Europe’s leaders need to be honest about what they really think, and what they really can and cannot do
Posted on 8 December 2011 | 11:12am
Another day, another summit, another round of ups and downs, then stand by for another set of bold declarations that Europe’s leaders have found the solutions to the current crisis … again. With every step of crisis management that doesn’t quite work, they take another reputational hit.
How refreshing it would be if, instead of saying how we can now breathe easily, Frau Merkel and Monsieur Sarkozy emerged to say something on the lines of …
‘Well, this is a crisis for sure. Here is our analysis of the problem … And here are some solutions that we propose to take us forward from where we are. We cannot guarantee their success because in reality we are not in total control of all the forces at play here. All we can do is set out the measures for which we have responsibility, provide the leadership we can provide, and appeal to others involved in this process to accept their broader responsibility too.’
I acknowledge this would be something of a departure from the traditional school of political communications. But the public are ready for it in a way that perhaps they weren’t in previous eras of deference and an understanding of the power of the nation state.
I mentioned this at the conference of French public service communicators in Dunkirk yesterday, and recalled the time former Socialist Party presidential candidate Lionel Jospin said ‘the State can’t do everything.’ It was a statement of the truth – and in poll after poll the public say they want politicians to tell the truth. Yet it is widely felt his campaign took a tumble from then on in.
The conference, and the awards ceremony the night before, were a refreshing reminder that at its best communication is about public service. Those present who were surveyed said their prime motivation was a dedication to their local community. The bulk of them worked for regions, towns, mayors, councils, and there was some excellent work honoured.
It was interesting too how almost all the campaigns, because of budgetary restraints, were mainly targeted at the internet. Those that cut through did so because of originality of ideas and authenticity of the means of communications.
Authenticity is the key to modern comms. It is what people are looking for from Europe’s leaders today and tomorrow. I’ve suggested how Merkel and Sarkozy might approach things. As for David Cameron, honesty and authenticity require him to work out what he really thinks, and say so.
The comparisons with the Thatcher and Major eras are some way off the mark, because if anything the Tory Party under Cameron is even more Eurosceptic. But if he feels their basic position is wrong, and damaging to the national interest, he needs to say so, and say why, clearly in both cases. Instead he keeps trying to give the impression he is ‘one of them’ whilst telling anyone else that he is not.
He needs to sit down and work out his core position. Once he finds it, he might find it liberating to say what he really thinks, rather than keep tippytapping between fundamentally irreconcilable positions.