Europe, On Its Way to a Decisive Appointment

The European elections next June are of capital importance for the future of the EU. How do we communicate the value and scope of what is at stake? This was the topic of discussion at the recent meeting of the Club of Venice.
LORENZO PRUNERI
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The European elections will take place from June 6 to 9, 2024. The appointment at the polls, which involves the four hundred million citizens of all EU member countries, promises to be an event of extreme importance for measuring the importance of the forces in the field, at both national and continental level. It will be particularly important for verifying whether and how the political “families” that have dominated the scene so far are still able to form majorities in the European Parliament in the name of “Europeanism”.

The vote will have a broader political significance beyond the contingent consequences if it represents, as is desirable, a moment of sharing for all European citizens. Will their vote – in terms of participation and adhesion to openly pro-European forces – strengthen the community of which they are part? Or on the contrary will it fuel the narrative of a fragile and divided union incapable of going beyond the purely economic and financial dimension?

Those who do institutional communications – in the EU and in the governments that are part of it – have a crucial role in raising awareness among European voters of the importance of what is at stake in the June vote, well beyond the immediate political consequences.

“Family” photo at the end of the two-day trip to Venice

This is true enough, but who are the institutional communicators? Who are the professionals and experts who, with discretion and within the institutions, maintain careful vigilance to detect signals and trends, providing the public with data and information useful for promoting the active involvement of European citizens in the growth and consolidation of community, encouraging informed and conscious voting?

It must be said that they themselves, the communicators, are grappling with the new and specific problems that affect the entire world of communication. They are now forced to explore new, unprecedented methods under the pressure of an incessant and pervasive transformation of their media.

The network of interactions and exchanges between these somewhat special communication professionals has long been profitable, thanks also to the activity of the Venice Club, which meets in plenary every year in the lagoon city. The Club is an informal body that was founded in 1986 to discuss and share communication practices with the declared aim of strengthening European identity.

The 37th edition of the plenary – which took place on November 30 and December 1 at Palazzo Franchetti – was open to operators and representatives of study and research centers in the field of communication. ytali was able to attend the discussion [what follows are free personal reflections based on what was heard].

The concern that animated the meeting regarded how to counteract widespread phenomena of apathy towards European political institutions, and therefore how to intelligently use the levers of communication with the intention of focusing information on the next imminent vote, with a particular eye aimed at young people.

An election poster or a television commercial before a news program a week before the polls is certainly not enough to counteract the dramatic, constant and worrying decline in interest in voting.

It should be the political forces above all that involve voters in relation to the next electoral deadline, were it not for the fact that an approach focused exclusively on their own electoral base prevails. This obscures the importance of European issues and favors a nationalistic perspective, which considers the European dimension as more of a constraint than an opportunity and an advantage.

Voter participation in national elections, like that in the European elections, has seen a sharp decline in recent decades: from a turnout of 85.6 percent in 1979 to 54.5 percent in 2019, a drop of 31.1 percent hundred (data from Eligendo).

(Source: Eligendo.gov.it)

The nationalist and sovereigntist sensibility, which is dominant in many member countries, spreads negative ideas and sentiments towards the EU institutions, hammering on an alleged ineffectiveness and distance from the concrete problems of citizens.

Targeted in this way, European institutions appeared divided and inert, certainly not up to the challenge that underlies all the others, namely the construction of a common European feeling, an identity on which to build an international “patriotism”. The insufficient ability to listen to citizens’ problems and requests makes communications about the opportunities and conveniences offered by the European construction inadequate.

Examination of the problems leads to the discussion of the three essential points for good public communication: objectives, form and means.

One of the main objectives is to inform the general public about the imminence of the elections, an event still little known to most people. This requires constant and omnipresent communication, repeatedly emphasizing basic information which, however banal, constitutes a valid incentive for involving the most reluctant electoral sectors or subjects influenced by negative sovereigntist propaganda.

Club of Venice Plenary Meeting

The information message must focus primarily on the importance of the vote by answering the ‘why’, without neglecting the aspects of ‘when’ and ‘where’ it will take place. The answer to ‘why’ constitutes a common element for all member states of the European Union, and is motivated by alarm for a democracy whose stability is at serious risk. Voting is an essential antidote to make sure the attack on democracy fails.

According to Eurostat data, young people in Europe represent 16 percent of the population, a very low and worrying percentage, which makes the old continent truly such, not only from a chronological-historical point of view but above all demographically. Why, then, do we want to give more attention to young people if they only constitute a small part of the European population? The answer lies in the future perspective: these young people are the citizens of tomorrow. Investing in the formation of a solid sense of European identity among them not only favors their personal and professional growth, but is also crucial for the future and stability of Europe itself. In an ever-expanding European Union, promoting strong social cohesion among its members is essential to ensuring a prosperous and united future for all its inhabitants.

For the first time, countries such as Austria, Belgium, Germany and Malta will extend the right to vote to 16-year-olds, while in Greece 17-year-olds will participate. This initiative aims to involve young people right from their first steps into the world of democracy, hoping that they will become spokespersons for a renewed European spirit, a bond that perhaps previous generations have failed to solidify. It is undeniable that it is young people who are raising their voices, seeking recognition from EU institutions and carrying forward voters’ demands through various movements (such as Friday for Future or Extinction Rebellion).

Club of Venice Plenary Meeting

It should be emphasized that according to Eurobarometer data, belonging to Europe is felt most strongly among young people. The new generations are born into a globalized context in which territorial and cultural boundaries are increasingly blurred, and in which migratory movements within the same continent have an impact on the demographic chemistry and the resulting social and cultural dynamics. The consciousness of European identity, according to surveys, finds its most fertile ground largely in those who have migrated to another member country for study or work reasons. Just think of the beneficial consequences offered since 1987 by the Erasmus project for entire generations that have followed one another over the years.

The statistics show how it is young people who consider the European institutions to be more friendly and who believe that each state must cede a greater share of its sovereignty in favor of the European Union.

Traditional methods are not enough to involve young people. Contemporary, social and multiplayer communication tools (opinion leaders and influencers) must be intelligently and fully exploited.

The form of a message in the communication field is as important as the substance. The information and communication campaign for the call to vote will indeed be directed by the European Parliament, but it will require collaboration on the part of the various parliaments, despite knowing that in many cases there will not be the kind of necessary collaboration that should be expected from some.

It is essential to devise a public communication message that can adapt to different segments of the population, preferably through a simple, short, but incisive message. During the recent meeting in Venice, communication professionals proposed an emblematic slogan with the appropriate hashtag. This will be accompanied by a clear unambiguous statement such as: “In defense of democracy” or “together for democracy”, underlining the importance of countering any attempt at destabilization within Europe and calling for unity.

Participation strengthens the free democratic system through a rather simple proportion: the more you vote, the more democracy is strengthened; the less you vote, the more the current democratic system is at risk.

The message will mainly be spread by media such as social networks and television commercials. On the official website of the European Parliament, in the ‘election.europa.eu’ section, it will be possible to find any useful information for going to vote and consulting the election results. In addition to this, a personalized section will be available for each member state, featuring the answers to FAQs to inform each individual state about the functioning and usefulness of the various community institutions.

Furthermore, for young people, there are plans to establish a permanent committee in Parliament and create a project called ‘UE Camp’: a real summer camp where fifty young people from different European countries will gather every year in Berlin and visit the headquarters of the various institutions.

Many large companies, international associations and NGOs have offered to collaborate economically and with media in the communication campaign, with the intent and interest of maintaining the democratic system and counteracting the emergence of authoritarian systems. This collaboration will consist of funds without binding advertising contracts and without imprinting any name, logo or carrying out any lobbying action. Lufthansa, Google, Tinder and Universal have currently accepted the proposal to be part of this unique partnership between public and private individuals.

“Every citizen in every member state should go to vote. European democracy is more important today than ever.” These are the words of the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, during her recent trip to Italy. Each of us will be a participant and actor in a unique and rare event that will confirm an identity that is too often obscured by National, Regional and Local ones, which forget how much Europe has influenced and influenced our lives and our choices in recent years.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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Europe, On Its Way to a Decisive Appointment ultima modifica: 2023-12-25T13:08:07+01:00 da LORENZO PRUNERI
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