Viewing cable 05BRUSSELS2739

05BRUSSELS27392005-07-19 15:41:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Brussels
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
¶1.  As the EU enters a "period of reflection" on its 
future, Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrm, 
charged with communication strategy, will soon gain 
wider public exposure.  She intends to press the 
Commission's case for the EU to draft a so-called 
"Plan D" - where D stands for dialogue, debate and 
democracy, built around the principles of listening, 
explaining and "going local."  Wallstrm sees the 
Commission's role as that of an honest broker 
helping to create a cross-border "public space" for 
EU debate, using the internet and EU support for 
networking among media, exchange programs, and 
increased access to the EU bodies.  Wallstrm's 
emphasis on process masks the real problem: the EU 
lacks a message that resonates with its citizenry. 
We doubt her efforts will yield significant results 
unless more attention is paid to crafting a 
convincing case about the EU's policies for an 
increasingly skeptical European populace.  END 
¶2.  Following the EU leaders' decision at their June 
2005 Summit to engage into a "period of reflection" 
on the situation created by the "No" votes in the 
French and Dutch referendums on the draft EU 
Constitutional Treaty, Commission Vice-President 
Margot Wallstrm, who holds responsibility for EU 
institutional relations and communications strategy, 
looks set to gain increased visibility in the months 
ahead.  Whereas some campaigners for the "No" in 
France and the Netherlands nurtured vain hopes for a 
"plan B" that would have implied a renegotiation of 
the Treaty, Wallstrm will be pressing the 
Commission's case, first made by President Barroso, 
for the EU to draft and implement a "Plan D" -- 
where D stands for dialogue, debate and democracy. 
¶3.  In various statements over the past few weeks, 
Wallstrm began sketching a revamped EU 
communication policy that would be "responsive, 
bottom-up and attuned to its many different 
audiences."  Addressing a Brussels conference, she 
argued that the Commission must "listen to the 
people, seriously and attentively."  For that 
purpose, she advocates "more systematic use" by the 
Commission of opinion polls and citizens' panels to 
hear from specific groups in the EU Member States 
about their concerns.  Wallstrm wants the EU "to 
speak in plain simple language, avoiding jargon," 
and will press the Commission to explain how its 
proposals "will actually affect people's daily 
lives."  Traditional vehicles such as press 
releases, press conferences and booklets must be 
supplemented by "new ways" of communicating. 
¶4.  Not surprisingly, Wallstrm, who has been 
sharing details of her professional and personal 
life on her "blog," strongly believes in the 
internet as "the" channel for an all-out EU debate 
and for communicating on Europe (Note: every day, 
half a million people visit the Europa portal site 
of the EU).  Wallstrm declared herself impressed to 
see "how many websites out there are dedicated to 
politics, and how well organized the anti-EU people 
are," noting: "For every pro-EU website there are 20 
anti-EU ones."  She suspects that the internet had a 
major influence on the result of the French and 
Dutch votes on the Constitutional Treaty (Note: 
exchanges among young voters in France suggest 
Wallstrm might have a point) and would like the EU 
to become more active in the "blogosphere." 
¶5.  Joining the chorus of EU leaders anxious to 
reconnect to their citizens, Wallstrm wants to 
promote "a truly European political culture."  This 
could be achieved through better scrutiny of EU 
decisions by political parties at both European and 
national level.  The Europe-wide political parties - 
- such as the European People's Party (EPP, center 
right), the Party of European Socialists (PES) and 
the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 
(ALDE), which are essentially active through 
European Parliament political groups, should develop 
local bases.  National parties are encouraged to 
develop cross-border cooperation.  A European 
perspective should be brought into the debates of 
national parliaments.  "Innovative steps" to create 
a cross-border "public arena" for debate at European 
level might include networking among broadcasters; 
translation facilities and venues for exchanging 
press articles; exchange programs for journalists; 
and making EU institutions more open and accessible. 
¶6.  Wallstrm sees the Commission playing the role 
of "facilitator," a "helper" providing support to 
Member States, the regions and "civil society" to 
implement this "Plan D" by avoiding the "top-down" 
approach.  In the next few weeks and months, the 
Commission will be moving forward as follows: 
--The Barroso team will soon adopt an internal 
Action Plan, listing reforms to be undertaken 
within the Commission "to create a modern, 
professional communication service" that would 
better use its human and financial resources as 
well as communication tools; 
--Later in the year, the Commission will publish 
a White Paper, intended for all stakeholders 
involved in communicating on the EU, that will 
outline medium and longer-term initiatives to 
be taken in cooperation with the other EU 
bodies and partners.  These would include 
further development of the Internet to improve 
consultation, support to citizens' 
organizations, and the organization of 
"alternative conferences in parallel" to top- 
level EU meetings. 
¶7.  EU integration as decided "top-down" enjoyed 
popular support as long as its achievements -- peace 
and economic progress -- were seen as concrete and 
obvious to all.  Today, however, new generations in 
the EU have no memory of WW II.  Peace among member 
nations is taken for granted and the EU is no longer 
associated with it.  Citizens therefore wonder, 
"what's in there" for them.  The Commission is well 
aware -- thanks to the Eurobarometer surveys -- of 
the issues citizens want the EU to deal with:  out 
of 18 proposed items in a recent survey, fighting 
unemployment, poverty and exclusion; maintaining 
peace and security; combating terrorism, organized 
crime and drug trafficking; and protecting the 
environment were clearly identified as the most 
important.  Wallstrm maintains that, faced with the 
challenges of globalization, "democracy itself must 
be cross-border," or it may "lose its grip on the 
difficulties that too many people experience."  To 
illustrate the point, she refers to "companies that 
play off their employees against each other," 
pollution, trade in human women and children for 
sex, or ethnic conflicts. 
¶8.  However, though these problems are clearly 
cross-border, with a European and global dimension, 
the EU and the Commission in devising and conducting 
their communication policy have to deal with a 
variety of Member States that have major differences 
as do the various interest and age groups within 
each country.  In Wallstrm's words, "middle-aged 
women in rural Estonia do not share the same 
everyday concerns as young urban males in Athens or 
Lisbon.  Teenage girls and boys don't read the 
Financial Times or watch conventional news programs 
on TV."  Hence the need for EU communicators to 
depart from their "one size fits all" approach and 
to start addressing people in their own terms and 
through their specific channels, which are often 
limited to local television.  To Brussels-based 
skeptics feeling this is a "mission impossible," 
Wallstrm replies this is a "mission irresistible." 
But how could the EU sell its policies by "going 
local" in a Union of 25 countries, 455 million 
citizens and 20 official languages (not to mention 
the regional ones)?  Bearing in mind that a major 
French television channel does not even bother to 
have a permanent correspondent in Brussels, how 
could local channels and other specialized media 
with limited audiences and readership be expected to 
make the case for the EU? 
¶9.  Pooling sovereignty and shared decision-making 
are ideas that have not won the heart and minds of 
EU citizens struggling with daily life.  The "No" 
votes in France and the Netherlands were a wake-up 
call for the EU "elites."  But Wallstrm's emphasis 
on process masks the real problem: the EU lacks a 
message that resonates with its citizenry.  We doubt 
Wallstrm's efforts will yield significant results 
unless more attention is paid to crafting a 
convincing case about the EU's policies for an 
increasingly skeptical European populace.