Closing Session of the Conference “Telling the Story: Communicating Cohesion Policy together”
Brussels, 27 November 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,
Our two days of exchanging ways to “tell the Cohesion Policy story” have nearly come to an end. Unfortunately, other commitments make it impossible for me to participate in today’s Closing Session, and I apologize for communicating to you only by a short video message.
For the first time, we have had an exchange across the different services, funds and objectives involved including our colleagues from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities and DG Communication together with its Representations and information relays in the Member States. Let me use the opportunity to thank all chairpersons, all speakers, all rapporteurs and last but not least the participants for the readiness, creativity and motivation you have invested.
You will probably share my view that “Communicating on Cohesion Policy together”, and I emphasize the word together, has proven to be both useful and necessary. These two days investigating new opportunities, experiences and different circumstances, learning from each other will, I am sure, have proven to be worth the effort. But I would like for this event to have along lasting effect. Indeed, our communication activities will need to be connected in the future and, above all, coordinated between the relevant actors. Too many messages spoil the focus and blur the picture. I am truly convinced that a coordinated message is a stronger message. Therefore, it is more than ever necessary to cooperate at regional, national and EU level on communicating the cohesion policy. After all, there is no other policy so close to the citizens. In this new period we are present everywhere, meaning that the Cohesion Policy is uniquely placed to not only communicate its own results and benefits but also to play a strong role in the bigger picture, in what my colleague Margot Wallström calls “Communicating Europe”.
For the cohesion policy to be effective, your information about the programmes has to be as specific and precise as possible. The better the conditions of funding from Operational Programmes are communicated, the better the selection process and the final outcome will be. As I said in my introductory remarks yesterday, I know that being a communication officer in a Managing Authority can be difficult. Your job is, nevertheless, at the heart of the policy. It is important that you are involved in the policy already from the start, “communicating communication” inside the administrations.
Indeed, if you are not there, the marketing of the cohesion policy programmes in your regions will be difficult. It would be like trying to sell a package once everything is put in without really having a feeling of what is in that package. Would any company exclude their marketing division from the product creation process? I don’t think so. So communication has to be an integral part of the programme management. Be assured that as Commissioner for Regional Policy I will insist on this point at every opportunity.
Moving now to the near future and the challenges in 2008. First, next year will be the first year in which your communication plans will be effective. It will be challenging since, for programme management, it will be the last year of payments from the previous period and the first year to communicate the new funding opportunities. Second, European and national debate about the EU budget and EU policies will gain momentum under the French presidency towards the end of the year. And finally – and this is probably your greatest challenge as well as the subject of many debates yesterday and today: the lists of all final beneficiaries will have to be published for the first time.
On the lists, my personal advice on this aspect is to do more than just the necessary. You will need to add value to those lists to get the public as well as the journalists to appreciate and interpret them correctly. A list with names of beneficiaries, projects’ names and amounts granted will generate questions. So why not providing background information about the projects, their context and expected impact, the process and reasons of administrative decisions? All, of course, presented in a visually interesting and user friendly way. I am convinced that the more your lists will anticipate on the foreseeable demand for more information, the more efficient the whole exercise will be.
I am convinced that the success of Cohesion Policy depends very much on the way it is communicated and how the communication actors work together. In the run-up to this conference we have conducted a study on your expectations from the Commission. The study results show us that you are expecting the Commission to facilitate networking, to disseminate new ideas and also to give guidance. This will be done but let me also confirm that I am ready to support you in any possible way to reinforce and build on the success that the policy has been so far.
Let me end by wishing you an interesting Closing Session today and I look forward to hearing about the results of the conference and your crucial efforts in “telling the story”.
Thank you very much for your attention.