Public Diplomacy towards Member-Countries and Candidate-Countries

Communication with EU citizens and those of membership-aspiring countries represents a significant share of the Commission’s public diplomacy efforts. These communications are continuously increasing in importance with the diversification of EU membership and the growing complexity of EU policies. They are particularly relevant after the rejection of the proposed European Constitution by the 2005 referenda in France and the Netherlands.

The responsibility of engaging with publics in member-countries is assumed by the Directorate General (DG) Communication. It serves as the main planning entity and coordinates the efforts of all other DGs' communication units into one joint output. In addition to explaining and promoting EU norms and values, these communication initiatives aim at fostering a sense of common European identity among the multiple nationalities that compose the European Union, as well as strengthening the connection between the citizens of the EU and its institutions. The ultimate goal is to increase commitment to the European project and participation in the political life of the Union. As established in the 20.07.2005 Action Plan to Improve Communicating Europe by the Commission, "policies and activities, as well as their impact on everyday lives, have to be communicated and advocated in a manner that people can understand and relate to if citizens are to follow political developments at the European level."

To ensure that its programs are not disconnected from popular sentiments and that citizens are properly socialized into its policies, the Commission is careful to place an emphasis on the two-way aspect of its communications. As stated in the Action Plan, "communication is more than information: it establishes a relationship and initiates a dialogue with European citizens, it listens carefully and it connects to people … It is not just about EU institutions informing EU citizens but also about citizens expressing their opinions so that the Commission can understand their perceptions and concerns. Europe’s citizens want to make their voices in Europe heard and their democratic participation should have a direct bearing on EU policy formulation and output."

Domestic public opinion and commitment to the expansion of the European project are of particular significance in the context of the ongoing process of enlargement of the EU. The implementation of enlargement policies is carried out by the DG Enlargement which is also heading all related communication and information work within the framework of the Communication Strategy for Enlargement.

The Communication Strategy is aimed at applicant countries, as well as at citizens of the EU with the goal of promoting enlargement as a mutually beneficial process. The Strategy follows a decentralized approach and is implemented in cooperation with various sectors of society at the EU and national level such as the European Parliament, national governments and parliamentary and regional assemblies, business and industry leaders, trade unions and professional associations, as well as representatives of civil society, religious bodies and educational institutions. To further the goals of the strategy, numerous EU Information Centers have been set up in the candidate countries. They are responsible for answering EU-related inquiries, organizing press conferences, lectures and seminars. A large portion of their budget is spent on the publication of brochures such as "EU Glossary," "ABC of Community Law," and "Your Business and the Euro" with the goal of providing a comprehensible guide to the complex governance structure of the Union. In addition, the Commission has established a presence through several new media such as the Internet server Europa, the television service Europe by Satellite, the question and answer service Europe Direct, and the popular video broadcaster YouTube where the Commission hosts its own video service called EU Tube. In order to buttress the political and economic alignment of member-states and candidate-countries with a sense of cultural community, the Commission’s strategy also includes various cultural events such as celebrations of "Europe days" and "Europe weeks," yearly European film festivals, concerts, and language fairs.

The Commission measures the success of its public diplomacy by assessing the evolution of public opinion through the Eurobarometer surveys and by monitoring the tone of media coverage of enlargement issues in local news outlets. In addition, some Delegations promote greater media attention to EU issues with competitions such as the annual Robert Schuman Award for Journalists, awarded since 1998 by the Delegations in Sofia and Budapest, or the Annual Media Award in Estonia.[1]

The communication efforts of the Commission are further reinforced by the individual communication strategies of each candidate-country, facilitating the two-way communication flow. This cooperation with national governments in the framework of general and individual communication strategies allows for sharing of experience and targeted distribution of tasks and thus enhances the work of both the Commission and the prospective member-countries. (For an example of a national communication strategy consider Bulgaria's EU Communication Strategy.) Communication strategies have as yet been instituted only towards member- and candidate-countries, but many of the practices developed within their framework receive application in the Commission's public diplomacy policies towards third-countries.

European Neighborhood Policy

The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) was launched in 2004 with the goal of expanding the EU’s presence and engagement in its "new neighbors" after the last rounds of enlargement. The ENP applies to the EU's immediate neighbors by land or sea - Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine. It builds upon existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, or Association Agreements between the EU and each partnering country. The strategy is to offer these countries a privileged relationship of deeper political and economic integration with the EU on the principle of “everything but membership.” The benefits extended by the Union such as participation in European programs and networks, increased assistance and enhanced market access, are in exchange for a commitment on the partners’ side to adopting and successfully implementing EU values, norms and practices of democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy and sustainable development. This mission is following from the Commission’s understanding that enhanced interdependence – political and economic – is a means to promote stability and security.

One of the main goals of the ENP has been to use regional cooperation in order to achieve deep societal transformations in the EU's neighboring countries. For this purpose, the ENP has formulated several main objectives for the relations with partnering countries. In addition to the focus on economic integration, the tackling of frozen conflicts and sectoral reforms, public diplomacy is also featured high on the agenda. Strategy papers and founding documents for the policy make strong reference to people-to-people and civil society contacts[2]. In fact, one of the four main areas of cooperation within the ENP is the development of people-to-people contacts through the so-called "civil society dimension". Some of the public diplomacy focus areas include better targeted migration management and facilitation of legitimate short and long-term travel for some categories of visitors, e.g. students, business people, NGOs, and journalists; institution of more robust exchange programs in the areas of education and scientific research; and building of networks between youth, civil society and cultural groups, trade unions, regional and local authorities. This engagement at the grassroots level - whether through the transmission of practices for civil society organizing and appreciation for democratic participation and governance, the training of future leadership in business, or the education of youth - aims to socialize neighboring societies into the norms and values of the European Union. It furthermore serves as a trust and confidence building measure and an experience-sharing mechanism.

A substantial amount of the Commission’s focus is directed to grassroots capacity building in the ENP partners, most of which are just beginning to cultivate dialogue between government and civil society. Therefore, the ENP aims to give support to civil society organizations and other actors at national and regional level working for democratization, the respect for human rights, freedom of expression, gender equality, and education. The Commission also lobbies partnering governments to ensure their receptivity to working with civil society in their countries. Efforts have been made to obtain input from civil society in negotiations on drafting the national ENP Action Plans, as well as to stimulate analysis of their implementation by independent research institutes both in the EU and the partner countries [3].

Grassroots initiatives have been particularly successful within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Euromed), also known as the Barcelona Process. The partnership provides for a broad structure of relations – political, economic, environmental, social and cultural – with the EU's Mediterranean neighbors. Within this framework the EU works on a bilateral level with each of the partners – Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey; and on a regional level addressing common problems and goals in the Mediterranean. The Social, Cultural and Human Partnership represents the public diplomacy dimension within Euromed. Described by some as "arguably the greatest single public diplomacy initiative ever conceived"[4], it aims to achieve a rapprochement between the peoples of the Mediterranean basin "through a social, cultural and human partnership aimed at encouraging understanding between cultures and exchanges between civil societies" [5].

A prime example of the grassroots organizing and networking taking place within Euromed is the Euro-Mediterranean Non-Governmental Platform – an association of 120 independent civil society organizations at international, Euro-Mediterranean, national and local levels, representing a diverse range of civil society interests, including the environment, labor rights, human rights, development, transparency, culture, women and youth. The EuroMed Non-Governmental Platform was established in February 2003 as an open-to-all group of civil society organizations contributing to Euromed. The Platform aims to strengthen the input of civil society within the Euromed framework and to establish a permanent interface between non-governmental actors and public authorities involved in the partnership.

Previous prominent initiatives with a civil society mandate include the Euromed Youth Action Program, promoting youth exchanges and voluntary service in NGOs with the goal of boosting the development of a genuine civil society in the EU's Mediterranean partners[6]; or the Ministerial Conference on "Strengthening the Role of Women in Society" advocating women’s rights and gender equality as a guarantee of human rights and deepening of democracy.

Euromed has also made significant inroads in regional cultural diplomacy with the aim to "contribute to mutual understanding between the peoples of the EU and the southern Mediterranean region by highlighting their common values and the richness of the region’s audiovisual and cultural diversity"[7]. Under the aegis of programs such as the Euromed Audiovisual Program, Arabic films from the Mediterranean region toured European cities and European cinematic artists were introduced to Arabic Universities. Other past projects with similar focus include the Euromed Heritage Program, developed in 1996 to bring together the 37 Mediterranean partners in the preservation and common appreciation of the region’s historic and cultural heritage[8].

In an effort to further engage with audiences in the region, the EU is also planning to launch an Arabic-language television channel.[9] The channel is expected to be operated by Euronews and would aim to introduce European ideas and the EU perspective on international news in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Euronews has already gained experience in this type of broadcasting as it used to run an Arabic service for two years in the late 1990s.

Delegations of the Commission

The Delegations of the European Commission exercise a variety of communication and information activities, from the publication of brochures and newsletters, through the operation of information centers, to celebrations of Europe Days.

Some authors consider the public diplomacy purview of the European Commission delegations to be a lot stronger than that of traditional embassies. In Diplomacy Without a State: The External Delegations of the European Commission, Michael Bruter describes the delegations’ diplomacy as "consumer-oriented", in the sense that services directed towards non-institutional and non-governmental actors are the primary focus of the delegations’ work.[10] These services engage local businesses for economic expansion, local NGOs for the purposes of regional development, and local media, academia and the general public in raising awareness of European policies and initiatives. As Bruter notes, in general, as well as in each individual region, people providing services primarily directed towards non-institutional demand are over-represented compared to those working for institutional demand.

The Delegation of the European Commission to the USA is one of the first to use the term "public diplomacy" in its work. According to Philip Fiske de Gouveia and Hester Plumridge, its public diplomacy work is comprised of four distinct areas: general perception-oriented public diplomacy (e.g. correcting American public misperceptions of contemporary Europe); specific issue public diplomacy (for instance, lobbying for the extension of the US visa waiver scheme to all 27 EU member states); co-operative EU-US public diplomacy (identifying ways of working with the US government on, for example, public diplomacy strategies in the Middle-East); and competitive and conflictual EU-US public diplomacy (relating to issues of dispute between the EU and the US such as the Airbus-Boeing rivalry or lifting of the EU-China arms ban).[11] The image of the EU in the US is the responsibility of the Press and Public Diplomacy Section. Its task is to promote awareness of the EU among the American public, employing a wide variety of activities such as multimedia tours, speaking tours, news releases, public information services and the European Union Visitors Program. (For more information on the public diplomacy strategy of the Delegation see Taking it to the US: The European Union's Greatest Public Diplomacy Challenge, Presentation by Anthony Gooch at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.)

Another Delegation developing a comprehensive public diplomacy approach is the European Commission’s Delegation to Canada. This commitment is officially stated on the Delegation's website. "It conducts an active public diplomacy and information service, aimed at informing Canadians about current developments in the European Union." In 2004 and 2005 the European Commission has opened calls for proposals on Public Diplomacy, Policy Research and Outreach Devoted to the European Union and EU-Canada Relations and awarded various grants for public diplomacy activities in Canada. Special attention is given to exchange programs for young people operated within the Erasmus Mundus program, interparliamentary meetings, and business-to-business contacts as part of the Canada-Europe Round Table (CERT).

Directorates General (DGs)


The work of the Commission's more than 120 Delegations is administered and coordinated by the DG External Relations (better known as the DG RELEX). The DG RELEX heads the Commission's public diplomacy efforts and is responsible for ensuring a unified approach to projecting the Union's identity abroad. To achieve this goal, the DG RELEX disposes of an annual information and communication budget in the amount of 7 million Euro.[12] In addition, the DG works closely with the Commissioner for External Relations and the other DGs with external remit such as Development, Trade, and ECHO, which each operate their own information and communication units.

DG Development

The DG Development has significant public diplomacy potential since the EU has provided generous amounts of foreign aid to developing countries. Unfortunately, the visibility of its development efforts has been less prominent [13], leading the DG to adopt an external Information and Communication Strategy 2005 – 2009 and launch an information campaign under the motto "Europe Cares" to draw attention to its support for the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs). The overall purpose of the campaign, as stated, is to "address wide-spread ignorance about the EU’s position as the world’s most significant aid donor with activities promoting development objectives across the globe"[14]


Lack of awareness of the EU’s philanthropic activity is not limited to the DG Development. The world’s number one humanitarian aid provider, DG ECHO has suffered from similar insufficiencies in its communication efforts. Under-funding and under-staffing are cited as the primary reasons for these failures. For example, according to some sources, DG ECHO employs only two information officers for communication work covering the entire continent of Africa.[15]

Cultural and Educational Exchanges

Education and Culture Directorate General

While it is not part of the RELEX family, the Education and Culture Directorate General is also charged with an important public diplomacy purview, namely EU cultural diplomacy. Cultural and educational exchanges are particularly dynamic among member-states. They are carried out in the framework of programs such as Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and others. These programs provide valuable experience in cultural, educational and vocational exchange and could serve to develop similar capability with third-countries. For example, some of the exchange programs initially instituted for EU-citizens only are now being opened to countries from the European Economic area (Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway), and countries signatories of Association and Cooperation agreements with the EU. Partnerships with the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, in particular, are developed within the framework of the PHARE and TACIS programs respectively. The Social, Cultural and Human dimension of Euromed, on the other hand, provides the basis for cultural exchange and cooperation with countries from the Mediterranean. In addition, all countries of the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and Central Asia are included in the Tempus (Trans-European Mobility Scheme for University Studies) program for university cooperation.

The Commission has further extended its cultural diplomacy initiatives across the Atlantic and to the countries of Asia and the South Pacific. Some of the programs that are currently in place include the EU-USA Cooperation in Higher Education and Vocational Training, the EU-Canada Cooperation in Higher Education and Vocational Training, the EU-Japan Pilot Cooperation in Higher Education, the EU-Australia Cooperation in Higher Education and Vocational Training, and the EU-New Zealand Pilot Cooperation in Higher Education.

Finally, all countries are eligible for participation in Erasmus Mundus - a platform for exchanges in the field of higher education. The program supports high quality European master’s courses with the goal of attracting outstanding students and scholars from around the world. It further provides assistance for Europeans to study at partner universities abroad.

European Union Visitors Program

One of the oldest exchange programs of the European Union is the European Union Visitors Program (EUVP). It was instituted in 1974 with the US and later included Canada, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, and candidate-countries. The program’s initial goal was to promote understanding of the EU and form influential contacts with the political elites in the US. Therefore, a considerable influence on its development played the practice gained by American public diplomacy itself (for instance, as a model was used the International Visitors Program).[16] The EUVP originated as an initiative of the European Parliament but responsibility was then shared in a joint steering Committee between the Parliament and the European Commission. In addition, the program differs from most of the Commission’s exchange programs in that it is not academically focused. It is directed towards young professionals who are in a position of becoming influential in the political life of their country, such as governmental officials, journalists, trade unionists, educators, officials of non-profit and non-governmental organizations. Today the program is playing an important role in the EU enlargement and regional cooperation strategies. An EUVP visit consists of an individual five- to eight-day program of meetings with EU officials at the EU institutions in Brussels, Strasbourg and/or Luxembourg. All programs are coordinated and arranged by the EUVP Secretariat and not by individual participants.

Despite the well-developed concept, this public diplomacy mechanism of the EU remains underused. In a comprehensive study of the Program Giles Scott-Smith concludes that "the EUVP … is a flexible tool for establishing significant contacts and providing a means to discuss matters of mutual interest, as well as being a prestigious ‘calling card’ to project the EU’s presence abroad. Yet the inability of the Commission to match the original ambition of the Parliament with enough resources and infrastructural support confirms the view that the EU remains unsure of its use of public diplomacy and unwilling to sufficiently project its ‘soft power’ abroad. […] Unless the Union asserts its international identity more, the EUVP will remain an under-utilized model for potential public diplomacy program."[17]

Such criticism remains common among authors who have researched the EU's public diplomacy strategies. According to Philip Fiske de Gouveia and Hester Plumridge, for example, "to date, the way that Europe and the EU communicate with third-country publics has been atomized and disjointed. There is arguably not enough co-operation between EU member states’ own public diplomacy organizations – and the capacity of the EU institutions to engage in public diplomacy activities is limited by a lack of resources and political will."[18]

European Union Soft Power

Despite the above listed shortcomings in the implementation of a comprehensive EU public diplomacy strategy, the soft power resource and the potential of some of the long-established public diplomacy mechanisms of several EU-member countries such as Alliance Francaise, the British Council, and Goethe Institute are enormous. Joseph Nye gives various examples of Europe’s advantages in the competition for global popularity, cultural and political attractiveness and influence.

Many European states have a strong cultural attractiveness: half of the ten most widely spoken languages in the world are European. Spanish and Portuguese link Iberia to Latin America, English is the language of the United States and the far-flung Commonwealth, and there are nearly 50 Francophone countries who meet at a biannual summit at which they discuss policies and celebrate their status as countries having French in common. […] Though much smaller than the United States, Britain and France each spend about the same as the United States on public diplomacy. […] The Europeans have a longer tradition and spend more, particularly in international cultural relations, an area in which France had the highest per capita spending, over $17 and more than four times that of second-ranked Canada; Britain and Sweden rank third and fourth. […] Europeans provide 70 percent of overseas development assistance to poor countries – four times more than the United States. Europe also has ten times as many troops as the United States involved in peacekeeping operations under multilateral organizations such as the UN and NATO. […] At the same time, many European domestic policies on capital punishment, gun control, climate change, and the rights of homosexuals are probably closer to the views of many younger people in rich countries around the world than are American government policies.[19]

The EU itself possesses a considerable amount of soft power due to its nature as a multilateral organization based on shared values and principles and its status as the world’s largest aid donor. The pursuit of European countries to find economic well-being, political unity and peace through multilateralism is a powerful source of credibility for EU policies, as is Europe's contemporary image as an island of social democracy and prosperity. Further acknowledgment deserves the role of the EU as a generator of democratic change in most of Eastern Europe which undertook wide-ranging political, economic and legal reforms in order to share in the European project. As Joseph Nye concurs "(EU) soft power is demonstrated by the fact that not only millions of individuals but also whole states want to enter it"[20]. The EU has exercised a positive influence not only on candidate-countries, where prospects for enhanced security through the political union and economic dividends through the internal market have been a major incentive for change. Its appealing image in the rest of the world is often built on its support for social-democratic values, environmental issues, human rights, criminal law, and poverty eradication. In fact, nearly nine in ten Americans agree that the EU can help solve world problems through diplomacy, trade, and development aid even though it is not as military powerful as the US.[21]

Through its accumulated soft power and the variety of ongoing programs and partnerships, the EU is generating a strong public diplomacy capacity. To date, the European Commission has been particularly successful in engaging with neighboring and membership-aspiring countries, but not as devoted to developing a comprehensive and coherent communication strategy with third-countries. While various measures and programs are underway, the lack of co-ordination, funding and political will is thwarting the realization of their full potential. If the activities of all DGs and Delegations are better coordinated and the experience gained from communications and exchange within the EU and its immediate neighbourhood is put to use (together with that of member-countries themselves), the EU could begin to project a much stronger and clearer identity to the rest of the world. This would be a policy beneficial not only to EU institutions, but to member-states as well.


1. ^  Explaining Enlargement, A progress Report on the Communication Strategy for Enlargement, DG Enlargement Information Unit, March 2002
2. ^  Wider Europe—Neighbourhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbours, Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, Brussels, 11 March 2003
3. ^  Strengthening the Civil Society Dimension of the ENP, Non–Paper, European Commission, 4 December 2006
4. ^  European Infopolitik: Developing EU Public Diplomacy Strategy, Philip Fiske de Gouveia and Hester Plumridge,Foreign Policy Centre, November 2005, p.18
5. ^  Barcelona declaration, November 1995, Social, cultural and human chapter
6. ^  Europe and the Mediterranean: towards a closer partnership, An overview of the Barcelona Process in 2002, European Communities, March 2003
7. ^  Ein Europa der Voelker bauen. Die Europaeische Union und die Kultur, Europaeische Kommission, 2002
8. ^  Europe and the Mediterranean: towards a closer partnership, An overview of the Barcelona Process in 2002, European Communities, March 2003
9. ^  EuroNews to Broadcast in Arabic in 2008, EuroNews Press Release, December 10, 2007.
10. ^  Diplomacy without a state: The External Delegations of the European Commission, Michael Bruter, Journal of European Public Policy, 6 (2), (1999): 183-205
11. ^  European Infopolitik: Developing EU Public Diplomacy Strategy, Philip Fiske de Gouveia and Hester Plumridge, Foreign Policy Centre, November 2005, p.18
12. ^  Ibid., p. 18
13. ^  Ibid.
14. ^  Information and Communication Strategy 2005 – 2009, DG Development
15. ^  European Infopolitik: Developing EU Public Diplomacy Strategy, Philip Fiske de Gouveia and Hester Plumridge, Foreign Policy Centre, November 2005
16. ^  Mending the Unhinged Alliance in the 1970’s: Transatlantic Relations, Public Diplomacy, and the Origins of the European Union Visitors Programme, Giles Scott-Smith, Diplomacy and Statescraft, Vol. 16 No. 14 (December 2005)
17. ^  Ibid.
18. ^  European Infopolitik: Developing EU Public Diplomacy Strategy, Philip Fiske de Gouveia and Hester Plumridge, Foreign Policy Centre, November 2005, p.18
19. ^  Soft Power. The Means to Success in World Politics, Joseph Nye, 2004
20. ^  Ibid.
21. ^  Ibid.

About the Author

Iskra Kirova, USC Center on Public Diplomacy Research Associate

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.