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The communication strategy of the Juncker Commission

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The Commission Juncker has to face the challenge of communicating to its citizens what it will do, with a clear message based on ten priorities. This objective contains an important debate on the European project itself: what is the best way to communicate Europe. Throughout these years there have been two ways to approach this debate: Citizens do not understand the European Union because of its complexity, and this could be remedied with some communication strategies more coordinated and effective? Or are we witnessing a profound dilemma of identity and lack of democratic legitimacy?

From the first approach, the EU has a set of historical and daily accomplishments that have to be explained. Thus, citizens will better know the characteristics of the EU and its decision making processes.

From the second perspective, the European Union needs to continue politicizing and democratizing its decision-making process, so that citizens can be involved in the process, strengthen their identity and thus ending up being interested in its operation.

The distance between these two approaches has been reduced with the new Commission, whose president has lived an electoral process with an action program and discussions with other candidates. Perhaps for this space of convergence between the two visions, the new Commission has opted for a pragmatic communication design.

1. A Spokesperson's service reduced.

One of the main criticisms that journalists have made to the communication strategy of the Commission in recent years is its cacophony. The commissioners themselves, the spokesperson’s service and the representations in the Member States are those in charge of communication. The spokesperson’s service has been criticized for having to assume the message of the Commissioner of the specific portfolio. As each spokesperson is specialized in the same topic as the commissioner, this makes in practice impossible to reach the goal of providing an official and united voice to the Commission.

The significant decline of the number of spokesmen (for 28 commissioners, there are now only 14 spokespersons) could be a symbolic turning point in this dynamic.

2. A DG COMM that depends on the president.

In the new Commission, the Directorate General for Communication depends on the president, rather than being integrated into the portfolio of a Commissioner. In the last Commission it had been part of the powers of the Citizenship Commissioner, Viviane Reding. Previously, in the first Barroso Commission, it was place in the portfolio of Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, led by Margot Wallström.

Maybe the course of events led the two “Commissions Barroso” to bring Europe closer to its citizens, linking the communication strategy with the political priority of improving European democracy. This is an approach linked to the first perspective indicated at the beginning of this text. Now, from a political breakthrough as the new Commission represents, there is no priority of the ten designated by Juncker that is intended to improve communication; the structure seems to be made to give a more pragmatic coordination to the efforts and make them more effective, subordinating communication to inform about each political progress, rather than treat it as a policy itself (both Wallström as Reding promoted this approach from their respective portfolios).

3. New priorities.

Among the ten priorities, there is none that appealed directly to communication at a time in which the Commission is aware of the need to tackle through information, the Euroscepticism that exists in some European countries.

Therefore, the ten thematic priorities of the Juncker Commission seem to point to another turning point in communication. If previously have been promoted to reach every region of the Union to inform about everything that was legislated in Europe and which impacted on the daily life of citizens (cohesion funds, labeling, PAC, etc.), now it is enhanced to talk about the macro issues (EU as a global actor; migration; justice and fundamental rights; EU-US free trade; Economic and Monetary Union; internal market; democratic change; jobs, growth and investment; Digital Single Market; Energy Union and climate).

It is still too early to assess whether the changes have been successful. However, it does not seem premature to say that a structure that could lead to significant developments is being settled.

On the one hand, the decline of members in the spokesperson’s service breaks the dynamic of a spokesperson for commissioner, allowing each spokesperson to be identified by the media with a theme of work, and not with a commissioner.

On the other hand, the fact that the DG COMM depends on the President, could align the Commission with the second perspective referred before in this article. There are ten clear political priorities, macro, and while advancing them, communication must be devoted to transmit these priorities crosswise.

By Marta Hernández
Researcher at the IDEE - Instituto Universitario de Estudios Europeos

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