“The European Union is like a window. You miss it once it is not there.” This statement by Anthony Gardner electrified the audience at the plenary session of the European public communication conference organised by the Committee of the Regions in Brussels some days ago.
Gardner was US ambassador to the EU in the final three years of Obama’s presidency. Now he is free to speak as a private citizen. In this conference, he spoke about the importance of the EU in a world of turbulence, but emphasised that the bloc fairs poorly in communication about its achievements.
For example, he said that when passion meets facts, passion nearly always wins. We have seen so many examples of this in the recent past including the rise of populism in different countries.
Gardner said that the EU needs to counter this by using passion to support arguments. As he put it, we need visions that can inspire, as facts are not enough. Indeed, very often the way how an argument is presented is more important than the argument itself.
Ask electors in the US and Britain following the victories of Trump and Brexit. The logic and factual arguments behind these forces may have been poor, but they were more persuasive to their constituents.
Transposed to the EU, Gardner said that its communications strategy characterised by brochures nobody reads, boring information and dull speakers needs a revamp. For example, how many young Europeans know about the EU’s solidarity corps, which attracted 40,000 youth? Could more have been attracted if the initiative were more present in everyday life and the social media?
Hence, in an age of snackable social media and digital savvy citizens, the EU should focus more on engaging with citizens through user-friendly methods. It should be able to narrate stories, show powerful images, to show how important it is as a window, “hardly visible: just when dirty or cracked. It should be a window that lets in light and keeps out the cold”.
Another speaker, Jaume Duch Guillot from the European Parliament, said that the EU’s communication should be objective, factual, and trustful. But it should also embrace emotion, to define messages according to the target audiences, to be strategic and consistent. Clarity of language was also emphasised by Estonian Minister Matti Massikas.
Other speakers stressed the importance of looking at the EU as being made up of each and every one of us citizens who make up the bloc. Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions, said that Europe is not just Brussels: it is our cities, regions, towns and villages. If we want a better Europe, we need to take ownership of the European project, by deliberating, participating in politics, civil society and the public sphere.
And this takes me to the current nightmare that Malta is experiencing: the nightmare of bad governance, institutional breakdown, corruption and impunity. A post-Daphne Malta, where even the murder of a journalist is being subjected to apologetic and dishonest strategies by government forces and their allies.
Within this context, it is only natural to expect Maltese social and political forces to discuss the issue at a European level. Not that we have much choice: I have never seen so much interest in Malta by journalists from all aroundthe continent.
Thus, it is not them “Europeans” in the European Parliament who are trying to clean Malta from corruption. It is not some dark conspiracy which is troubled by Malta’s breakdown of rule of law. It is we Europeans who are working on this.
The Maltese who are standing up to be counted are part of this effort, as are the Euro Parliamentarians from different political groups.
Seen from this perspective, the post-Daphne scenario in Malta requires passion and a vision for a country crying for good governance. Loving Malta and loving Europe become one and the same thing.