Plain speaking across Europe

The European Union’s reluctance to use advertising to explain its economic and social benefits only increases the anxieties of anti-integrationists

SBHD: The European Union’s reluctance to use advertising to explain its economic and social benefits only increases the anxieties of anti-integrationists

The difficulties associated with pitching for European Union advertising business, highlighted in the cover story “EC clutter mountain” (MW April 7), are undoubtedly an obstacle to the development of a successful relationship between EU institutions and the advertising industry.

Whatever the validity of each side’s argument, the sub-text of this particular debate is all too familiar. On one side we have the “flexible and fast moving” forces of pragmatism and common sense, while on the other stands a vast, inaccessible and obstructive bureaucracy.

This view of Europe’s central institutions, oversimplified though it is, has become common currency throughout EU countries. And it is not only the business community that thinks this way. Referendums held in Denmark, Sweden, France, Finland and Norway show clearly that the public is deeply divided about the direction the European government is taking. People are anxious about the prospect of economic and political union which they fear will lead to an erosion of national identity.

This anti-integration trend suggests that in our preoccupation with the constraints imposed by the Brussels bureaucracy we have lost sight of the very aims and ideals that underpin the establishment of a united Europe. The economic and social benefits of integration are fast being over taken by a view that EU governing and legislative bodies are meddling and aloof and have little relevance to, or understanding of, the people they claim to represent.

This perception has as much to do with the unwillingness or inability of Europe’s governing institutions to communicate effectively as it does with their administrative limitations. It is one thing for the EU to argue over specific political or economic issues with interested parties, but quite another to lose public support for the very principle of European integration.

This situation was described two years ago by a committee of communications experts working on behalf of the European Parliament. It concluded: “Faced by public misunderstanding, doubt and indifference, the Euro institutions must communicate with the general public to explain who they are, what they do and why this is important for all Europeans.”

Despite the group’s recommendations for achieving this, the EU appears reluctant to act. In some quarters there is still an unwillingness to accept the valuable role advertising and communications can play, not just in building healthy national economies, but in building popular understanding and support for the ideals of the EU.

Rather than resist the use and potential of advertising, Europe’s governing institutions should recognise and exploit its power to inform across national borders. Then, perhaps, the EU will once again be seen as driven by a determination to improve both public and business life.

John Shannon is president of Grey International.

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