Brexit - European dream on emergy lane: can the fix come from communicators?

While the British referendum on Brexit knocked out European leaders, observers and poll experts, it confirmed a shared feeling: Europe is no longer a dream, let alone an inspirational ambition. It is not hard to project that such a referendum would probably have generated similar results in other European countries. Between the growing euro skepticism, a questionable management of the migrants’ crisis, and the feeling of insecurity resulting from terror attacks, the consensus is there: Europe has lost its dream dimension.

By Jeremy Seeman, Account Director – Public Affairs
This article was published in the Cercle Les Echos.

Almost 60 years after the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) with initially 6 member States, Europe has transformed profoundly. The integration of new members has created the European bureaucracy, relying on compromise and the voluntary decline of individual States’ sovereignty. The European Union expanded, opted for numerous standards to regulate the daily lives of citizens and companies. But as the Union ensured its economic development, it forgot the initial grounds at the core of the project: an aspiration for peace, prosperity and interactions between nations. Without a European dream, there will be no European Union. If there is not a shared belief that each and every 500 million Europeans is part of a bigger plan that protects them and overcomes national selfishness, we will not be able to create the much needed adhesion to the European project.

The youth, a priority target

Nowadays the Europeans have a poor vision of Europe: a technocratic regime, cut from the people’s aspirations; institutions that have forgotten their mandate to protect the citizens. All the ingredients that led to the Brexit. This is why we collectively need to remind ourselves the raison d’être of the European project that was born in the aftermaths of World War II. Half of the British youth did not visit poll stations for a vote that affected them directly. This abstention is probably the most flagrant signal to remember. Europe is no longer a dream machine but a vehicle strengthening inequalities. The European youth shall be a priority to address as they are the generation who will be in charge to build tomorrow’s Europe. And this is where communicators need to act to instill back dream into the European project.

Political communication should not be a taboo

Today, European people are seeking for direction. They need a compass to understand what the European identity stands for, they need a shared (hi)story to build upon. And it is eventually to political leaders to write this story, to overcome this shock in order to engage with constituents, to relentlessly educate on what is Europe, how it works and how it succeeds. Political communications should not be a taboo. It is an essential part of democracy as it facilitates debate, exchange of ideas and invites constituents to take part to the project.

But without concrete actions, political communications are a dead end. Europe needs to become again in everyone’s eyes the exceptional innovation vehicle it used to be. Let’s aim for a new Erasmus, the next Airbus or Rosetta project. Political communications can only exist with such successes to lead the way, give fresh perspectives and create hope in something bigger than the sum of the countries that make up the European Union.

To re-iginite the dream engine, unity and cohesion will also need to be at the core of communication. To earn the trust of constituents, European bodies need to demonstrate unity beyond the appearances. A large-scale pan-European campaign on shared successes could be a wise investment as extremist parties lobby for referendums to be held in their respective countries.

As Martin Luther King put it, every major project starts with a dream. What if Brexit was not the end of the European dream but the start of a new dream? It is crucial that the Parliament, the Commission and the national governments understand that Europe needs to be much more than an economic trade zone. In political communications more than anywhere else, there will be no future without a shared belief in a common ambition.