Book review: Europe, Anyone? The ‘Communication Deficit’ of the European Union Revisited

What is the best way to share information about the European Union’s institutions and activities with a diverse, diffuse and often uninterested public? This question, regularly posed over the past few decades, has in recent years come to be asked with ever increasing desperation. Bernd Spanier’s study, Europe, Anyone? The ‘Communication Deficit’ of the European Union Revisited, was published in 2012 and is based on a dissertation submitted in 2010, but many of the observations it makes are still highly relevant, perhaps even more so, in 2016.

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(image from amazon.com)

Not that the EU’s problems began this year, of course. The wide-ranging chapter that follows the introduction to this work is a excellent summary of the major setbacks that beset the Union between the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the global financial problems of the late 2000s. The account of the Greek debt crisis can follow events only as far as 2011, but Spanier’s description of how referenda in the Netherlands and France stood in the way of the European Constitution’s ratification in 2005 is very instructive. This section includes some trenchant remarks on the unsuitability of popular votes in individual countries for deciding wider European issues, and his conclusion in passing that such votes ‘can be problematic when member states which usually adhere to a representative model of democracy suddenly resort to direct, plebiscitary models whenever fundamental decisions about Europe are to be taken’ (p. 31) looks all too appropriate today.

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Anglophone = monolingual?

In the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, there has been much debate about the consequences for how Europeans communicate. Will calls for English to cease to be an official EU language be heeded? If so, would native speakers of other languages feel less disadvantaged?  Does Boris Johnson’s ability to read a speech in French make up for everything else?eu-1473958_1280

However the next few months and years play out, the status of English as a common language in the institutions – and outside them, of course – is likely to endure. The erosion of the once all-powerful position of French, which began as the Union expanded north and east in the 1990s and 2000s, will not be reversed. This could ultimately mean that English, despite often being seen as the de facto working language of the EU (although in practice this varies), will not be the first official language of any of its member states.

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Book review – Tales from the Fast Trains

I liked the idea of Tales from the Fast Trains. It’s an exploration of how far you can get from London in a weekend (or not much longer) by train. It covers a range of interesting western European cities and it’s by an established travel journalist who appears to have quite a lot of experience of writing about rail journeys. That said, by the end of it I was struggling not to conclude that the succession of local tourist offices and their staff that appear in the acknowledgements had been a key factor in shaping this book.

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(Photo from amazon.com)

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Thalys, toilets and translations

I try not to spend too much time in train toilets (though I’m less squeamish than in the past, which is fortunate as SNCF still haven’t replied to my letter of July 1996 expressing horror that the ones on their Calais-Avignon Motorail service emptied directly onto the tracks) but, on a recent trip between Belgium and Germany on a Thalys train, my attention was drawn to a map on the back of the toilet door. This less than perfect photo (you try taking one in an ill-lit bathroom at 300km/h) shows a map of the Thalys network, including its seasonal south of France destinations. IMG_20160710_1628488952

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South West Trains – new isn’t always better

Until recently, most UK train operator homepages included a box a bit like the one still on National Rail Enquiries. You could supply a lot of information about your planned journey in a small space and then you would get a list of ticketing options.

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But in the last year or so, it seems (I haven’t bought many UK train tickets in that time), most of these websites seem to have changed to a more stripped-down approach, none more so than South West Trains (whose new website was launched at the beginning of June – you can read about how wonderful it’s meant to be here):

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Well played, STIB-MIVB

Apparently there is a football tournament on at the moment. I have to say that, even without all the more serious things happening right now, I haven’t taken much of an interest in the game since the mid-1990s (when at one point I was a devoted collector of football stickers). But when waiting for a bus during Belgium’s match against Ireland, I was impressed to see the screen at the stop alternating between indications of when the next bus would arrive and this:

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DG MOVE – the user experience (part 1)

On this blog I’m aiming to look at travel and transport communications in the broadest possible sense, including relevant institutional communications. I am after all based in Brussels and so today, in the first of two linked posts, I will focus on the online presence of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport. What kind of user experience does it offer the average EU citizen? Let’s begin by searching Google for ‘DG MOVE’, the name by which it’s generally known.

The Google Places listing is accurate, if incomplete – the reader is invited to ‘Add phone number’ and ‘Add business hours’. I realize that DG MOVE isn’t a pizza restaurant, but a partial listing arguably looks worse than no listing. Also, Google Maps has automatically generated a very ugly picture to match – although it is transport-themed! While the key information is there and the search results themselves all lead straight to the DG MOVE website, ‘claiming this business’ on Google would result in a better first impression. But what about the website itself?

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