As someone lucky enough having grown up in a country with an old parliament and now working for a younger one – I must admit I have never question their presence. Naïve, I admit, as democracy needs to be protected and strengthened on a daily basis. Still, for me a parliament, well I more or less take it for granted – it’s just something we have and always have had.
But as we are drawing closer to the 2014 EU Parliament elections, I ask myself can you raise the number of voters by branding the EU Parliament? The relatively poor turnout in the European elections is a problem as it ultimately is a question about legitimacy for the parliament and its decisions. But should you at all brand a parliament? Can you brand a parliament? Is it maybe the elections that should be branded? And can you separate the two?
The reason for why I started muse on the subject is the because I participated in an event organised by the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament where the issues of raising the number of voters and how to communicate on the European Parliament were discussed. One speaker made me jump when he described how they had gone about in the Czech Republic, where had they used pictures of dead chickens wrapped in plastics to show what the Parliament had achieved in consumer protection. When I queried what on earth the thinking behind was he couldn’t answer, but explained they were part of a bigger campaign devised by Sholtz and Friends on the theme “European Elections – it’s your choice!” and the aim was to raise the interest for the elections to the European Parliament and hopefully get a higher electorate participation in the 2009 elections.
As you can see, the chickens were one of 13 outdoor advertising proposals. And all I can say is, well… the brief seemed OK, but did they at all do some studies before the launch? Apparently in the Czech Republic the chicken with the text was the favoured choice, as it was thought to be. However, in France the preferred choice was the unlabelled chicken because the French chicken consumer assumed that if the chicken is unmarked they reckon it is the “green” choice. BTW, if you have the time, look at the viral films. Although, I am fairly convinced they didn’t go viral at all. Now, I don’t question for a second the difficulty you stand in front of when addressing as culturally diverse audiences as the in EU27. I am intentionally speaking about culturally different because I am not so sure that the demographics are that different.
The result of this campaign was the European Parliament feeling more was needed and have since hired three agency consortia to further raise the EP:s image or as it is said in eurolingo “promote understanding and awareness of the European Union’s parliamentary institution.” All according to Holmes report. While this is a four year contract, so not geared only towards the elections as such, the 2014 election will come in the middle of this four year period I should be surprised if they were not a part of the brief. But is more information about the European Parliament what we need? Won’t we suffer from EP inertia and a general voting fatigue? Today a normal voter can vote in communal, regional, national and European elections. Already there are worrying signs that absenteeism is raising, in the recent local elections in Belgium figures as high as 25% was reported. And that is in a country where voting is compulsory. I don’t think it’s because the issues doesn’t engage, but that the actual event of voting is no longer interesting.
So I return to my initial questions – Can you and should you brand a Parliament? Or is it a wrongly phrased question – it is the elections that should be branded? I have no answers myself, but I feel it is a question that should be asked and debated.