Speech by Tamas Szucs

Tamas Szucs


COMMUNICATING EUROPE

Thank
you for inviting me to represent the European Commission at your session in
Sibiu, a town with rich cultural and architectural legacy – well deserved to be
European Cultural Capital.

I see the European Cultural Parliament as a
forum for artists, intellectuals and other cultural stakeholders to come
together and share their ideas. Your aim is to give culture a more defined, more
significant role in the European Union. And rightly so.

Debate is not
just the preserve of politicians, but of every citizen.

As artists and
thinkers, you are well placed to see and understand the needs of your
communities, and communicate them through your art forms.

This is a
two-way process. Not only can you represent your communities in the EU cultural
forum, but you can also engage people with the European project and what it is
trying to achieve.

Many people are not fully aware of the EU and the
relevance it has to their lives. You are opinion shapers in your country and
through artistic initiatives you can help educate, inform, excite and
empower.

I was also happy to see in your invitation that 1 of the 2 key
issues the ECP wanted to focus on in 2007 was: How to bring the European
project closer to its citizens.
This is precisely what the European
Commission, and specifically VP Wallström has been trying to achieve since the
beginning of our mandate.

To bring the ‘European project’ closer to
citizens we need to contribute to the emergence of a European Public Sphere.
This is one of the most important goals of our communication policy, and culture
and intercultural dialogue obviously play an important role in this. I will
therefore divide my presentation into three sections. Starting with the topic of
the European Public Sphere, moving on to the new initiatives proposed by the
Commission just two days ago under the title ‘Communicating Europe in
Partnership’, and finally moving to the role of culture in connecting Europeans.


I. Where are we now in terms of BUILDING A EUROPEAN PUBLIC
SPHERE

Unfortunately far away from an ideal situation. The EU is
big, complex and looks distant for most people.

There are:



  • 27 national spheres, 23 official languages, over 3500 TV channels (2330
    regional), many actors (European institutions, national governments, regional
    and local authorities, national, regional and local media, transnational,
    national, regional, local NGOs etc.) with different agendas. Different issues
    are important in different countries. National media report European issues from
    a national, or quite too often nationalistic perspective. Or communication tools
    stop at national borders, we have very few transnational forums for debate.

  • There is an Information overload, but due to the complexity of institutions
    and decision-making processes, paradoxically also

  • A general lack of knowledge. This leads to a lack of trust in political
    institutions (not just in EU!) lack of E-n identity.

So what’s the result?



  • Blame game – national governments seeking re-election take
    credit for successful European policies, blame ‘Brussels’ for unpopular
    ones.

  • Declining participation rate in EP-elections. Elections
    fought along domestic political issues (although important to note the recent
    examples of European issues – such as enlargement, the Constitutional treaty or
    the services directive entering election debates in some member states).

  • Lack of coordination concerning EU related
    communication

What would be the requirements of a European Public
Sphere/transnational debate ?
 

3 key items



  • Empowered citizens who would have the information, the means and interest to
    exercise actively their European citizenship. In concrete terms they would have
    to be aware of their rights as EU citizens: right to live, work, study in
    another member state.

  • Debate and dialogue on European affairs should involve not only politicians,
    but also different social and professional groups – like yours!

  • Delivery should be ensured on EU policies to match citizens’ expectations,
    otherwise very difficult to demonstrate the relevance of Europe for them. Even
    the best communication cannot compensate for poor policies. The EU must deliver
    and be seen to deliver!

II. How do we want to tackle all these issues?

The
Commission has already taken concrete steps and will take more to change this.
This Wednesday a new Communication entitled Communicating Europe in
Partnership
(text available) was adopted. This communication aims to
consolidate the reforms launched under the Action Plan and Plan D, and to
translate the expectations formulated during the consultation process on the
White Paper into action.


In a nutshell, our objective is to provide information adapted to national,
regional and local contexts, promote active European citizenship and contribute
to the development of a European public sphere. But of course the Commission
cannot do this on its own! The blame game between the EU institutions and Member
States must stop. Communication on EU issues is the responsibility of all those
involved in the EU decision-making process. “Communicating Europe in
Partnership” sets out the preconditions for a successful communication policy on
two fronts. It proposes a citizen-oriented policy content based on listening and
consultation and a partnership approach with major political, economic and
social actors in Member States.

The Commission intends to work in close
partnership with the other EU-Institutions, Member States and all interested
stakeholders around selected annual communication priorities.

To this
end the Communication is proposing:

- an inter-institutional
agreement to structure the EU communication process, and to engage all
stakeholders,
- management partnerships to Member States on a voluntary
basis as the main instruments to carry out joint communication
initiatives,
- to develop the network of European Public Spaces in the
Representations to reach out to citizens, to continue to support active European
citizenship through existing programmes and additional activities in education
and civil society,
- to implement the Pilot Information Networks (PINs)
to improve communication between European and national politicians, journalists
and other opinion formers by the means of internet discussion forums and
meetings across the EU.


In terms of guiding principles, our actions are based on



  • Two-way communication: Not simply a top-down information, but also on
    feedback from citizens. This means listening to them, and to give them a
    possibility to influence European policy formation (Tools: Quantitative and
    qualitative opinion polling/Eurobarometer, political intelligence/REPS, citizens
    questions/Europe Direct, better consultation standards, media monitoring,
    citizens’ consultations.)

  • Going local: tailor message to local circumstances, go where people are,
    talk their language, but also connect local debates, enable people to hear views
    from other member states.

How to do this  -  Some specific communication
initiatives



  • Using multiple channels: mixture of new technology and more traditional
    methods

  • New communication tools. Growth in Internet use, main forum for
    transnational exchange, primary medium for combining text, sound and vision and
    for enabling feedback from and discussion among users. (E.g. social networking
    sites such as MySpace, YouTube, SecondLife etc.)

  • European Public Spaces (EPS) – Seems close to your ideas in the preparatory
    paper:
    - Goal: Offer new meeting places, new communication formats, new
    visual image to attract new audiences (youths).
    - Focus: culture, civil
    society, education/academia, politics.
    - Infrastructural requirements:
    more open space, exhibition area, coffee/reading corner, conference
    facilities…
    - Joint activities with cultural and other networks with
    other EPS, linking national debates. Providing a space for other organisations
    activities on EU-related topics. Aim: 27
    - Pilot project started in
    three capitals: Tallin, Madrid (Noche en Blanco) and Dublin. In an attempt to
    attract new audiences they experiment with popular cultural events such as
    graffiti artists’ exhibition, open air cinemas, or photo competition for primary
    school students.

III. THE ROLE OF CULTURE IN CONNECTING WITH
CITIZENS

As I have already mentioned, culture has an important
part to play in this. Europe does not aim to develop a homogeneous “European
culture” but rather to facilitate access by everyone to other cultures. The
upcoming European year on InterCult Dial will be a good occasion to demonstrate
this, and so is, of course this very event, the session of the ECP in the
European Capital of Culture!

Cultural diversity is an asset for Europe
and at the same time one of its main characteristics when compared to other
regions of the world. In this sense, cultural diversity is a factor of
“division” as well as one of unity because it characterizes Europe as a whole.


This is what emerged from the latest Eurobarometer study published in
September on the issue. The study shows that 76% of Europeans believe that
cultural diversity is a unique characteristic of European culture. According to
the same study 67% of Europeans believe that beyond diversities there are
cultural features which are common to the whole continent.

But I think
the importance of inter-cultural dialogue or “access” to other cultures goes
beyond these general, although important, findings.

Access to a different
culture means access to a different “world” and the very capacity of acceding to
a different culture, involves a different mental structure which I hope will
increasingly characterise Europeans in the future.

National identities
are still very much present in Europe in “old” MS, but even more in our “new”
MS. But have these national identities remained the same? I believe not. Today,
after more than 50 years of European integration, the abolition of boundaries,
the development of exchange programmes between schools or universities and with
the teaching of foreign languages, young Europeans are increasingly able to
access a different culture than their own. Situation different now.

I
believe that the capacity to access another culture is a key feature to define
European citizens, along with History and common values. The European Union does
not aim to harmonise cultures by promoting inter-cultural dialogue but its
ultimate objective is to give the tools to access other cultures to as many
Europeans as possible.

The importance given by the Commission to
multilingualism should also be seen in this context. Learning another language
is the most fundamental tool allowing to promote inter-cultural dialogue.
Encouraging translations and creation of cultural meeting places – as suggested
in one of your preparatory papers is also essential.

Turning to our
venue, Sibiu, I believe is a good example of cultural regeneration and a good
example of how the coming together of cultures can be beneficial. Due to its
multicultural character, Romanians, Hungarians, Germans – it has an impressive
architectural and cultural legacy.

As a European Capital of Culture,
Sibiu has also become an important cultural space for arts, music and
thought.

This has engaged the local population and connected them with
Europe.

I do hope that it shows that the EU is not just about
“bureaucrats in Brussels” but about enriching public life and encouraging
participation.

Projects like the European Capital of Culture and European
Cultural Parliament help to change that mindset and convince people that they
have a right to make their voices heard, that their opinions matter and that
they are stakeholders in the European Union.

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