Five ways to bring the European Parliament closer to people

Group 4: Anna-Rosa Polso, Pulmu Holmberg, Netta Vuorinen

Only 43 percent of Europeans voted during the last europarliamentary elections. The reason for poor voting activity is simple: many people feel that their vote does not really matter.

The newest Eurobarometer shows that 57 percent of European people consider that their personal interests and those of their country are not sufficiently taken into account in EU decision-making.

If this suspicion is ranked by country, Finland is in top 3 with 69 percent of people thinking that their national interests are not properly taken into consideration.

And here comes the funny thing: The European Parliament is supposed to represent the citizens. And yet only 48 percent of Europeans tend to trust the European Parliament, while 37 percent expressed distrust and 15 percent gave no opinion.

So why do many people feel that they have no say in EU-matters?

“That’s a bone of convention”, says Silja Lanas Cavada, the foreign correspondent of a Finnish weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti. She is placed in Brussels. One part of her job is to keep track about the work of European Parliament.

Lanas Cavada believes that to many people EU-work feels distant because of the way the Parliament works.

“The action in the EU is slow. All the processes are huge and it can take years before a directive is born, for example.”

One reason might also be the fact, that unlike its member countries, EU is run without opposition. Lanas Cavada believes that the domestic legislation is way more interesting because of the natural tension between the ruling and opposition parties.

It’s obvious that there are a lot of challenges in the communication between the Parliament and people – whether it’s media or the Parliament itself that we’re talking about.

So, what should be done? Here are five statements to bring the Parliament closer to people.

1. They don’t teach enough EU-matters in school

According to the European Commission survey by representative office ofFinland, majority of the young Finnish high school and vocational school students deal positively with the EU membership.

However, only 55,2 percent of the students consider that they get enough information about EU issues at school. Their EU knowledge could be better because the majority of them estimate that they know about EU only “to some extent”.

”Underestimating your personal knowledge is a part of Finnish mentality”, says EU publicity and media researcher Tuomo Mörä. “In some other countries they could say they know but in fact they don’t.”

Still, EU seems to stay distant to the young people and EU education given at school varies a lot in quality.

But who could resist a half-free study trip to Brussels?

How about the every-home-delivered EU magazine?

“It could work”, says Mörä. “But provided that people are already interested in EU issues.”

Mörä reminds that Finnish national identity is still stronger than their EU identity. To be interested in EU matters in the first place, nationals should feel that in the EU they make decions concerning their everyday life.

2. EU may communicate but it does not reach enough people.

If you think about companies, they report because it enhances their reputation. The challenge lies in selecting what to report on, how to organize the content and how to reach the right clients.

The whole EU faces the same challenge – it has over 500 million “clients”. It isn’t possible to always get through to every citizen. However, Silja Lans Cavada believes that the media could do better, when it comes to reporting about the EU.

When the elections are over, the new Parliament members start their work – and get lost in the huge, slow-working system.

“I believe that the decision-making would be more interesting to people if it were better reported – journalists should step away from the paper-tasting officialese and try to write their stories in a more people-friendly way”, Lanas Cavada says.

3. Maybe the MEP’s work isn’t advertised enough.

According to the Eurobarometer only 54 percent of the Finnish people trust the European Parliament. Still, they trust the Parliament more than the EU nationals on average.

There was an interesting article about Finlands effect on EU legislation. According to the article, Finnish parliamentarians don’t represent Finland or the Finnish government in the parliament but their voters and parties.

Therefore Finland should find some new modes of action if the country really wants to affect on the EU legislation.

At least media could do it’s job better and report about EU issues in an interesting way.

“It’s like a negative spiral. Media doesn’t report about EU decisions, because people feel that these issues don’t touch their lives. And since there’s no interesting EU news in the media, there’s no people reading them either.”

And yes, if not as much as 10 years ago, EU reporting still suffers from some gobbledygook. “They could always make it better”, says Mörä.

4. Media is sloppy when it comes to EU-reporting.

The research of Finnish Newspapers Union shows that 92 % on Finnish people read newspapers in 2010.

Silja Lanas Cavada believes that magazines and newspapers should write about EU-matter more frequently.

“Many papers cover EU-topics mostly during elections and then leave it in the background. Some newspapers have their own section covering Europeand EU, though. ”

She also thinks that the quarrels and contradictions should be covered better.

“There are disagreements and quarrels in the parliamentary work as well. They are interesting to people.”

The answer could be newspaper that publish only EU-related articles (and use layman language), or if we don’t go that far should at least the biggest finnish newspapers give some of the pages for EU-section?

5. The Finnish contribution to EU influencing is lower than average.

The last EU elections were organized in 2009. Then 13 Finnish politicians were chosen to representFinlandin European Parliament.

On those elections the voting activity was only 40,3  percent of all those entitled to vote. That is nearly three percentage points lower than the average EU area’s voting activity.

Yet in 1996 more than a half of Finnish population (57,6 %) used their voting right. The reduction on voting activity sinceFinland’s EU membership’s beginning years is alarming.

Next EU parliament’s elections will take place in 2014. Is there ways to raise the voting percent then?

The first and the most important step to activate people is to get them to know for what they are voting for. If compared to last Finnish national Parliamentary elections in April 2011, the voting activity was 70,4 percent. The difference to EU elections is huge.

The domestic political coverage inFinland has always been intense before elections. The people are reminded that their voice will make a difference. Maybe the solution for EU election’s voting indolence could be found by cooperation of EU information center and Finnish journalists?

The main thing is to remember that people should have basic information about EU parliament before reading news about it.

“During my Brussels correspondent years it seems that the number of EU-reporting journalists has reduced”, Silja Lanas Cavada says. “It might be because readers are not as interested in EU-matters as others.”

The other – although highly illustrated – is the option of bringing EU’s decision making closer to people so they can really feel having influence.

Could a part of EU’s acts be made in the future by supranational referendum instead of parliamentarians?

Bringing EU closer to people is a project that doesn’t happen in one night.  In a video above you can find some accoplishments from last year – did you know about them?


Tags: , ,

One Response to “Five ways to bring the European Parliament closer to people”

  1. peterverweij Says:

    good story. end the split with a cliffhanger; more inviting to read. clear structure and argument. Well document and good use of figures. Interesting sources. I expected that the story would end with the role of journalism in particular. Would have been more interesting. The way to end the story by referring to the video is good. I miss detailed comment from the representation of EU in Finland(parliament en cie), although use of EU barometer is oke.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: