Anna Elena Maria Ferrari
Juana Lahousse has been in charge of the communication of the European Parliament since 2007. In February 2017 she left the office to former Parliament’s spokeperson Jaume Duch Guillot. I had the chance to interview her when she was still in charge, in occasion of the European Youth Event 2016 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
People say that they perceive the EU institutions as distant. Do you think that there is something that goes ‘lost in translation’ and why? I know you started your career as an interpreter…
Juana Lahousse: Information is the same as translation. It is very difficult to send the same message in twenty-four languages for all the EU countries, but this is our work. In terms of political message, what can get lost in the process? Certainly confidence. Citizens in general, and especially young people, don not trust politicians and political decision makers the same way they trusted them fifty years ago, that it is when this whole project started. Prosperity also has been lost, meaning a future for youth, employment, healthcare, education. Also, the fact that the project was supported and defended by who knew what war meant. The aim of wanting to create a Europe with peace, development and growth without any barriers. So there are many ideological elements that were lost along the way that we need to reinvent now. It is a process of creating a new dynamic based on a different ground. Currently we are in the middle of somewhere: someone would like to go backwards, while someone would like to go further in integration. This is why people are lost with what it is happening now.
I guess you are trying to send out a positive message on the EU or are you also trying to recognize that the crisis is there, without hiding it?
JL: Look, the crisis is there, we cannot hide it. However, if you look back to all the things that we have achieved and that we are achieving now, there are so many positive things that without any lie, without any blind eye, it is possible to express a positive and dynamic Europe. You have to help us to deliver stories that correspond to the reality because the media in particular focus only on the crisis. We always talk about the trains that are late, but never about the trains that are on time. This is exactly what it is happening.
How are you trying to address this problem in practice in terms of communication on the side of the European Parliament?
JL: It is not because I am saying, but it is true, the Parliament has a very dynamic communication policy. We have three main special targets: media, citizens and stakeholders.
About the media, we understood already two elections ago that social media and direct contact with politicians is one of the most effective way to create this relationship of trust between media and the parliament. I think we have achieved it through seminars, with the way we prepare our work and inform the press. The media now are following us. We offer also a very goof equipment installation in Brussels and Strasbourg, free to use for the press. They can come, plug in and use their programs. We are very open and transparent. We also have on our websites many links to the members, streaming options for our meetings, the registration is very open.
Then we have the citizens. We try to use the most modern ways to communicate. We also have the Parlamentarium museum in Brussels and the House of European History in Brussels that will explain the process of unification, illustrating conflicts and achievements. We have a policy that is very open to groups and we will open another Parlamentarium in Strasbourg next year. In Berlin we inaugurated another Parlamentarium in Unter den Linden. It is open to the public and it is a very interactive exhibition. In each of our capitals we will have welcoming areas for visitors, in order to be up-to-date.
Finally stakeholders: if in any country there is an issue on a specific piece of legislation, we organize seminars around it. Youth is a particular target group and a particular stakeholder. You see what we are doing with young people at the European Youth Event, for example, as a way to improve connection and communication. The objective is to put the members in center. We are facilitators, we are not politicians. We bring all our knowledge and tools at service.
If you could make a change on the spot in the way you communicate in the European Parliament, what would it be?
JL: I dream of more participative members of the European Parliament. They are so busy because it is hard for some of them to catch up with all these different work places in Brussels and Strasbourg and they come from all over Europe.
What has changed in the communication of the European Parliament before the economic crisis and after? I have noticed that the EP Facebook page is quite quick in answering questions in the comments. Is that part of a new policy, more active and pro-active?
JL: Yes, now we invest a lot in social media because citizens want to know more about the work we do here. Essentially, social media give more access to information. What has changed is the quantity of what we have to communicate: it is huge and it is increasing. Citizens want politicians, not only members of the European Parliament, to be really accountable.
On the other side of communication: what are the most common mistakes that media do, when reporting on the EP?
JL: Some superficiality sometimes. Politics is not an easy game and it is not because it is Europe. Also national policy is very complicated too. Very often, because they do not have the means really to go deeper, because we all know the conditions in which the press is working now -with limited time and resources – they tend to reproduce given ideas without checking them.
Do you think that communication can be a tool to boost democracy in the EU?
JL: Yes, because it is transparency and accountability, it is empowering. Without communication there is no legislation. Without communication there is no discussion, no debate. We are essential and politicians understood it a long time ago. Even in the worst period of history, communication was used in such a way that is is the most beautiful thing, but it can also be the most dangerous.
Anna Elena Maria Ferrari
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.