Giuseppe Traverso Saibante
Environmental lawyer and Coach
Most of the time the news related to the EU deal with issues linked to people’s immediate emotions and their sense of security, like the financial situation of Greece right now, even when such issues do not affect people’s quality of life.
The great majority of European citizens is still not adequately informed on the mission and the role of the European Union, nor understands about the powers and competences of its institutions.
Within this background how is there any wonder that perceptions of the EU vary like in a rollercoaster ride and are strongly deformed?
The point about EU and people is:
- What is and what does the European Union represent for people?
- What benefits do European people perceive that they are getting from the EU?
- What aspects of the EU project trigger people’s fears?
Answering such questions means first of all identifying the main EU citizens’ demands and concerns in a given time.
This task is consistently undertaken by existing organizations and tools, such as the EU Commission’s Eurobarometer, which gather opinion polls all over the European community.
Once the demands for the well-being of EU citizens are known and clarified, the following question is:
- What competences does the EU have in relation to the demands of its citizens?
- What can the EU can do to address and meet such demands and what is instead simply beyond the sphere of powers of the EU?
Again, the answer is there, written in the EU Treaties that establish the exclusive, shared and supporting competences of the European Union.
And even when the EU has been given the competence to make mandatory decisions (through Regulations, Directives and Decisions), who is actually making the decisions?
Without going into details in technical issues about the roles of the Commission, Council and Parliament, it is enough here to say that still today there is a huge misunderstanding and confusion about the roles within the EU.
A huge number of EU citizens still believes that the European Commission – the technical non-elected body of the EU – has legislative powers of decision, which the Commission does not have. The same ignorance is spread in several other important topics, like the amount and use of the EU budget; for example, the majority of UK people still believe that the EU budget is bigger than the UK budget.
Ignoring and misunderstanding the roles and powers of the EU as well as the whole project easily leads to distorted perceptions and to emotions that are based on false assumptions.
Today, people’s perception of the EU is built rarely on facts and evidence-based data but rather on a lack of factual information, poor information and a political abuse of the EU by national politicians who leverage on people’s emotions and basic needs of economic security and cultural identity, using also the EU as a scapegoat for current problems that they are unable to resolve themselves at national level, such as the economic recession or loss of identity and sense of community, also where the EU has actually no transferred competences in that field.
For example, the EU has no competences on health, education or pensions which represent, together with the unemployment and taxation, some of the current highest concerns of EU citizens. Instead the EU has competences and plays an important role on environmental protection, another common concern of EU citizens, whose majority ignores how much their national legislation on sustainability is the result of the transposal of EU law.
What I am saying doesn’t intend to validate all those past and present EU decisions and policies that have been and are still decreasing national quality standards in the name of a common market, such as the Common Agricultural Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy.
What I mean is that any dialogue becomes constructive as long as all the parties, despite different opinions, share the same or similar levels of information and knowledge; as long as opinions are not based on wrong starting points or crooked perceptions.
And that is very often the case today with European citizens with respect of the EU, its institutions and the whole European project.
Paradoxically we are living in the era of information, while the EU people are far from being adequately educated, informed and enabled to understand the whole EU project, its goals its institutions and their competences.
The politicization and instrumentalization of EU issues is a bacterium that prospers in the land of poor information in which people can be made-believe what those who control the information – mass-media, economic and political actors– are interested that people focus on .
We can get rid of this asymmetry of information between citizen and decision-makers and we can avoid that the EU is used as scapegoat at national level, once people will be empowered by clear, consistent and evidence-based information and knowledge that can enable each individual to have an informed opinion about the EU project and its basic functioning.
People need clarity.
Clarity about the EU role and competences.
Clarity about who is deciding what.
Clarity about the level of convergence and non-convergence between their demands and the EU response, within the EU sphere of competences.
The European Dialogues have the opportunity to constructively address this deficiency of quality of information, by promoting knowledge and proposing adequate future communication tools apt to enhance knowledge and understanding of the EU project.
Specifically I would invite and explore with experts on communication:
- What can be done to improve the quality of information about the EU project?
- What communication tools are the most effective and efficient to make such knowledge and information simple, accessible as well as attractive?
Aiming to provide a set of specific actionable proposals before the end of the European Dialogues cycle
From my side, I propose an easy and applicable template to work on in order to improve what I consider the core contribution of European Dialogues: enhancing the understanding and the convergence between people demands and the EU policies.
|Prior people needs & social demands*||EU Competence level in that field||What has been done by the EU (when competent)||What is undone and people expect to be done to meet their demands|
* As identified by factual opinion polls 2014 / 2015