Why did you want to be the rapporteur for this particular opinion?
The results of the last European elections testify loud and clear to the public’s disenchantment with politics in general. When the first direct elections to the European Parliament were held in 1979, the turnout was close to 65%. Since then, it has fallen every year to a level of around 40% for the last elections in 2014. The rise in votes for Eurosceptic parties (now with over 100 MEPs) and the record low turnout stand as a dire warning, calling for prompt action. Although the task ultimately falls to the European institutions to come up with a new communications strategy for discussing the European project, the strategy must embrace all levels of governance in Europe’s 100 000 municipalities and regions.
What are the broad outlines of this opinion?
The aim of the 2015-2019 Communication Plan “Reconnecting Europe with its citizens” is to kick off a discussion with people about their expectations from Europe and to ensure that, by the time the next elections are held in 2019, a majority will be convinced that “their voice counts in the European Union”. The Committee of the Regions opinion that I am presenting sets specific and measurable targets and proposes, in particular, that 20% of the EU’s communication budget be decentralised to national and local level. I am also suggesting that, together with the European Parliament and the Commission, we hold a series of “citizens’ dialogues” every year in regions and cities the length and breadth of Europe. Consideration might be given to the idea of asking that every region in Europe be visited at least once a year by a European commissioner. Finally, we would like to set up a network of European municipalities, cities and regions called “Friends of Europe” by 2019.
What is the role for the Committee of the Regions in that respect?
The plan proposed in my opinion places the regions, cities and local and national media resolutely at the heart of a decentralised communications strategy to be operated jointly with the other European institutions and the Member States. This plan should both stimulate “a European narrative” that will open up a public debate in Europe on the historical, cultural, philosophical and sociological foundations of European integration and, at the same time, pave the way for a dialogue on the tangible impact of European policies on people’s daily lives.