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Friday, June 03, 2005

Nay et Non on EU Constitution: Policy or Communications Issue?

After the French voted “non’ and the Dutch followed with a “nay” on the European Union constitution this week, many policy experts, journalists and politicians started dissecting what happened.

One of the biggest issues, and not talked about much, is that the voters just didn’t understand what the EU constitution would mean to them.

The policy makers and politicians failed to communicate with the people. They holed up in Brussels writing dense, rhetoric-filled papers, shared these with insiders, and thought they were done. Their approach is similar to what frequently happens in the corporate world where executives develop complex corporate strategies with their seven figure management consulting firms, write a report (or a really, really big PowerPoint deck) and consider the job done.

Whoa. If people don’t understand what the strategy means to them, they will not accept it, work to make it happen, or in the case of the EU constitution, vote on it.

Talking yesterday on NPR’s “Connection” radio program, Jocelyne Cesari, Visiting Associate Professor at Harvard's Center for Middle East Studies and Divinity School, underscored the communications problem.

“What is missing in Europe and the EU building process is a political narrative that would be appealing to a lot of segments of European society -- especially young people. Up until now the European Union has been seen as a bureaucratic process. When people say Brussels they mean a very specialized place – writing treaties of 30 pages long with technical features.

"People in Europe don’t understand what the story would be for them in this new union. This is very important. It is the responsibility of all national political classes to make a story that resonates.”

Another example of how essential strategic communications is – and the cost when executives fail to make it a priority.