On the 10-11th of October 2019, I was invited as a speaker to the EESC’s (European Economic and Social Committee) 13th Civil Society Media Seminar (CSMS). The event was held at the University of Malaga, Spain, and was entitled: The EU is (FOR) YOU / The role of civil society in communicating the advantages of being UNITED IN EUROPE.

It looked at the EU’s achievements over the past sixty years and raised questions: would European countries have done so well had they decided to go it alone instead of building an “ever closer union”? Can they face the huge challenges that rise before them – such as the climate crisis, migration, digitalisation – by going each their own way? How can civil society help foster ownership of the EU and how can communication help to convince Europeans that unity is strength?

I had the honor to be among great colleagues from the “international Consortium of Investigative Journalists”, the “Reporters Without Borders”, the “European Journalism Observatory” and from the polish radio and TV.

Main findings of our panel discussion over the role of journalism as the watchdog of democracy:

There has been a tendency to blame many of the EU’s failures on poor communication. However, no amount of communication can make up for the shortcomings of policy. In particular, many people have lost faith in Europe as a result of the austerity policies introduced in response to the economic and financial crisis. These policies need to change for ordinary people to regain trust in the EU.

The media, civil society and politicians could and should do more to explain to the public the major societal changes we are going through and prepare people for them. This would help allay the insecurity generated by such changes, which has triggered the rise of right-wing populism, and prevent this from gaining ever-increasing traction in the years to come.

The high turnout among young people at the 2019 European elections was a message of hope in the future of the European Union. The EU must continue to engage with those young people and shape policies that respond to their needs and expectations if it wants to keep their support.

The EU must construct a narrative that connects with the new generation and justifies a vital role for Europe in the world. It is essential to have young people behind the European Union because they have the power to drive change. Climate change and gender equality are two post-ideological, cross-party causes that have been able to draw young people out of political apathy, and where the EU has the credentials to become a global champion.

Good journalism that explains and analyses major phenomena to the public – whether it is the way the EU works, Europe’s different cultures, major societal changes, criminal networks, or by simply giving the whole picture – is something we collectively need, and which, in the future, should perhaps be considered a public good. If the market is not willing to pay for it, we need to find models for funding it while preserving its independence.

In a general context of disinformation, the pressures journalists now work under lead them to neglect fact-checking. This is not helpful for the EU in the current climate. It is therefore vital that journalism schools insist on the importance of fact-checking as a journalist’s essential duty and responsibility. Among other things, this should help counter the blame game that has damaged public opinion about the EU.

The increasing threats against journalists across Europe in the last few years call for action at EU level to protect press freedom in Europe and prevent its deterioration. The inclusion of the fight against disinformation and the defence of media pluralism among Commissioner Jourová’s leading priorities is a welcome first step in the right direction, hopefully leading to measures being taken in the near future.

The recent emergence of informal networks of journalists working together across borders, initially only to carry out investigations, but increasingly to cover more general topics, is a welcome trend. This could help overcome the long-standing problem of how to spark a Europe-wide public debate among countries with different languages and journalistic cultures. The main hurdle is the lack of a viable business model to ensure funding.

My colleague Vassiliki Grammatikogianni has published an article about the seminar , in greek at efsyn.gr