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Making a Case that a Brand Evolution is Critical to EU Success



Table of Contents

Introduction ................................................................................................................. 2

Organizational Positioning and Brand ......................................................................... 4

The EU Approach to Communications & Positioning .................................................. 5

Responding to Change: European Union Organizational Challenges ......................... 10

The Current Positioning Crisis: Tales from Brussels & the Bourgeois ....................... 13

European Constitution Crisis – Obfuscating the Position ........................................... 16

European Constitution Crisis – European Framework Undermines the Message ........ 21

Building a Stronger Brand Before Extending the Limits ............................................ 22

Addressing the Positioning Problems with a New Brand............................................ 23

Challenges and Opportunities for an Evolved EU Brand ............................................ 25

Conclusion ................................................................................................................ 30


The European Union is widely considered to be one of the great experiments in

democratic systems history: a political and economic union designed to grow and prosper

through the peaceful and voluntary expansion of shared regional priorities. Originally

designed to unite the nations of Europe economically so another war among them would

be unthinkable,1 the European Union (EU) has evolved substantially since 1952, when

the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) set the stage for a

new era in Europe.

The EU has proven thus far to be a regional – and global – success story. Over the past

five decades, the EU has experienced unprecedented growth through voluntary accession,

which, by itself, is a unique feature in regional politics. But the EU has grown more than

just in territory – it has grown in scope. Formerly positioned as a regional stabilizer

through increased economic ties, what is now called the EU has transformed itself into a

highly structured governing bureaucracy designed to achieve the goals and address the

fears shared across the region.

These shared European goals and fears have, inevitably, shifted and diversified

throughout the decades. Pivotal events, including the crumbling of the Soviet Empire

and the subsequent Eastern Europe integration challenges, transformed Europe in

fundamental ways. These events began to change the equation of priorities, values, and

culture across Europe. Is intra-European peace still more of a concern than enhancing

economic performance? Are the shared regional security concerns across Europe more
“EU In Brief,” Europa Portal for the European Union [http://www.eurunion.org/profile/brief.htm]

important than local security issues, such as in Spain (i.e., Basque separatists with its

borders) and in Hungary (i.e., Balkan stability adjacent to its border)?

The European Economic Community (EEC) began as an institutional framework

designed to represent the shared concerns, values, and goals of the region when the issues

were quite different, and arguably less ambiguous, than they are today. What is now all

too apparent is that the European Union has not effectively adjusted nor clearly defined

its value proposition to Europeans. Worse, through its growth and increasing political

role, the EU has created its own “echo chamber” that has isolated it from the criticisms

and concerns of the people it is designed to serve.

As a result, the EU is suffering from a perceived lack of democratic support from the

people in Europe (the so-called “democratic deficit”2), as well as a negative image. 3

When perception issues like these go unaddressed, they tend to transform from

perception into conventional wisdom. This paper will argue that the EU “message” is no

longer well formed, well defined, nor resonant with the majority of Europeans, despite

the fact that the majority of Europeans like being members of the European Union. 4 As

a result of this positioning problem, negative perceptions have metastasized into

conventional wisdom, which played a large roll in the recent failure to pass the European

Constitution in France and the Netherlands – two core members of the Union. This

The European Union‟s “Democratic Deficit”: Bridging the Gap between Citizens and EU Institutions,
Jennifer Mitchell, PhD candidate at the Polish Academy of Science, Open Society Institute, 3/10/05
47% Europeans have a positive image; Eurobarometer 63, Section 2.3: “The European Union‟s image”
54% responded EU is a “a good thing” and only 15% responded “a bad thing.” Eurobarometer 63,
Section 2.1: “European Membership: A good thing?”

paper will establish a linkage between the EU‟s lack of effective communication strategy

with the failure to pass the European Constitution.

Organizational Positioning and Brand

How did the EU change from being an institution that inspired regional pride through the

spreading of democratic values, peace and prosperity to being perceived as an out-of-

touch, regional bureaucracy that is maligned by politicians, the press, 5 and European

citizens alike?

Communications and marketing – two elements of organizational management that are as

critical as they are underestimated in their effectiveness in governing organizations 6 – are

essentials that, if utilized properly, compel organizations to continually focus on these

three questions:

- Why does the organization exist (i.e., what value does it bring)?
- What matters to the organization (i.e., what are its principles and culture)?
- What are the organization‟s priorities (i.e., what will it focus on)?

Because the EU is not a typical organization, we will fold these traditional business terms

(communications and marketing) into a single term for the purposes of this paper:

positioning. Positioning, is this context, is the marketing of an organization through

strategic communications processes. Effective positioning underlies an organization‟s

brand. One of the most powerful tools to support positioning is a brand: “A brand is the

5 “Introducing the Louis XVI prize, for being out of touch,” The Economist Jun 23, 2005, an article that
describes the EU President at the time, Jean-Claude Jun, as being out of touch
“Identity Management and the Branding of Cities,” Mary Tschirhart, Campbell Public Affairs Institute

symbolic embodiment of all the information connected with a product or service,” 7 and

“gaining recognition and recall of a brand symbol or slogan is the first step in the

branding process (Keller, 2001; Hoeffler and Keller, 2002). Symbols and slogans help

consumers to connect attitudes, perceived benefits, and attributes to the branded entity.

[If a] government is not utilizing a brand symbol or slogan, they are unlikely to be

actively, or at least effectively, branding. They have ignored a critical step.” 8

When an organization prioritizes and continually reinvests in positioning, it develops the

organizational clarity required to portray [ergo, brand] itself in a clear and effective

manner. It is the assertion of this paper that the European Union has not properly

invested in positioning which, in turn, has tarnished its brand and, as a result, is putting

itself – and with it potentially the fate of the entire region – in jeopardy.

The EU Approach to Communications & Positioning

Positioning an organization is not merely an exercise in how to influence people to see

the organization‟s goals a specific way. Positioning involves looking deep into an

organization‟s raison d'être and expressing this typically complex rationale in simple

ways that resonate with targeted audiences (or customers).

It is understandable that the EU‟s former incarnations (ECSC, EEC, EC) did not have to

invest very heavily in communications and positioning. The EEC began as an

organization with a clear, succinct mission (regional security through the strengthening

As defined by Wikipedia, BrandBlog, and The Strategic Board
“Identity Management and the Branding of Cities,” Mary Tschirhart, Campbell Public Affairs Institute

economic ties) with well-defined and familiar audience/customers: heads of state and

regional policy elites. The inherent advantage of an organization where the customer is

also a direct stakeholder in the same organization is clear – it just doesn‟t take that much

effort to convince people that are already working within the organization of that

organization‟s value proposition. In addition, having a single customer segment is easier

to manage than a complex matrix of segments.

Expansion Means New Customer Segments

As the EEC evolved into the EU, its scope expanded into a broader political and societal

agenda. Examples of this expansion include:

 In 1952 (and through 1989), the European Court of Justice was instituted “to

make sure that EU legislation is interpreted and applied in the same way in all

EU countries, so that the law is equal for everyone. It ensures, for example,

that national courts do not give different rulings on the same issue.” 9 In this

timeframe, the Court was designed to serve as a body of legal consistency

across member nations only (i.e., the court is not involved in issues of the

individual citizen). However, in 1989, the European Court expanded its

influence when the Court of First Instance was created to give rulings on

certain kinds of cases; particularly actions brought by private individuals,

companies and some organizations10 (i.e., the court is now involved in issues

of the individual citizen).

“The Court of Justice,” European Union Institutions and Other Bodies, Europa Portal for the European
“The Court of Justice,” European Union Institutions and Other Bodies, Europa Portal for the European

 With the signing of the Maastricht treaty in 1991, the European Council “set

new ambitious goals for the member states: monetary union by 1999,

European citizenship, new common policies - including a common foreign

and security policy (CFSP) - and arrangements for internal security.” 11

Through expansions like these, the EU broadened its scope of accountability to include

the European citizens. In other words, by adding European citizenship to the docket of

responsibility, the EU expanded from servicing purely European nations (its traditional

customer segment) into the business of servicing the European citizen (a new customer


As the EU embarked on its mission to get more engaged in the lives of citizens, a quick

look shows range of support across the “Original 15” countries that encompassed the EU

up to 2004:

Figure 1: BBC News report on Eurobarometer Feb 2001

“Europe in 12 Lessons” Europa Portal for the European Union

Figure 2: Eurobarometer 54 - Support for Enlargement

With opinions of the EU itself ranging from 28% to 79% from member nations, it‟s clear

that even in 2001, the EU had a challenge in establishing organizational value in a

consistent manner across its member nations. Similarly, opinions on EU expansion into

Eastern Europe also varied by similar levels of disparity. These figures display a

complex set of “customer satisfaction” and “customer expectations” results that would

be troubling for any single organization to service effectively.

Startlingly, adding the citizen as a new customer segment is only one aspect of EU

expansion. Fourteen years after adding the citizen to its list of responsibilities, the EU

took on yet another fundamental expansion: The addition of ten new European countries

that, by and large, had lived in a completely different economic and cultural model for

the past generation. With this political expansion atop of the citizen expansion in the

1980‟s and 1990‟s, the EU would now have to manage and maintain the following

customer segments:

 The “Original 15” EU National Governments

 Citizens of the “Original 15” EU Nations
 The “New 10” EU National Governments
 Citizens of the “New 10” EU Nations

Each of these customer segments have distinct needs, priorities, expectations and

challenges. An effective organization must first identify its core customer segments, and

then develop offerings, services, and support for each of these segments. However,

customers will have trouble identifying with and trusting these services unless these

customers are marketed and communicated to effectively. This takes us back to the

importance of positioning. The EU, like any service organization, must position its

value, offerings and services to its key customer segments in a way that establishes value

and trust.

Before an organization can effectively position itself to key customer segments, it must

first know itself. These EU expansions represented a fundamental shift in organizational

scope, purpose and priorities of the EU, and raise important questions around how much

effort was invested in looking at the EU introspectively throughout these transformations,

in order to rediscover the answers to the key “three questions” listed above: Why does

the organization exist, what matters to the organization, and what are the organization‟s


In light of these fundamental organizational expansions, did the EU step back, take a

deep breath, re-assess its position in Europe and with European citizens, and invest in a

holistic repositioning effort? The answer is unclear. The EU did invest heavily in a

Communications Strategy for Enlargement. 12 In a review of this strategy, the EU did an

admirable job in creating a process to communicate the value of enlargement to all four

of the aforementioned target audiences. However, for as good as this strategy was, it was

in support of a specific event – enlargement. This communications plan was built upon

the old, less relevant EU positioning, with very little thought given to bridging the

original EU positioning of “regional security through economic ties” with this new, grand

project. In fact, on the EU‟s website for Enlargement Communications, it is proudly

proclaimed that the “…European Union's enlargement next year will be the fulfilment

[sic] of a vision, but it needs a clear strategy to make it a success…” The lack of

positioning linkage here is troubling. A “vision” is referenced, without any context or

definition of what exactly the vision is. It seems this “vision” is presumed to be common

knowledge and universally held. This example is representative of the breakdown of

communications between the EU and the European civilian -- albeit ironically embedded

in a well-developed enlargement communications strategy!

Responding to Change: European Union Organizational Challenges

Petra Mašínová, director of Department of EU Information for the Czech Republic,

portrays the European Union as lagging in the developing of an effective communications

strategy. “The EU itself started thinking about EU Communications strategy 10 years

Communications Strategy for Enlargement, July 2000
[http://europa.eu.int/comm/enlargement/communication/pdf/sec_737_2000_en.pdf ]

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ago,” Ms. Mašínová laments, “The Communications department got budget money. It

was late. We all know it was late.” If the EU seriously began contemplating

communications in 1995, then the large transformation from political to social

organization at the turn of the 1990‟s largely came and went without the serious

investment in reassessing the Union‟s value proposition (through the aforementioned

“three questions”) and additional customer segment (the citizen).

In fact, it would not be surprising if the EU did not think of itself as a service

organization that should be focusing on such fundamental organizational strategies such

as defining customer segments and positioning itself to these segments. After all, from

its evolution from EEC to EC to EU, it had been very successful in its growth and

influence as a pragmatic political body in which the customers of its service also served

as members (i.e., national governing officials and elites). With such a close-knit

customer/member arrangement, the EU could go about its business without having to

parse and explain itself in foreign and/or populist terms – the people it needed to

influence were already on board!

Yet with all the transformations occurring in the past 15 years, defining, assessing, and

developing communication plans for its customer segments would have served the EU

well. Most signs point to the unfortunate conclusion that the EU dealt with positioning as

another aspect of the bureaucracy instead of a strategic organizational practice. Ms.

Mašínová suggests, “I do think they [the EU] are trying hard, but everything with this EU

is slow, and the communication can be slow, too. With other departments, you can take

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your time. But with communications, you get a topic, and you need to act on it now.

[EU Communications] has a lot of money but, frankly, it‟s difficult to use it. My

department has a €100,000 budget provided to me from the EU, but if I want to get

something out of it, I‟ll receive the money in a year‟s time.” Ms. Mašínová went on to

explain that she would rather not have a budget from the EU, because it takes more time

to request, negotiate and receive funds than to find other sources.

Why is the communications budget for the Czech Republic‟s EU information department

such a problem? Mašínová explains that “the EU got more strict after the sting [i.e. the

corruption scandal], and everything has gone slowly since. With communications, you

just can‟t work like that. That‟s the only tool that requires instant use of funds. There is

a will, and there is potential, but concerning the concrete helping of member states

educating the people, it‟s „eh, meh!’ [i.e., frustratingly just not happening]”

Can it be such a surprise, then, that the massive transformations over the past 15 years,

combined with the complexities of serving four distinct customer segments, that

perceptions of the EU are in the negative (see Figure 3)?

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Figure 3: Eurobarometer 63 - Perceptions of EU
July 2005

The Current Positioning Crisis: Tales from Brussels & the Bourgeois

Beyond the somewhat downbeat news that the Eurobarometer reports (i.e., 47% of the

EU25 respond that EU has positive image), there are deeper, more specific issues lying

below the surface that have already negatively affected the EU, and threaten to

undermine the progress the EU has made.

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In primary research conducted in June 2004, 13 a clear disconnect between the EU

bureaucrats and EU citizens emerged. In discussions with EU politicians and staffers in

Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg, most sang in unison their excitement over the

recent EU expansion into Eastern Europe, and were positively jubilant about the

forthcoming European Constitution. They spoke of more regional cohesion and, as a

result, a stronger, singular face to the rest of the world. Their perspective was clearly

geopolitical – there was a keen interest in being the secondary global superpower in terms

of the wealth and cultural ideals. The spirit was not anti-American as much as it was a

strong desire to be a single political and economic force to be contended with.

Interestingly, and importantly, this appeared to be more of a defensive stance (i.e., to

protect the values and economy that were perceived to be under attack by the United

States‟ hegemony in economy, innovation, and values) than an offensive stance (i.e., a

desire to dominate). Nevertheless, people involved in – and orbiting – the EU were

downright giddy in their collective believe that they were at the precipice of something

grand and imminently positive for Europeans. While there were occasional mentions of

the so-called democratic deficit, these concerns were quickly waved off as a technicality

that would resolve itself as the EU continued to garner future successes.

In stark contrast, conversations with more typical Europeans (i.e., white, middle-class,

and fully-employed in private industry14) revealed quite a different perspective on the

EU. Dina, a marketing manager for a market research firm in Milan, Italy, complained

that ever since Italy moved to the euro currency, her standard of living decreased from

Research conducted by the author in 2004 of five EU staffers in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg,
as well as five middle-class, fully-employed Europeans from Italy, Austria, Germany, and Belgium.
Names of these individuals have been altered to protect their privacy

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middle-class to a step below (lower middle-class). She used to be able to comfortably

shop for a new wardrobe in trendy stores every spring with her lira, but since the euro

was introduced, she now is forced to go to lower-end department stores, decreasing her

pride in her herself and her career success. Loranna, a communications manager in

Frankfurt, Germany, shared a similar experience when her deutschmarks moved to euros,

“My colleagues and I used to be able to afford to go out to a pub three to four times a

week. No longer. Now we go out once a month if we can. If we can‟t afford to drink as

much, how can the pub operators be doing?” Theresa, a sales director in Austria, had

different concerns. “All the EU sees Austria as is a superhighway between Italy and

Germany. Thanks to the EU applying pressure on my government, they are now building

new highways that go right through residential neighborhoods that were developed

specifically to be away from noise, bustle, and other urban trappings like pollution. Now,

thanks to the EU that only cares about commerce and not people, people‟s lives are being

destroyed. I used to be a social liberal, but now I have joined a populist political party in

Austria that is promising to yank Austria out of the EU.”

If this primary, albeit limited, research is any indication of the contextual gap between

“Brussels” and “the bourgeois,” it is pointing to a perception and positioning problem for

the EU. The global, geopolitical issues concerning the elites, while real and strategically

important, simply are not on the radar for the average European. The average citizen has

local, tactical concerns that affect their everyday life – and these issues resonate the most

because they are impacted every day by some of the artifacts of European Union policies.

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It is not practical to believe that EU policies will have no negative impact at the local

level. Any kind of economic or political integration is destined to create “pains” in

certain demographics. Astonishingly, there seemed to be precious little concern in

Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg regarding these growing pains. Through this lack

of concern and contentment to stay firmly planted in a bureaucratic/technocratic echo

chamber, EU organizations have developed a culture of detachment and aloofness that is

felt by Europeans. This state of affairs has led to the EU‟s positioning crisis, which

arguably led to the recent failure to pass the European Constitution.

European Constitution Crisis – Obfuscating the Position

The backdrop and context has been established: The current EU organization differs in

fundamental ways from its prior incarnations, yet it has not done the requisite “soul

searching” required to re-launch itself to its core constituents. As a result, there lies a

disconnect between the value the EU sees in itself and the value Europeans see in the EU.

This positioning crisis was already in effect prior to the development of the European

Union Constitution, effectively giving the Constitutional approval process a limp to start

with. Add to this one of the more poorly positioned treaties Europe has ever witnessed,

and it starts to become clear why the European Union Constitution suffered the fate it has

to date.

The European Constitution was positioned thusly by the European Union:

What is the Constitution?

“In actual fact, the European Constitution is both a treaty

subject to the rules of international law and a Constitution
in that it contains elements of a constitutional nature.” 15
“A Constitution for Europe”, European Union, Rome 10/29/2004

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This explanation demonstrates the troubled position the EU was already in when

attempting to communicate and position the Constitution. From the very beginning, the

Constitution was doubly-defined as a treaty and a constitution. This double identity

reflects the history, challenges, and linkages established above: the positioning of the

European Constitution tries to keep a foot in the old, political and economic paradigm

while, at the same time, warily putting a foot down in the newer, civil, social paradigm.

Later in the same document, more EU attempts at messaging their position:

Why a European Constitution?

The European Constitution is an important step in the

construction of Europe. It is designed to meet the
challenges of an enlarged Europe: a Europe of 25 Member
States and 450 million inhabitants (and even more later on);
a democratic, transparent, efficient Europe working to
serve all Europeans.

The European Constitution replaces the main existing

Treaties with a single text.
(bold emphasis retained from original formatting)

This message continues to misstep, and adds to the confusing positioning of the

Constitution. In this passage, the Constitution is positioned to not only help “construct”

Europe, but will enable Europe to add even more countries “later on,” and explicitly

states that the EU and its institutions, by following the Constitution, will work to serve all

Europeans. These are three very distinct rationales for a Constitution. With reasoning so

broadly defined, it is seemingly guaranteed to excite and enrage just about every person

in at least one way. Atop of this confusion, the bolded statement following the paragraph

reads like a summary, yet is nothing of the sort. The bolded text reduces the Constitution

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to a tactical consolidation, while the above paragraph characterizes the Constitution as

much more.

It‟s no wonder that Europeans are at odds with what exactly the Constitution represents.

Worse, this lack of clarity has a more insidious consequence: it creates a vacuum of

purpose, giving just about any argument the freedom to characterize the Constitution in

just about any way that serves the purpose. The following are just a few of these attempts

to co-opt favorite and feared portions of the Constitution, exploiting its positioning


"The EU Constitution is the birth certificate of the United States of

Europe. The Constitution is not the end point of integration, but the

framework for - as it says in the preamble - an ever closer union."

German Europe Minister Hans Martin Bury

Die Welt, 25 February 2005

"This text is the crowning of what one could call the French vision for

Europe, against the Anglo-Saxon vision, purely free-trade,

intergovernmental and souverainiste. This Constitution was wanted by

France, and is largely inspired by France."

French President Jacques Chirac

UMP Party website

“It is a birth of a political union, not only an economic and social union;

an event unique in the history of our Continent, a turning point in the

history of humanity.”

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi

The Times, 30 October 2004

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[The Constitution is] “a big change from the basic concept of nation

states. It’s a change of centuries of history.”

European Commission President Romano Prodi,

The Times, 10 November 2003

“Those who are afraid do not appear to have grasped what is happening

at the moment. We are creating a political union.”

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt,

Suddeusche Zeitung, 25 November 2003

“The constitution is not just an intellectual exercise. It will quickly change

people’s lives.”

Former Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini,

Telegraph, 1 June 2003

“It requires single states that until now had 100% of their sovereignty to

accept losing a portion of their sovereignty.”

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi,

PA News, 8 February 2004

“This is a legal revolution without precedent.”

Former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio,

Irish Times, 14 June 2003

“Our constitution cannot be reduced to a mere treaty for co-operation

between governments. Anyone who has not yet grasped this fact

deserves to wear the dunce's cap.”

President of the European Convention, Valery Giscard d'Estaing

Speech in Aachen accepting the Charlemagne Prize for European

integration, 29 May 2003

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“This text will imprison us, it is irreversible. In the name of Europe, and

of my European conviction, we need a better text.”

Former French PM, Laurent Fabius

Le Figaro, 27th September 2004

And these are the positions of the elites, who should arguably be more in tune with the

EU‟s goals than the common citizen. When delving into the populist arguments, the

rhetoric is directed toward the instinctive mistrust of government and fear of change

found in most everyone. In short, populist arguments go for the FUD factor. Messages

utilizing fear, uncertainty and doubt resonate with citizens because they conveniently

ignore strategic and long-term components of change. Populist messages focus on the

here and now – two things that common citizens are very in tune with. Populist messages

exploit the fact that most people do not have the time, interest or patience to comprehend

the global, geopolitical, socio-political issues that elites spend most of their time

contemplating. As a result, symbols such the “Polish Plumber” 16 emerge from the

populist messaging strategy, instilling FUD in the majority of French citizens, fearing

that the Constitution represented the free flow of cheap labor from the East to the more

mature economies in the West.

The Polish Plumber became a symbol of French insecurities when populist groups iconified a plumber
from Poland taking up residence in France and serving French customers for a fraction of the cost. The
majority of the French, instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get more value from a service provider,
saw themselves as the French plumber, being replaced by a eager, cheaper European worker from the
former East.

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European Constitution Crisis – European Framework Undermines the Message

Political structural alignment issues also exist, and add to the communications

conundrum. As a supranational political body, the EU and related framework

organizations are commonly referred to as “Brussels” – symbolizing remoteness,

detachedness, and aloofness – not endearment or reverence. The EU (i.e., “Brussels”)

does have certain demands on member states in the Union, and many times, these

demands are not popular in any given nation at a given point in time, yet benefit the

union as a whole. 17 Local politicians, being politicians in their own democracies, are (not

surprisingly) focused on ensuring their constituents are pleased with their policies, goals,

and priorities. What, then, happens when “Brussels” (which, to be fair, has already been

given the authority by said member state to conduct certain policies in said state) enacts a

policy or initiative that is not popular with local, voting citizens? These citizens can‟t

vote out “Brussels” – they can only vote out their locally elected politician.

Herein lies the structural alignment problem: A local politician has the incentive to

blame “Brussels” for unpopular policies, like, for example, a highway connecting Italy to

Germany. Whether an EU directive or not, a scenario like this creates a viable scapegoat

for any difficult reforms, investments, or shifts that benefit the Union at some sacrifice

for the locals. To exemplify this problem, is it any surprise that Italy‟s prime minister,

Silvio Berllusconi, has called the euro “a disaster” when Italian citizens (like Dina,

interviewed above) find that they can‟t afford the lifestyle they used to enjoy under the


Examples of this range from farm subsidies and Turkey accession talks, to issues as mundane as EU
member dues

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Building a Stronger Brand Before Extending the Limits

There are many other issues surrounding the European Constitutional crisis, including:

 It‟s an unwieldy combination of an aspirational document and a governing


 Europeans largely did not vote on or for the 2004 expansion; elites drove the

initiative, creating frustration that became “democratic pressure” that burst at

the first opportunity to vote for an EU measure.

 Referendums are more appropriate for singular, containable actions like

expansions (where some referendums were offered, but ignored18), and much

less appropriate for complex, multi-faceted initiatives like constitutions

(where referendums were offered).

 By not acknowledging fledgling popular support of policies like expansion, an

air of mistrust has coalesced within the ranks of the common European,

putting any EU agenda item pinned to a referendum at risk for failure.

 Globalization is wracking the nerves of people across the world as this process

completely transforms commerce, politics, and war – and since the EU

represents Europe‟s approach to globalization, it suffers from guilt by


As these examples show, there are many underlying issues that play into the challenges

of passing the Constitution. It is this reason that the EU leaders need to step back, re-

“The member states and the commission will pursue the enlargement negotiations with undiminished
vigour and determination.” Romano Prodi and Goran Persson in response to Ireland voting “no” to the Nice
Treaty. BBC News June 8, 2001

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assess the landscape, and immerse themselves in the “three questions” referred to above

in an effort to align the requisite fundamentals with the current political atmosphere.

Once these three questions are answered – and bought into and across the entire

organization – the EU will have developed a new, updated brand identity designed

specifically to have the strength and integrity required to withstand the challenges that lie


Addressing the Positioning Problems with a New Brand

Once the fundamentals are redefined through the immersive organizational self-

evaluation required to establish an updated brand identity, the EU will then be ready to

begin the process of developing a communications strategy to support the desired

positioning in support of its goals. The good news is that once the initial, introspective

exercise is complete and a meaningful, relevant brand is established, the brand will work

as a powerful tool to further the agenda and policies of the EU.

An example of how the development of a powerful brand transcended stiff opposition

was highlighted in the U.S. 2004 presidential election campaign. The brand that George

W. Bush successfully established (through years of hard work conducted by his political

aides) was that, despite any faults people might find in his ability or capacity, he was

someone Americans could trust to keep them safe. 19 Trust and safety were themes he

repeatedly invested in, which further embellished the brand, which helped him ward off

attacks by his opponents. In fact, George W. Bush is a case study in brand management

that could directly apply to the EU in that his brand evolved over the years to suit the
“The Art of Presidential Branding”, Bill Nissim, All About Branding, 10/20/2004

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challenges at hand. His initial brand was “Bush – the son of a former President.” This

gave him a leg up in recognition, which served his initial campaign well. Once initial

momentum was established, he evolved his brand to that of “Compassionate

Conservatism,” which positioned him as a moderate with a conservative heritage. Then,

after the 9/11 crisis, he evolved his brand again to that of a “President leading the global

war on terrorism.” This brand positioned him as a tough leader who was not afraid to

make big decisions quickly in order to keep America safe from foreign threats. He

leveraged this positioning all the way to engaging in America‟s first pre-emptive war to

overthrow a sovereign nation. No matter what your views are on the rationale and basis

for his decisions, his strong brand positioning is what gave him the political license to

push forward an unprecedented agenda and, as a result, redefine America‟s brand in the


This case study supports the argument that the development of a strong brand – one that

symbolizes the various and diverse positions the organization needed to communicate – is

an invaluable tool for any organization to establish its value proposition with its core

customer segments, gain support for the services it provides, and improve success in the

continual battle for ideas and trust. In addition, this example exemplifies how nurturing,

evolving, and continually re-investing in a brand gives an organization the

communication fundamentals to stay relevant and meaningful as events occur and

priorities evolve. In this case, the Bush administration did exactly what the EU did not

do: they evolved their brand positioning as events unfolded in order remain relevant,

valuable and trustworthy to their core customer segments. Conversely, as previously

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established, the positioning and brand of the EU remained relatively stagnant in the face

of historic events – and the resulting shifts – in priorities of its core customer segments.

If the EU were to develop a brand as strong as the Bush administration‟s to support and

position its unique value to their respective constituents – and have the organizational

diligence to continually evolve the brand as events unfold – the EU would be able to

spend less time and resources defending itself and, as a result, dedicate more time and

resources to furthering its agenda. Ultimately, having a strong brand is not only

effective, but it is also efficient.

Challenges and Opportunities for an Evolved EU Brand

A reinvigorated EU will have the organizational wherewithal, confidence, self-

assuredness, and clarity required to stand up to the unique challenges facing

contemporary Europe. It can also offer higher quality services and opportunities to

Europeans, and would be better positioned to make connections to these opportunities

with the majority of Europeans‟ interests. It will have a brand that is transparently

compelling to a majority of Europeans because the brand will be developed with that

exact goal in mind. To get there, the EU will need to find solutions to – and develop

communication strategies to address – the following challenges:

Nationality vs. Rationality

Many populist arguments against the EU are rooted in nationalism, 20 which feed on

people‟s natural tendency to be proud of their family, community, culture and ultimately,

“EU Faces Nationalism in the East,” Global Intelligence Update, New York University, 2/16/00

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country. Conversely, many EU arguments are rooted in rationalism, which feed on the

elite policy maker‟s tendency to be proud of being aware of all of the issues facing

Europe, and developing complex strategies to address these issues. Both feed from pride,

but the sources differ. The communication challenge for the EU here is to better

empathize with the nationalist‟s perspective, and craft the EU message in terms that are

aligned with the innate pride Europeans have of their respective nations.

Every Society Needs a “Story”

If Europe is to ever see itself as a supranational entity in the world, it‟s going to need

more than strong economic, cultural, and security ties across the region. As Lester

Milbrath, professor of Political Science and Sociology, notes in his book on the subject,

“Every society needs a story that tells its people how their world works and how they fit

into the picture.”21 As it stands, every country in Europe has its own story, but Europe as

a whole has yet to embrace a single “story.” The communication challenge for the EU

here is to help Europe find, develop, and embrace a common story/paradigm that does not

interfere with their local paradigms/stories.


Internal and external security concerns were front-and-center in the original incarnations

of today‟s EU. Naturally, security is a good motivator for organization, and World War

II and the Soviet Union provided two very real concerns at the time. A generation has

passed, and security concerns have shifted dramatically. According to Eurobarometer 63

“Envisioning a Sustainable Society: Learning Our Way Out,” P.152, Lester W. Milbrath, State
University of New York Press, 1989

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(see Figure 4), Europeans see “peace” as the second most important reason for the

European Union. The question is: peace from what? Is it still “peace from ourselves”

(like between France and Germany) or has this notion evolved into something more

complex (like peace between native and non-native Europeans)? This should be

answered and cemented in the public consciousness to create a common security goal.

Figure 4: Eurobarometer 63 - "What Does the EU mean to you personally?"

July 2005


As the EU grows, it diversifies. Economic, security, and cultural issues vary vastly from

region to region. When organizations grow and diversify, they tend to create divisions

designed to focus on targeted markets and customer segments. It is worth investigating

what divisions, other than functional, can be created within the EU structure. For

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instance, should there be a Visegrád division of the EU, staffed and focused specifically

to represent the needs for the Visegrád nations? What are the pros and cons of the EU

organizing around core customer segments in addition to organizing –as it does today –

around governmental and administrative functions.

Reframe the Debates

Organizations and people often feel compelled to respond to a critique or challenge with

a direct response. For instance, if a company is asked “What makes you the best at doing

X?” the company will typically research and respond with compelling facts and opinions

to support why they think they are indeed the best at doing X. However, this is not

always the most effective strategy for getting on top of a debate.

In the case of the EU, concerns might be raised along the lines of “The EU will force

France to adopt the Anglo-Saxon social contract.” Indeed, when the French Left raised

this concern during the debate over the European Constitution, the response was denial –

it was communicated that no such provisions were in the Constitution. 22 Of course, this

is factually correct, but this response did nothing to assuage the fears of the French Left.

A more strategic communication would reframe the debate, responding with the message

that the EU wants to disseminate. (ex. “Europe is fortunate to have countries with the best

social contracts in the world. These contracts do vary from nation to nation, as they

should, in order to best respond to local needs and priorities. The Constitution‟s

22 “What was the basis of the French 'no' campaign?” Q&A: The European constitution, The Guardian,
June 2, 2005

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fundamental goal of cohesion means learning from, supporting and accepting each other

as Europeans, not imposing on each other.”)

What‟s In It For Me? (The “WIFM factor”)

All of the above-identified challenges are components of the ultimate communications

goal: transforming the message from something the EU wants to do into something that

the majority of European citizens want the EU to do. While this is not always possible

due to the complexities that lie ahead for the region, the effort should be made at every

communications touch point to frame the issue or initiative with the WIFM perspective

clearly addressed and integrated into the approach. Heads of state and local politicians,

whose careers are based on their ability to gauge their constituents‟ wants and needs,

could be regularly polled and surveyed to ensure that new messages will resonate at the

local level. Benefits of creating processes to regularly engage local politicians include

getting these local politicians more involved with EU organizations, and gaining access

messages ahead of their constituents. With advanced notice, these politicians would have

the opportunity to develop a coordinated and complimentary response to EU


There is some progress being made on this front. Margot Wallström, the commissioner

for institutional relations and communication strategy, has advocated a “radical shake-up

of the Commission's representation offices and admits the Prodi commission's failure to

communicate the services directive” in a recent interview with EuroActiv.com. 23

“Interview: Commissioner Wallström on the EU's communication strategy,” EuroActiv.com,
April 6,2005

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Clearly, concerns over the effectiveness of communications are beginning to be

recognized by top officials. However, it is not clear through this interview if the

commissioner sees the need to look inward, in the ways discussed in this analysis, before

moving forward.


The goal of this paper is to put a spotlight on critical aspects of organizational dynamics –

branding, positioning, and the processes to make these investments effective – and argue

that the European Union‟s historic lack of effectiveness in these disciplines created a

positioning crisis which undermine the EU‟s progress, and in particular, the European

Constitution effort.

The EU is too important of a political entity at this point in time in our history to falter

based on its inability to embrace of the strategic power of communications. Yet, most of

the research prepared for this paper portrays an organization that is inward, elite, and

aloof. These negative perceptions are direct reflections on the quality of communications

and positioning that the EU has invested in to date. These perceptions point to an

organization that has to conduct a deep self-evaluation and re-assessment of itself to

clearly identify its customer segments, its brand value and promise, and represent a

shared vision and goals for its growing list of constituents. The EU needs to re-emerge as

a brand of Europe that is more than something that nations want to be a part of … it

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needs to emerge as something that European citizens of all nations want to be a part of,


With global challenges ranging from the emergence of China as a disruptive economic

powerhouse to the rise of global terror (both of which have already taken their tolls),

Europe needs Europe more than most of Europe thinks. When looking at a global

context, Europeans have more in common with each other than differences. However,

lives – and votes – occur in a local context, and the global context has yet to be

effectively linked to the local context, which leads to Europeans worrying about the

Polish Plumber instead of the Indian Engineer and the Chinese Manufacturer.

Communication linkages like this have been a recurring theme in this paper, with the

twin goals of pointing out where broken linkages cascade into larger problems while

planned, strategic linkages can create effective positions and brands that enable forward

progress with efficiency.

It is my hope that the perspectives presented in this paper have a meaningful impact on

the thinking of what ails today‟s European Union, why it is experiencing the challenges it

is today, and what measures may be employed to improve the troubled trajectory that the

EU is currently navigating.

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