The “Festival of Europe”: efficient communication or just a colourful marketplace?

Today it’s the 9th of May, Europe day. Like every year, celebrations are organised, with various intensities, throughout Europe. Of course, the main festivities are held in Brussels, where the European institutions open their doors to the public. Having attended the event for the last three years as a visitor (and enthusiastic collector of pens and posters), I found myself this year, for the whole day, “trapped” in the European Parliament, this time on the side of the “exhibitors”. The experience left me with quite a different impression of the celebration than in the previous years, although I could easily recognise the very same ritual I was familiar with: same stalls, almost in the same places, presenting the same (maybe slightly updated) materials and, of course, the same crowd of people, of all ages and nationalities, patiently waiting in the huge entrance queues and gathering kilograms of brochures, pens, key-rings and other free goodies.

festival-of-europe

And still, looking at the crowds passing by, catching glimpses of their conversations (in all languages you can imagine), made me wonder what is the real purpose of all this, and if that purpose is achieved. In my naivety, I would imagine that the aim of putting up such a “show” should be trying to get closer to the citizen and trying to get the citizen interested in what the EU and its various institutions are doing. Well, while the first issue (getting closer to the citizen) might be achieved, at least at a physical level (i.e. people do step in the premises of the institutions), the second one is much more tricky and, in any case, much more unlikely to be achieved in one day, be it even Europe Day.

Nevertheless, as part of the larger aim of communicating Europe and as part of the campaign for the European Parliament elections that has just started, I was expecting the event to be a bit more meaningful from the point of view of content. Taking advantage of the varied crowd that was present, the MEPs could have used the Open Day for campaigning, for showing their face to the public and inviting them to debates. Instead, the only MEPs present at the debate were Belgian, while all the others are probably already campaigning in their home constituencies, which is, truth be said, more effective in term of vote- gathering than speaking  to a (packed) Hemicycle to an audience that is unlikely and/ or unable to vote for them. That much for a European public sphere, European idea and European citizenship…

Outside the Hemicycle, however, people were getting what they came for: colourful balloons from all political groups, that seemed to have arrived to the (correct) conclusion that giving out goodies is far more attractive to the public than trying to explain political programmes. Another fashionable feature this year were quizzes. Wherever you turned to, everyone (and I mean it almost literally: everyone) was taking a quiz. That is how some people ended up with 5 colorful umbrellas…and that’s about it. Why, one would say? Aren’t quizzes an intellectual thing to do? Well, not in this case, they aren’t. The winners only needed a light version of common sense, patience to queue and a few spare smiles to offer to the organisers when asking for help. EU? What EU? A…we’re in a European institution…right…Well, then Long Live the EU, as long as it puts on this show yearly and we all leave with our colourful goodies.

So why am I so negative about it? Everyone seemed to be enjoying, a festive feeling was in the air…It’s probably a mixture of disappointment in the way the event was treated by both sides: on the one hand, the way people (who were arguably on a trip to discover the EU institutions) dismissed any informative material, as nothing but papers they would never read anyway; on the other hand, the way the institutions themselves designed the Open Day: it is, undoubtedly, far easier to “get closer to the citizens” by not mentioning much about the EU but offering a bit of circus for one day a year; the question that comes to my mind now, and should definitely appear in the self-assessment of the event, is: after they all happily leave the “marketplace”, having gathered all the items they came for, will anyone feel more enlightened on EU issues or would they even remember what the blue, red or green on their new (free!) bottle opener stands for?

And still, I am looking forward to next year’s celebrations, which will probably end up organsied after exactly the same blueprint. It is, after all, a successful event, people say. Good example of institutional inertia…

10 Comments

  1. blogged about Open Day in the European Parliament: http://is.gd/y8iW

  2. blogged about Open Day in the European Parliament: http://is.gd/y8iW

  3. Well, at least your afterthought is a step in the right direction: to think about European integration, past, present and future.

  4. RT @kosmopolit: RT @Anda19 blogged about Open Day in the European Parliament: http://is.gd/y8iW #kosmopolito #ep09 #eu #eu09 #-ep09

  5. By @eu09twitlife RT @kosmopolit: RT @Anda19 blogged about Open Day in the European Parliament: http://is.gd/y8iW #kosmopolito #-ep09 #eu

  6. By @kosmopolit RT @Anda19 blogged about Open Day in the European Parliament: http://is.gd/y8iW #kosmopolito #-ep09 #eu #eu09 #-ep09

  7. I hope the celebration is held to bring fresh wind to the country non-European countries. So that it can lift the economy in developing countries

  8. What would you have offered as “information”?

    I tend to think the way it is is probably the most effective one: get as many people as possible, entertain them, let them remember maybe 3-5 facts (from the quizes) and let them go home in a good mood (“I got an umbrella/DVD/photo/…”).

    [Disclosure: I also attended – on the exhibitor’s side]

  9. I only now realised that this article is from 2009. Could be written on 9 May 2011 :-)

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