Eager to shore up its relations with the public, the European Commission has launched a slick website boasting 10 achievements the European Union has made for you in 2007. The Commissioner for Communication, Margot Wallström, writes:
“The EU is there for the citizens and its aim is to respond to their needs and concerns. In 2007, its 50th anniversary, the Union has again taken concrete actions leading to concrete results. These range from measures to combat climate change to providing the European consumer with a wider choice of goods and services at lower prices.”
Europe and You in 2007:
- EU reform package agreed
- Europe creates new jobs
- EU leads fight against climate change
- Passport-free travel extended
- Eurotariff brings down mobile phone bills
- Growing demand for EU election monitors
- Energy suppliers compete on service and price
- More choice and cheaper fares on flights to USA
- The EU promotes healthier eating
- Dominant companies cannot limit consumer choice
In 2006, when the Commission was still at a loss at what to do about the stranded constitution, it launched a “citizen’s agenda,” which focused on “delivering results for Europe” through concrete policy drives. The focus on implementing policies that will benefit citizens in order to increase the popularity of the EU was deliberate, as the Communication testifies. The promotional website and folder on “Europe and you in 2007” have to be seen through this lens.
Reading eurosceptic blogger Richard North on “this naked propaganda,” one wonders if the EU is even allowed to make policies that are designed to make it more popular. It seems logical that an institution that makes policies would try to make popular ones, if it seeks greater legitimacy. It also seems logical that it would have to communicate its achievements if it is relatively low on the radar.
That does not mean that we should be uncritical about the list…
- The new Reform Treaty is the first achievement claimed. However, this is largely a gift the EU has given itself. It does provide some improvements for citizens, most notably, a citizen’s initiative. The EU will get a clearer structure, which should make it easier for citizens to understand the EU. However, that improvement has been undercut by the secretive procedure for drafting the treaty, which is still being continued. Public debate of the treaty presents an excellent opportunity for learning, but that opportunity is being foregone.
- The EU has led the way on climate change, but it still has to put real achievements behind its promises. So far only a few member states have made headway to meet their targets for reducing climate pollution. However, over the course of 2007, the European Commission has been strict in setting limits for the next phase of emissions trading and has gotten all large member states to play along. The outlook for 2008 is positive.
- When the EU talks about ‘you,’ you are mostly being thought of as a consumer. In most areas, the EU is working to protect you, which is good. Contrary to what Richard North thinks, the free market does not always bring you, the consumer, the best outcome. Rather, information asymmetries and limited choice lead to you getting creamed a lot. The EU’s competition policy and its decision to limit roaming charges for mobile phone calls abroad help you out.
But it’s not all positive on the consumer front. The ‘open skies’ agreement with the US is rather funny at a time when the EU is proposing to unilaterally apply emissions trading to international flights. The EU also is all too happy to give your passenger data to the US. Liberalization of the electricity market will indeed increase consumer choice, but it will also lead to higher prices than nationalized electricity generation, in a market with high fossil fuel prices. Oil just hit $100. Do you want to pay more so that you can have a choice?
That’s a narrow perspective, granted. But aside of caring about your vitamin intake, the Commission does not go beyond it. There are no social achievements on its list and the social, personal and even intercultural side of an improvement like limits on roaming fees is not explained. And that’s rather simple to do: it’s just easier to contact people.
Here’s to a better list next December.
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