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Closing the gap and bringing the EU closer to the citizens: The understanding of ‘citizens’ within the context of EU communication

Open Panel

Abstract

2005: The year of the Dutch and French ‘NO’, the year that introduced an open-season for communications. The Barroso 1 Commission was put in a particular position as it had to find a remedy to cure the citizens’ political apathy and estrangement from the Union. Plan-D was born. D standing for the values the ‘new’ communication strategy was to be based on: Democracy, Debate and Dialogue – almost regardless of the topic. Multiple communication activities have been launched since, all seemingly in the spirit of the two-way approach of communication. Research in recent years has focused on the democratic deficit which is often linked to a communication deficit. Emphasis was put on the two-way approach of communication and political participation of the citizen was declared a new normative requirement for the political entity of the EU. A substantial element has been missing though so far, and that is the focus on who this ‘active’, politically engaged citizen is and to what extent the EU’s communication approach excludes the passive citizen when communication comes to the operational level. This paper suggests examining the EU’s understanding of the ‘citizen’ in detail within the context of legal documents such as the Maastricht Treaty and communication policy papers (2001 – 2010) and then attempts to contrast this underlying understanding to the social imaginary the EU appears to have when it comes to the operational level of communication activities. This will shed some light of discrepancies between the social imaginary of the EU citizen and the ‘real’ citizen, a discrepancy that might undermine a potential success of communication activities. The paper is methodologically based on a document analysis and interviews recently conducted with Commission officials.