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EU-Vice-President Margot Wallström at a press conference on the "White Paper on a European Communication Policy" on 1 February 2006.

The EU – a bureaucracy remote from its citizens? This is the image of the EU that its citizens have, and the European Union has a hard time shaking it off. The EU itself has recognized the problem: "It [the EU] has focussed largely on telling people what the EU does: less attention has been paid to listening to people’s views." (White Paper, COM(2006) 35 final, Brussels 01.02.2006, p. 4). For this reason a series of initiatives have been set in motion with the intention of improving communication internally within the EU organization itself, and also externally with the citizenry. The goal is “to create a union of citizens” (Plan D, SEC(2006) 1553, Brussels 24.11.2006, p. 2).

The foundation stone of communication politics
Published in July 2005, the action plan for better communication lays the foundation stone for the work of the EU in communication politics. It is especially concerned with internal restructuring to create more dialogue and transparency, and this is intended to help "improve policy outcome and at the same time enhance the involvement of interested parties and the public at large" (Action plan, SEC(2005) 985 final, Brussels 20.07.2005, p. 7). The so-called Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Discussion, building on the action plan, sets out to be "a listening exercise so that the EU can act on the concerns expressed by its citizens" (Plan D, COM(2005) 494 final, Brussels 13.10.2005, p. 4). In its design, it groups the activities for the improvement of communication into 13 initiatives aimed not only at the national level (e.g., Europe conferences in the various parliaments) but also at the EU-level (e.g. the European Round Table). Particular importance is placed on the integration of young people. The White Paper on a European Communication Policy (published in February 2006) specifies the goals named in Plan D and suggests further concrete measures. The use of new technologies is considered to be particularly important.

The internet as communication medium across Europe
In a document published in December 2007, the potential of the internet medium to involve EU citizens in political discourse is discussed. Present use made of the internet is assessed and criticized: "There is little interactivity or co-operation/joint action among users" (Internet-Strategy, SEC(2007) 1742, Brussels 21.12.2007, p. 6), the website is said to be too complex and difficult to navigate. New structuring and simplification is called for with the goal of using the internet "as the driving force in moving away from over-burdensome bureaucracy to a truly citizen-oriented approach" (ibid, p. 4). As an example and as one of the first steps, the renewed internet-forum, Debate Europe, has been online since the end of January 2008 and arises out of Plan D. It allows citizens to exchange opinions on current EU-topics (e.g., climate change and energy, the future of Europe and intercultural dialogue) and also to receive information from the EU through regular participation in forum discussion by commissioners and leading officials of the Commission. The goal of all this is “genuine interactivity” (ibid, p.9). Through numerous links to information brochures and documents as well as to the dedicated EU-Tube channel on YouTube, the potential of the internet is realized and the modernization of the EU-image is advanced.

Direct Communication: Citizens’ Consultations
As well as efforts to involve EU citizens in the political process at the level of media and structure, direct paths of communication are also being used. During the German Presidency of the EU Commission, the European Citizens’ Consultations were revived in the light of Plan D. Its objectives were made clear by Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission and Chair of the Directorate General Communication at the Preliminary Meeting on 7/8 October 2006 in Brussels: "I hope that this is the start of a revival of democracy in the whole of Europe. I promise that the commission will listen and learn.” The heart of the citizens’ consultations is dialogue at the national level. During the European Citizens’ Consultations in the 27 member countries in February/March 2007, topics discussed were “Energy and Environment”, “Family and Social Welfare”, also "The EU’s Global Role and Immigration". National Citizens’ Declarations were adopted. In some countries, e.g., in Germany, there were also Regional Citizens’ Forums and their Regional Citizens’ Declarations were also included in the national conferences. On 9/10 May 2007 in the closing meeting of the first cycle of consultations, the European Citizens’ Perspectives on the Future of Europe were adopted and passed on to policy-makers. The so-called Follow Up Process guarantees the incorporation of the results at the EU level, as was demonstrated by a conference on 8/9 December in Brussels where support of the Plan-D Projects was advocated (these include the Citizens’ Consultations). On this topic, an Open Letter to the EU heads of State, the national parliaments, to EU institutions and to European Parties was published.

Europe for Citizens
Closely bound up with the work on improved communication with the citizens of the EU is the discussion of "active European citizenship." The EU program, Europe for Citizens (2007-2013), has taken on this task and is trying with the help of numerous actions "to give citizens the opportunity to interact and participate in constructing an ever closer Europe, which is democratic and world-oriented, united in and enriched through its cultural diversity, thus developing citizenship of the European Union." (Program Guide, "Europe for Citizens," December 2007, p. 4).

The main themes of the program are:
• the future of the European Union and its basic values (especially: new institutional developments and celebrations of 9. May, Day of Europe)
• Active European citizenship: participation and democracy in Europe (especially: participation of women in political life)
• Intercultural dialogue (especially: European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008)
• People’s well-being in Europe: Occupations, social solidarity and sustained integration (especially: Sport for active citizenship and social inclusion)
• Impact of EU-Policies in societies (especially: European Year of Creativity and Innovation 2009)

The programme is organized into four concrete actions:
• Action 1 – Active Citizens for Europe:
This action furthers active participation of the citizens through their participation in town-twinning partnerships as well as through the support of citizens’ projects that promote discourse among citizens.
• Action 2 – Active Civil Society in Europe:
This action is directed at civil society organizations and think-tanks that are able to provide new ideas and reflections on European issues.
• Action 3 – Together for Europe
This action aims at bringing Europe closer to people with the help of studies, surveys and high-visibility events, thus furthering "active citizenship."
• Action 4 – Active European Remembrance:
This action "aims at preserving the main sites and archives associated with deportations and commemorating the victims of Nazism and Stalinism as a means of moving beyond the past and building the future."
The activities in the framework of the EU Programme, Europe for Citizens, build on the experiences of its predecessor-programme (2004-2006). In May 2007 the preliminary event took place: since then a Forum for Citizens was arranged in November 2007 on the topic of Intercultural Dialogue.

Initiative Youth in Action

European youth recognized as potential
A focal point in discussion of communication between citizens and the EU, in other words, discussion of "active European citizenship", is the potential of European youth, a potential that has still not been fully developed. The theme has however increasingly become a focus of activities, and is becoming more significant all the time. Since 2007 there is, for example, an EU Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, Jan Figel, who in his portfolio emphasizes explicitly his work "for youth and with youth".

The central action programme of the EU is Youth in Action (2007-2013) and it is supported with a budget of 885 million Euros. It is targeted at 13 to 30 year olds and it sponsors among other things bilateral or multilateral youth meetings, in particular for those who would otherwise have little opportunity for exchange and meeting, as well as youth initiatives with an emphasis on self-organized projects, for example, in the area of art and culture or the environment. In the working area "Participatory Democracy", young people are called upon to represent their own interests actively in the democratic process. The "Youth-Democracy projects" deal with European themes and have a duration of three to eighteen months. The conditions for participation as well as the formalities of submitting applications are explained in detail on the website.

A central concept of the youth policy of the EU (also contained in the programme Youth in Action) is Structured Dialogue. Communication between young people and the EU commission or the member states is to be improved by means of a four-step model: The results coming out of the youth seminars (Step 1) serve as a basis for European youth events (Step 2) such as the European Youth Weeks (June 2007) or youth events of the EU Council Presidency (e.g., April 2007 in Cologne), which offer young people a forum for discussion and information extending beyond the member states of the EU. A further example is the first youth summit in Rome in which delegates from national youth councils and representatives of non-state youth organizations have met to discuss under the motto, "Your Europe, Your Future". Attention was directed above all to the elaboration of a vision for the future of the European Union which was conveyed in the same weekend to heads of state and government who were meeting in Berlin. The results of these meetings are to be discussed in informal forums at the EU level (Step 3) for example with the council presidencies, the Commission and the European Parliament, and where possible exert influence on European youth policies (Step 4). In 2007 the implementation was begun, though it has been objected that there is a lack of resonance in the public.

Sara Gebh
(Last Update 03/2008)

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