The European Union – Improving the Image of the EU

We have been thinking about the future of the supranational European Union (see also Oxford Scholarship Online).

Let us apply some Madison Avenue thinking along the lines of (“We are the World“) to that question.

The European Union is a Political Product for a Multicultural Audience in a Supranational Setting

In many ways, the European Union is a political product which has to be “sold” to its multicultural, supranational consumers of 25 nations. It is a political union which has to be made both understandable and palatable to its constituents, otherwise, as the German proverb states “Was der Bauer nicht kennt, das isst er nicht” (What the farmer doesn’t know, he doesn’t eat). As noted concerning the French “no” vote on the EU Constitution by the World Socialist Web Site:

The division between the camps was along social lines. Three-quarters of blue-collar and two-thirds of white-collar workers, as well as the majority of small farmers and rural workers, voted “no.”

Obviously, the farmers and those of the same mentality were rejecting that which they did not know. In France, one must clearly make the politics as palatable as the food, no easy task.

Although not everyone likes to look at this matter as a non-political issue, all political groupings, even nations, are consumer products to be accepted or rejected by the voters. Pure democracy is politically capitalistic, culminating in the philosophy of “one man, one vote“. Each voter in a democracy is in a position to vote for the political product he chooses.

What makes a political product desirable? and why is the European Union having so much trouble keeping their flock of sheep together, or is even failing at achieving such an objective as the ratification of a European Constitution which more or less codifies laws already in force. Obviously, the EU is doing something wrong. What should they be doing right?

Google Worldwide as an Example for Successful Supranational Marketing

Here, as an example, we thought of Google (started by Stanford students), which in the last analysis, is also “a product” to be consumed. After all, there are many alternative search engines. What makes Google so successful?

In many ways, Google’s success was highly improbable. Before Google came on the market, there were already some very good search engines available, e.g. AlltheWeb, originally powered by Fast, which we still have installed at InternetLawWeb, and which still gives excellent search results. Prior to that the web had and in some part still has Excite (started by Stanford students), Yahoo (started by Stanford students), WebCrawler, GoTo (later Overture, purchased by Yahoo), Lycos, HotBot, Ask Jeeves, and AltaVista (we still use their translator). And there are also many newbies such as MSN Search, LookSmart, Teoma, Clusty, and IceRocket.

So how did Google, which was only started in 1999, become such a powerhouse in only six years? By Madison Avenue standards, where successful – and always risky – new product placement requires millions of dollars of advertising, this achievement was awesome.

Kim Peterson, Seattle Times technology reporter, has a superb article “How ‘search’ is redefining the Web — and our lives” in which he writes:

Clean, simple, inviting

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., hit the $1 billion quarterly sales mark in 2004, just five years after its official launch. Its search engine won fans immediately upon debut because it served up relevant results in fractions of a second and had the minimalist appeal of white hotel sheets — clean, simple and inviting. Google’s vault into the spotlight was perfectly timed to two important events: Mainstream users began discovering search, and competitors, distracted by the dot-com bust, lost their focus on quality.

Other search engines stopped improving their results, and the blinking and sparkling banner ads on their Web sites screamed for too much attention. Google produced answers fast, showing some unobtrusive ads along the way. That wasn’t a bad tradeoff for users.

“We were finding things before Google came along, but they definitely raised the bar and raised the expectations of what we could get out of search,” said Sullivan at Search Engine Watch. “They made it more manageable.”

Google is the most popular engine today, home to 35 percent of Web searches. It receives hundreds of millions of requests every day, and studies them so thoroughly that it puts out a regular update of user patterns….“

Clean, simple, inviting

If we look carefully at Peterson’s article, we see his description of Google’s success as based on making their product “clean, simple and inviting” to everyone (at last count, 116 different language interfaces).

In contrast, the European Union is not viewed as clean, simple, and inviting but is rather viewed as formidable and complex, precisely the opposite of the image that it needs to have in order to win over its constituents.

This is doable, since the prevailing image of the EU held by the ordinary citizen is absolutely false. The European Union bureaucracy is in fact quite modest in size.

The total employees of the European Commission – the main EU employer – number about 24000.

This is much less than the student body of many college campuses at universities in the United States, e.g. Arizona State University(38117), University of Texas (36473), Ohio State University (36097), University of Florida (33094), Purdue (30391), UCLA (24946), University of Michigan (24677). These are just the number of undergraduate students, not even including the graduate students.

Consider also that the German Pension Insurance Association (Deutsche Rentenversicherung Bund) has 53000 employees, more than twice as many as the entire European Commission.

The Department of Work and Pensions in the United Kingdom numbers more than 100000, many of those in the Pension Service, more than four times the number of persons employed by the European Commission.

The French pension authority employs 35900 persons (La Caisse des Dépôts emploie 35 900 personnes), about 10000 more than the European Commission.

As written in Newsweek some years ago:

Brussels’s budget is just more than 1 percent of the EU’s total GNP. Moravcsik points out that once you exclude translators and clerical workers, the European Commission employs 2,500 officials, “fewer than any moderately sized European city and less than 1 percent of the number employed by the French state alone.” Any new law it wishes to pass needs more than 71 percent of weighted national-government votes–“a larger proportion than that required to amend the American Constitution.”

Not only is the budget of the European Union smaller than most persons imagine, but a majority of that budget goes right back into the pockets of European citizens, for example, through agricultural subsidies, which have historically made up about 50% of the EU budget.

As can be seen from the chart at page 34 of European Public Finances: Much Ado About Nothing?, by Lars P. Feld of the University of Marburg, net budget-induced gains or losses, as judged by each EU country, are next to negligible.

In the same vein, it is disturbing to read misleading news reports about, for example, a “massive” translation department which in fact consists only of an overworked 1600 Brussels-based translators, and outside agencies, who, rather than being a burden to Europe, are actually playing a significant role in maintaining the importance of the languages of the countries of Europe. Perhaps those who criticize the translation expense in the EU should be the first to volunteer “their” language to be excluded from EU translation….

How could this exaggeratedly false view of European Union institutions have come about?

Understandably, the institutions of the European Union have worked hard in the past to project themselves as big and powerful. Although this image projection was perhaps necessary in initial years to establish EU institutions, especially since Member States retain a great deal of their sovereignty, perhaps these institutions have been too successful in projecting this big image. What is now perhaps required is the creation of a more positive image in the minds of European citizens that the EU is not going to steamroller them by means of a giant bureaucracy, a giant bureaucracy that simply does not exist.

The reality is that the European Commission, which does the brunt of the work of the European Union, is smaller than the student enrollment at many an American university and smaller than the government pension services in each of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Lastly, a false image about the European Union is created by a European Constitution which is simply too verbose, inclusive and unnecessarily complex. The original US Constitution was 4 pages of written text including only the most essential elements of government, whereas the EU Constitution runs 485 pages in the official .pdf version, including masses of detail having no place in such a document.

Clean, simple and inviting. These are perhaps the major characteristics which should mark a re-marketing of the European Union to its constituents.

Crossposted to EU Pundit.