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Do MEPs really want to make citizens more interested in the EU?
by Newropeans-Magazine
2009-03-31 10:06:55
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The plea of several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) for more media coverage about the European Union does not make any sense. It shows that MEPs like to complain about the general disinterest in Europe, but that they are not prepared to change this themselves.

In the coming months, MEPs face the biggest challenge of their term of office: they have to convince the citizens of the EU to vote for the European Parliament. This will not be an easy task: many citizens are not interested in Europe, do not have much knowledge about Europe and do not plan to vote in June. The legitimacy of the European Parliament depends on these citizens: they should vote and should know why they vote for whom. If these conditions are not met, the European Parliament does not represent anyone.

It seems common sense that MEPs want to work on this problem, because in their next term of office, they will be confronted with the question who they represent. However, this common sense seems to be untrue: March 19, it became clear again that several MEPs do not feel responsible for the disinterest of citizens: in a public meeting at the University of Antwerp, Saïd El Khadraoui (SP.A – Belgium) and Ivo Belet (CD&V – Belgium) told the audience that journalists should write more about European issues. According to these MEPs, citizens can only become more passionate about the European project when the media give more attention to their work.

This plea does not make any sense. There is no organization that does not want more media coverage: every shop, producer, university and ngo wants more free publicity. They all think that their work is of such importance that attention from the media is needed or justified: the European Parliament is not unique in this respect. But journalists do not work according to these wishes, they follow the public agenda. As long as Europe is not on that agenda, there will not be more coverage. It seems that there will not be much news about Europe in the coming months, and there will not even be one citizen to protest against it.

MEPs seem to be the best candidates to get Europe on the public agenda. This task is difficult, but not impossible. When journalists are their biggest problem, MEPs could at least experiment with new media tools to inform their constituents, and bypass journalists altogether. Surprisingly, MEPs are not so active when it comes to new media: they only follow general trends in this area, mostly set by national politicians such as personal websites and Facebook-profiles. New media could make journalists superfluous, but MEPs do not give any priority to these options.

Another possibility is to look for themes which would encourage citizens to become more knowledgeable about European affairs and which would draw citizens’ attention. If such themes are high on the public agenda, journalists will be more or less forced to write about European issues. One of the best topics would be the lack of European democracy. The influence of citizens on the policies of the European Union is small, with or without the elections for the European Parliament. This message would alarm many citizens. MEPs know that this would be a hot topic: the Dutch MEP Paul van Buitenen was very successful with his plea for more European transparency in 2004. Why do MEPs ignore this issue to get Europe on the public agenda?

The most likely explanation is that MEPs are not really interested in debate with European citizens. They are aware of the possibilities that new media offer them to reach their constituents, and they know that there are European themes that could lead to public discussion about Europe. MEPs like to state that the relation between citizens and Europe should be strengthened, but they do not seem to be willing to work on this themselves. Is it disinterest, awkwardness, rush or unwillingness?

Chris Aalberts
Amsterdam - The Netherlands

* Chris Aalberts is lecturer and researcher in political communication. Visit his blog: www.chrisaalberts.nl

This paper is also accessible in Dutch

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Emanuel Paparella2009-03-31 14:46:23
When Italian unification was achieved, one of its architects, Benso de Caour said: "now that we have made Italy we need to make the Italians," which is a perfect example of the cart having been put before the horse. Could the same mistake have been made for a united Europe? It would appear so, judging from a constitution, the so called Brussel treaty, with no vision and no cultural cement. A union of banks and soccer games will not long last unfortunately and those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat its mistakes.

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-31 14:48:49
Errata: Lisbon treaty.

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-31 14:49:59
Errata: Cavour

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