Say you build a house. That house has rooms, each one a little different. You like em all – heck, you decorated your heart out over decades – and you like them for their differences. Your rooms have doors so that you can easily go from one to the other. Kitchen to the living room: easy as apple pie! Some rooms have quite distinct strengths (cozy bedroom, fun living room), but none of them is really more important than the other. And you have a sense of belonging in all of them. You value the same things whether you are in the basement or in the den. That’s what you might call a home. And so you don’t have to fear rain or snow, you put a roof on top. Quite sensible idea, I hear you say – and, you know what? I’d agree. This Tuesday, Wednesday, and today’s Thursday, we tried to sell the inhabitants of all the different rooms of our home the roof that shelters them. Kinda funny premise. Kinda serious. So read on.
Europe is a mythological creature of antique Greece. Came to fame by being captured by Zeus. However, he had to shroud himself in a bit of bovine mystery, adopting the appearance of a sacred bull. Long story short, smarter people (1) say that this is evidence for a simple truth: you can’t easily make people love you. And what Zeus learned way back when is something that Europa’s modern transnational daughter and heiress has been learning the hard way for surely a dozen years now. You can’t make even your own people love you. Even enticement is terribly difficult. However painfully obvious it is, that your collection of random rooms will not work as well if not sheltered under one collaborative roof, you still have a lot of ‘splainin to do.
Since after the factual introduction of the Euro in 2002, news have been mixed for the EU – to put it mildly. Stricken by increasingly difficult economic factors in southern European, high unemployment rates among young people, increasingly stagnant growth rates (and the questioning of growth rates altogether), the political, economic, and societal Europe seemed to spin from one calamity to the next. 2008 was an impressive year and the years to come illustrated how impressively close to the raging waters of economic-meltdown-river we’ve built all of our pensions, our mortgages, our jobs, and – in essence – all of our futures. Luckily, Europe was not the cause of the crunch, but it became the instance of most memorable political, economic, and financial entry in /r/nonononoyes that our common Zeitgeist-meta-reddit ever saw.
We were going 250 and we just that barely managed to hang on to the curve and not hit that crappy truck laden with all those heavy and greasy and stinky promises of failed fiduciary fudgery. On paper, it’s a miracle that Europe is in the shape it is in today. What isn’t a wonder is that through this past dozen of years, citizens of Europe have not exactly been increasingly enthralled by the concept. Things just seem to complex, too messy, too bureaucratic, and too remote-controlled. Why not keep things simpler. Like: more British. And thus, there were to be 26, not 27. We’ve lost the semi-detached pool house. And the rest of the roof looks in poor shape.
However, going fast an furious and miraculously not hitting that one dumpster filled with bankers’ bad karma does not mean you’re safe. Cause you might be heading straight for the bus carrying those ranging from grumpy elderly to disenfranchised jane and john does, ranging from fiery political carrierists who could not care less how many illegal aliens get shot at the border to pad their pensions to those who simply would like to see an alternative from years of same-same politics without any kind of choice, really.
In a much more beautiful analogy, David Goodhart differentiated neutrally and proficiently differentiated between “Somewheres” and “Anywheres” – those who are thoroughly rooted in one environment and that feel this environment threatened and those who are as independent from any concept of a fixed home as they could be and that do not feel threatened, but rather thoroughly annoyed by those who cannot keep in step with innovation. Even running the risk of misinterpretation, I’d wager that Goodhart’s point is that neither is right, neither is wrong and that the worst possible approach of a resolution would be one group imposing their priorities on the members of the other group. A difficult challenge, but a worthwhile one. In the end, Goodhart explains that this is exactly what cost us loosing the British to the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Fast forward to the day before yesterday: just under 100 people (by my inaccurate estimate) came to the Betahaus, a coworking space in Hamburg to join representatives of the EU comission as well as the organizers, the New Media Accelerator, in a Hackathon to bring Europe to the hearts. A tall order. But also a fun and necessary one.There were over 20 ideas pitched and 10 teams finally lined up to compete for the golde cup of saving Europe and flipping off the Zeus of bad political mojo. Metaphorically. (Of course, we did not win – would I engage into such a long-winded elaboration?) Our aim was to sell Europe. To its citizens. To “take Europe to the hearts”.
Remember, this is close to explaining your kid, your wife, your father, your uncle why having a home presupposes having a roof over it. Plausible logic dictates that you’d simply send your reluctant relative outside during a hailstorm for them to appreciate that wonderfully insulated, robust, and thoroughly life-quality-enhancing thing we call a roof. Sadly, you cannot eject sceptics from the EU for a couple of months to have them make up their minds if Kasazkstan’s internet access is really that much faster than downtown Paris or if Guatemala’s social security system is as stellar as they say. Can’t do it. Full stop. You can complain, but you can’t be made to eat your own complainin’ porridge. So let’s think strategy.
In selling Europe, there seem to be two general communicative strategies – one is functional, the other is emotional. There is nothing with regard to systems, networks, procedure, nothing else – merely: function and emotion.
The first presupposes that you’d buy into the European ideals much more and much deeper if you only knew what the EU does for you. Open borders, one currency, peace, and then it becomes a bit harder to argue since economic prosperity feels easier to put off balance given the fresh memory of discussing Europe’s financial near-death experience after 2008. Also, social security systems are a reality in Europe, but they are as real as their implied complications and challenges of designing a fair system in which most people do not feel taken advantage of. You catch my drift: functional advantages are there, yes – but they are just as difficult to argue beyond the basics as they are learned and thus very sadly accepted as a given, a hygene factor. Of course, Europe drives the equality of women and men. How could it not? Well 180 other countries – that’s how it could not do that.
The second presupposes that Europe is more substantial than a political service provider. All rooms in the place we call home and under the roof of europe share (more or less) the same values, we’ve gone through the same fights, the same pains, we’ve shared compatible cultural and historical greatness. The problem here is that this communicative strategy will never be as compelling as trying to swear people into the indentity concept of a single nation. The message is just that much clearer to emotionalize the french for the identity of France and Germans for the identity of Germany. Less cognitive complexity, less necessary tolerance to narratives not immediately native to myself. However, this just highlights stories that might be easier to sell – even easier to sell than France is Paris to Parisiennes.
However, this does entirely neglect the combined value that Europe generates and it could not be better put than one participant uttered (in essence, not verbatim): Europe is not a single player. On a good day, Europe is a team. Taking this sentiment further: on a great day, Europe kicks ass. Kicks said ass of inequality, of injustice, of tyranny, of poverty and war. Europe kicks war’s ass. That’s a powerful sentiment since, quite frankly, in most other places on earth, it’s the other way around. War is a tough and resourceful little fucker (pmf, but truth be told), intoxicatingly violent and wickedly brutal. Europe can stand up to that and not by brawn, but by brains. Europe is quite impressive this way. Europe might not be that person that you’d want to have your back in a dark alley. Maybe the Americans there, but Europe would have installed a light or two (and for good measure a camera) so you’d not have the necessity for an American to pounce the poor other dude into a pulp.
How do you reconcile both strategies – the accountant’s tale of European ROI and the prize boxer’s political dream? Tough to tell. It appears quite obvious that the officials in Brussles generally put greater emphasis on explaining tangible advantages – chosing the first strategy. Might be a smart move as one could expect that most people in Europe have quite real challenges to work through and if Europe then starts telling a romantic power balad of a cheese-fest, that would do nobody any good. Nice and easy and utilitarian does it. Or is there a third way (short of kicking out most thoroughly annoying EU naggers)?
I think there is a third way. And it’s not to even further sweeten a perfectly sweet European deal to its citizens. Rather, it is by adopting three analogies:
- High Dynamic Range Communication – There is no contrast in communicating the EU anymore. The picture is undersaturated, bright, and lacks contrast – shapes fade. The functional benefits are there, but they wear off quickly as every step ahead inevitably integrates itself into the common awareness of the new normal. The EU ought to increase the contrast between achievements and alternatives around the world. Reminding citizens that a well-funded sustainability effort on the EU level leads to results that most other regions can only dream about. Reminding citizens that a powerful antitrust mechanism in Europe bolsters industrial competitiveness and does not hamper growth.
- Best Player Leads The Topic – In my eyes, Europe does not suffer from complexity and size, but rather in the inability to efficiently reap the benefits of distributed action, across all levels of the subsidiary ladder, and build on it’s wealth of pluralism. That expressly does not mean that everyone ought to discuss everything – exactly the opposite: everyone hushes up except for those national representatives who have a proven track record in comprehension of problems, development of sensible methodology, and application of effective solutions. When and why we stopped to empower division of political and societal labor is beyond me.
- Real Time Push – Europe needs to be communicated immediately, with broad reach, and just as prominently as the individual national actors. With todays technological opportunities, the tools are certainly not the problem here – but rather the egos of national governments who do not want to share the already small political piece of the citizens’ attention pie. Here, Europe can benefit from bypassing as many unwritten and written rules of media as possible in order to position itself as a key content provider in an already substantially changing media market. The time is ideal for this – but it cannot be done halfheartedly.
A little longer than intended, I’d like to close this blog post and say thanks to all two of you who read through the end. I owe you one. But, in the end – we both owe quite a bit more to the EU. So let’s have Europe’s back once more in flipping off the Zeus of bad political mojo. (still kinda proud of that extended title ;) )
(1) Annette Kuhn: Warum sitzt Europa auf dem Stier? Matriarchale
Grundlagen von Europa at http://www.hdfg.de/pdf/Europa-Handbuch-08_Kuhn.pdf