Do good and don't talk about it – the EU and communication

A close up of the Judas tree in the old general hospital in Vienna

The EU is faced with a crisis. 

The real crisis is not nationalism, protectionism or globalisation. The problem is that the EU is singularly bad at explaining what it does, why it is important, and why you should care. 

What is it?

The first problem is that there is not one "EU". If you Google "EU", you get the main page, which for some reason is called "Europa". That is not the name of any institution at the EU. Why didn't they called the website "EU"? Just a thought ... 

There is no sentence on the whole homepage which says what the EU is. There is a link "About the EU" which leads to an index with a large number of further links.

You've already lost your reader if they have to click twice to even find out what the website is about. 

When you do find it, the "EU in brief" page contains 3.148 characters and 499 words. That's not brief.  

Then there are a long list of EU institutions.

Your guide to the European Institutions, "How the European Union works" is a 44 page PDF. That's a long document. It's not a big surprise that most people don't know how it works. 

Another document is called "Europe in 12 lessons". Are we at school here? Did you ever see a Yoghurt advert that included "lessons"? 

So what's new? 

On the front page of "Europa", there is one news story. Recently, it had the following headline (and I didn't pick this one for a particular reason):

"Western Mediterranean: Actions for the sustainable development of the blue economy". 

And here's the problem. This is the language of the writer, not the reader. Do 80% of your readers understand the term "blue economy"? If not, don't use it. 

And, to be pedantic, it's not a sentence, it's not an imperative. It's not an invitation to read something, it's just a statement of fact. I read once that Buzzfeed tests 10 headlines for every story and then chooses the best one. This one looks like the title of a slide in a PowerPoint presentation (it is though, isn't it). 

How about 

"Read how the EU is helping coastal areas develop a sustainable economy"

(I'm assuming that's what this is about, but it's definitely easier to understand, isn't it?)

Will the real EU stand up

The EU has more than 290 Twitter accounts, not including personal accounts. Yep, 290!

Even accounting for the localised languages, that's a lot of accounts. It's so complicated they even built a search engine to find a Twitter account. I really wish I were kidding, but I'm not. And you and I both know that somebody in a grey office is being paid to manage these accounts.  

So let's look at one of the central accounts, the EU Commission (@EU_Commission) and some recent tweets. Here's one about that blue economy thing again. 

 
 

This is very typical for the language used by the EU. It's factually correct and describes something that is happening internally, i.e. they talk about what they're literally doing, but not about what they're trying to achieve – or why you should care. 

Sorry to be pedantic, but it's quite a central point. The "signing" of the declaration is not exciting. It doesn't change anything. Most readers wouldn't have known about the declaration before this post, so we don't really understand the significance of it. 

Tell me why this is important. Tell me what it signifies and – sorry to be repetitive – why I should care. 

So much of the output from the EU describes what they are actually doing day by day in their offices, e.g. 

"First VP @TimmermansEU is in Bucharest debating with citizens on the #FutureofEurope."

"EU Maritime Ministers will sign today in Malta a declaration to boost sustainable blue economy."

or from the president of the European Commission, Donald Tusk: 

"My press statement after good meeting with @tsipras_eu on review talks and migration crisis: http://europa.eu/!KF63tv" 

(no, I couldn't find the verb either) 

or this one: 

"Significant progress in Greece talks yesterday. I hope Eurogroup will find an agreement on Friday. Responsibility shared among all parties."

which doesn't mean anything. And who is "Eurogroup"? 

The tweets fall into basic categories: 

  • I met someone / I am meeting someone.
  • Somewhere there is a panel discussion today. 
  • We're working towards <insert generic goal> to foster stability and prosperity. 
  • We're sad about a terror attack / natural disaster somewhere. 

Accompanied by lots and lots of photos of white men in grey suits. Sometimes with a flag, lectern, conference room ...  

So what now?

Yes, this is a pedantic post and mostly about semantics. But people are caring less and less about the EU and populist politicians are exploiting this. And the EU is doing very little to change this. 

The EU has to explain its relevance to the woman and man in the street. Businesspeople know the value of a harmonised market and freedom of movement. But when countries come to vote, the masses will vote with their hearts. So it's time to talk to them. 

Tell me why I should care. 

Please.

Bonus

Here's my free list of good words and bad words to use in EU communication

 

Bad

Declaration
Meeting
Results
Agreement
Commission
Compliance
Action Plan

Good

Discover
Help
Solve
Build
Grow
Working
Introducing


The image at the top is the Judas Tree in the Old Hospital (AKH) in Vienna, photographed in it's shocking beauty last week.