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Public Diplomacy and its role in the EU’s external relations

by on May 13, 2012


 Report to be accessed under:


   The report presents the Vice President’s of the European Commission, Margot Wallstrom’s, speech at the Georgetown University, the purpose of which was to state the role of public diplomacy (PD) in the European Union’s (EU) relations with non-member states.

Wallstrom specifically highlights the relation between the EU and the United States on the platform of public diplomacy, as both honour the same democratic values in theory but use different approaches in practice.

The report also emphasises, that nowadays the concept of public diplomacy needs to be “refreshed”. If it is to work effectively, factors such as communication in a globalised world, modern technology and reaching many complex networks of individuals have to be considered while utilizing PD’s tools.

Furthermore, it expresses the extreme importance for the EU to realize the shift in power and decision-making and in its efforts of tackling the most important global issues, to try to “go local“. The latter is a crucial public diplomacy element as one must remember that it is about building relations with foreign and not domestic publics.

Wallstrom also recalls the necessary components of a modern PD strategy according to Nicholas Cull, such as attentively “listening and responding” to citizens‘ opinions, connection of practice with policy, “going local”, credibility etc. and relates them to EU’s external affairs.

   It is beyond a dispute that Wallstrom is correct in claiming that PD must adapt to the changing world. Also, all the components she mentions are vital for this adaptation’s success however, it seems that the report does not explore the role of public diplomacy in EU’s policy but rather tries to explain how does the EU respond to all the requirements of the modern PD structure as according to her and Cull. Thus, it appears as a persuasion that EU is doing excellent in fulfilling all the necessary PD-related assignments more than stating what is the specific aim that EU aspires to achieve via the use of PD‘s tools. For comparison, what I have expected from the speech, was identification of some PD stepts that EU is taking or must take soon in order to deal with some current global policy issues. For instance, it could be a development of a European Strategy of External Cultural Policy in response to a strategic vision of a role of culture in external relations as was once proposed by Slovenia during its presidency in the EU.

Nevertheless, the report still touches upon  a few key issues in PD, probably the most crucial being the need for credibility. Its importance relates to the fact that PD’s messages recipients often look at the information through the prism of the messenger and cannot differentiate between a mere propaganda and an attempt to create a “partnership” with the public. Fortunately for the EU, its position as a world leader in providing world’s development aid and fighting climate change increases it legitimacy.

EU also manages to create a link between its PD strategies and its defined policy objectives thus allowing the public to understand them and engage in a mutual dialogue.

Also, thanks to diversity of member states, EU is better prepared to target communication with states outside the EU.

Despite those undeniable attributes, some sources still show that “brand Europe” is far more popular than “brand EU“ as it is comonly associated with all the historical and cultural heritage of the Old Continent. In the report it can be seen that EU has adopted a long-termn approach and is patiently but actively pursuing its goals while trying to reflect what it is and what it stands for rather than what it aspires to be which hopefully will improve its reputation with time. This may be a right path for the EU if considering for instance Anholt’s view on building a brand to increase its credibility.

   All in all the report could have focused more on what EU is willing to build and how it s going to meet its targets. Instead it presented more of a strategic outreach to the US thanks to which it will be able to improve its image in the eyes of American students by emphasizig the goals in common.




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