What if Europe had its own version of The West Wing? Could a thrilling fiction show like Sorkin‘s perhaps make the “behind the scenes” of the EU attractive and understandable for the average European?
When I asked my friends, the answers were all negative: “To begin with, you would need Europeans to speak the same language,” or “you would need EU politics to be entertaining in itself,” or my favourite, “that would be too American.”
It’s funny how whenever I come up with an idea based on something that is originally from the US, the argument against it is that it is “too American.” After some months dealing with conversations about European identity, I keep noticing how we reject any inspiration from them, but how in fact, we define ourselves as opposed to them. That is, we take peace as our flagship, while the US has a wider acceptance of war; we are proud of our welfare system, as opposed to their “ferocious capitalism.” Fine. But none of these will ever mean that we cannot learn from them in those fields they nail. Communication certainly being at the top.
The idea about Sorkin began fermenting last week, when I was disappointed in the lack of headlines about the Spanish general strike in pan-European media. If the issue was big enough for the Wall Street Journal to publish this interactive graphic narrating the struggles of the families in the crisis, why not for Euractiv? I wonder why foreign international media have more coverage of our stories than our own pan-European media.
Outlets like Euractiv or the European Voice mainly cover EU affairs, which does not necessarily mean European news. That is, the pan-European media we have developed so far is not really about Europe, but about the Brussels bubble. Like the institutions they cover, these media tend to be technical and target an elite, but not the general public which needs to be brought closer to the institutions.
While national media often fail to provide in-depth analysis because of their efforts to reach a general audience, pan-European outlets face the opposite problem. They have the right dose of technical and thoughtful analysis, but provide the citizenry with little ground for mutual understanding.
These ideas were fed by an article written by Maja Hagerman, a Swedish journalist, in the Dagens Nyheter.
“Central governance is progressively being reinforced with the introduction of new rules, but the democracy that Europe proudly claims as its core value has remained distressingly discreet. Where are the major debates that are supposed to bring Europeans together?” she wondered.
As a solution, Hagerman emphasises the need for a European salon. “A public sphere in which Europeans can engage in a public dialogue that goes beyond European summits.” At this point, I realised how in fact, my colleagues from E&M were way ahead on these thoughts, and had already created, 5 years ago, a pan-European media that is about making Europe personal. So what’s in the way of this and other humble European Salons reaching the goal?
If I look at the continent’s main problems right now, I don’t think about anti-crisis firewalls, but about how the EU is failing to make its citizens understand the need for them. I also think of the growing apathy towards the institutions, the rise of tensions between countries (pointed out by Carmen Zech’sFlop European), and the so-called democratic deficit, or what’s worse, its evaporation from the political agenda. Which brings me back to Sorkin.
Europe needs storytelling. Colourful communication tools that make its politics digestible and appealing to citizens. A drama like The West Wing is just an option that serves as an example. More films like “In the loop,” which are often found in national cinema, are another one. Projects like Storycorps, a third one. But mostly, and with the feet on the ground, we need quality journalism that has a human approach to the EU, and not only a technical one, however necessary that may be too.
We are all aware of the tough ecosystem in which media live in Europe: different languages, an identity that is still under construction and a puzzling political system. But we cannot waitfor these issues to be solved before we start writing journalism that brings us forward. Quality media that promotes an engaged citizenry needs to be part of the process. Let’s not be scared of becoming inspired by American storytelling!