and start effective lobbying and PR for its own cause with the means the people are likely to see and hear. Neither the national media not the local politicians are going to do the job.
Yet, how to achieve this concretely? We discussed this in our little pan-European group for quite a while. Yet, we did not really reach a feasible solution. The information could not even reach across the table – as, metaphorically speaking, the ones were talking about monks and the others about Marx.
Do YOU see a feasible way to disseminate non-skewed information on a European level in a way that reaches its citizens and moves them to understand EU as “their” thing?