The European debate

A review of European websites published in PR Week Worldwire in the week of the French and Dutch referenda

There is no doubting that the European Commission is unusual. While its target audiences are diverse in many senses, they all stand in the same legal relationship to the Commission. There is no distinction between shareholders, customers and regulators, for example. This means that core messages need to be repeated in 15 languages, but do not need to be tailored in quite the way a companyís do.

Core messages are currently, of course, a little confused. On the key question of the constitution, stakeholders such as national governments are divided, and have not yet met to agree a common position. It is difficult to imagine a private sector organisation keeping what amounts to a holding statement displayed on its website for over a week, because the crisis team is unable to meet.

If the key test of crisis management is to take ownership of your own story, then the Commission has signally failed. Worse, the holding statement might as well have been taped to a window of the Berlaymont: there is no clickable link for feedback, and no indication that the Commission is listening as well as talking. The Internetís status as an interactive medium seems to have passed them by.

If the Commission does not seek to own this debate, who does?

The European Movement seems to have opted out. Apart from syndicated news, its most recent update was on 20 May and its most recent mention of the constitution was November 2004. Britain in Europe is far more pro-active, with statements on the French referendum, the Dutch referendum and the postponement of the British referendum. Only the third, however, offers any contact details, and even then only a phone number not an e-mail address.

A website that is neither up to date nor interactive seems to have missed the point of the technology. But the problem is not just technological. The medium is the message, and the Commission, the European Movement and Britain in Europe have characterised themselves exactly as their enemies would paint them: slow moving and not listening.

As might be expected, opponents of the constitution are in more bullish mood. The Bruges Group has up to date statements and a blog, both of which offer interactivity. The blog provides website users with a way of commenting directly on the debate.

The European No Campaign site is also up to date and interactive: offering several contact channels on its press releases and a way of forwarding information to others.

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All information © copyright Quentin Langley 2023
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