Communication: Europe doesn't have to look cheesy
2 February 2010
Brussels is the source of numerous poorly designed communications. On the Internet, and in brochures and logos, European institutions appear to be incapable of showing any imagination. A Dutch journalist makes the case for making more frequent calls to creative professionals, with interesting results.
In July, the European Commission's Directorate General for Agriculture plans to introduce a new compulsory logo on all organic products prepackaged in the European Union. Instead of entrusting the brief to a professional graphic designer, a competition was organized among European graphics students. Three designs, each one more insipid and meaningless than the next, were selected from a total of 3,422 entries.
This type of uninspired initiative is a perfect illustration of the European Union's overall communications policy, which 2009 – European Year of Creativity and Innovation – has failed to alleviate. Just about every visual tool used for the presentation of European institutions to the outside world is completely and utterly cringeworthy. The visual quality of the European Council, Commission and Parliament websites is so mediocre, it functions as an effective antidote to European idealism – which has no hope of survival when faced with January's redesign of the europa.eu web portal. The same applies to the numerous brochures published for information centres throughout the EU – the one for the Hague makes it look like a corporate insurance office – and diverse information campaigns.
Attract communication professionals
Remarkably, Brussels has acknowledged that this "illustrative deficit" does constitute a problem, and the issue, which was raised in 2004 by architect Rem Koolhaas, has been on the political radar for quite some time. In the wake of the rejection of the European Constitution by France and the Netherlands in 2005, the Commission appointed Margot Wallström to take charge of communications strategy. To re-establish contact with Europe's citizens, the new commissioner launched a number of action plans and pilot programmes, like Plan D, for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate, and the interactive site, Debate Europe. However, according to a recent evaluation, both of these programmes failed to achieve almost all of their objectives.
There is nothing mysterious about the cause of these poor results. Commissioner Wallström should have sought advice from leading European experts in communications and design – professionals who know how to engage the attention of the public and how to convince them to embrace Europe. It is not as if there was a shortage of reasons for doing just that. Peace, prosperity and security do not just emerge from thin air – these are genuine achievements of the EU.
To encourage the participation of innovative and creative professionals, European institutions should modify their procedures for attributing communications briefs. Current procedures for calls for tender are often too limiting and too complex to attract truly creative companies. At the same time, the EU, which is very much an idealist project, has many reasons to adopt a communications strategy that distinguishes it from other governments and supranational organizations.
An idea for the European parliament
Of course, these are not the only alternatives. Why not convene a group of communications specialists to present proposals on the direction to be taken by the communications strategies of European institutions? We are all Europeans united by our participation in a European project with strong mutual benefits, but perhaps future campaigns should also highlight our responsibilities. Perhaps they would conclude that every European has a duty to contribute multiple creative ideas for the creation of a better Europe.
By way of example, here is one for the European Parliament. Instead of investing in merchandising and free gifts, why not commission different European authors to write short stories about the European ideal. The result could be made into an anthology to be printed in a special edition for Europe's leaders: and other Europeans would have the option of obtaining this prestigious publication at a reasonable price from bookshops across Europe. Accompanied by an adequate publicity campaign, the publication of these European short stories could even become an annual event that would be real source of inspiration to Europeans.