Perceptions of trust – The EU and EaP nations

July 28, 2013

With the Vilnius Summit for the EU’s EaP nations four months away,  this little infographic (again from my virtual friends at EEAP) is an interesting assessment of just how well – or not – the EU and national governments are portraying the relevance of the EU to those specific nations.

We can perhaps rightly ask  who is responsible for shifting and framing public opinion when it comes to the EU and the benefits – or not – it would have for any particular nation.  Is it the role of the national government?  Is it the role of the EU?  Is it something both should be doing?  If one is obviously failing to promote the issues, should the other take the lead?

As most Ukrainian political parties appear (publicly at least) to have taken up the baton with regard to any positives outweighing negatives as far as the EU is concerned, I have to say that Delegation of the EU to Ukraine in my view is failing spectacularly when it comes to assisting in the framing of views of the Ukrainian public – as the above infographic ably illustrates.

Sitting in Kyiv having the occasional meeting, occasional press conference and reproducing related EU articles on a website is simply not reaching out effectively to those whose minds they need to change.

For a start, demographically, Ukrainians between the ages of 20 and 40 probably “get it” when it comes to the EU.  Those in central and western Ukraine also probably “get it” far more than those in the south or east.  Therefore sitting in Kyiv doing what they currently do is not the target audience they should be aiming for.

Entries such as “Do you have a meeting at the EU Delegation? Then take your bike”- (with accompanying photograph) explaining how the delegation has invested in a “bike rack” in Kyiv

EU delegation ukraine

is not in any way going to help sway public opinion in favour of the EU in the areas where delegation efforts are required to re-frame and re-orientate perceptions.

Why is there no EU “roadshow” visiting places like Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Crimea – open to local journalists and local people?  Kyiv is not the centre of the Ukrainian universe whose news people in Yalta, Melitopol or Ismail read, or watch on TV.

Given the inaction of the EU delegation to not only reach out – but actually go out – to these regions and try to re-frame opinion – allowing for some coordination, does it fall to the embassies and consulates of the individual EU nations to do what the EU Delegation should be doing instead?

If so, given national interests and budgetary restraints of such institutions, whichever diplomat manages to coordinate that effort would deserve accolade indeed.  An ambitious alternative but maybe a little too much to hope for.

Further, Ukrainian public perception is hardly as hostile to the EU as that of Azerbaijan would appear to be – albeit not as welcoming as in Armenia either according to the previously linked infographic when it comes to public perceptions.

As an aside, on the subject of Azerbaijan, it’s quite interesting to note that a nation classed as a consolidated authoritarian regime in many global democratic indexes, has the highest level of government trust amongst its people and also an incredibly low public perception of corruption – not that democracies are necessarily always going to be better governed (democracy can be rather messy) – or less corrupt, than every authoritarian regime on the planet.  There will always be exceptions.  And public perceptions are just that – perceptions – and thus may be quite wrong when compared to fact.

Anyway, with most major Ukrainian political parties vocally supporting greater ties with the EU and the signing of documents at Vilnius in November – public opinion is obviously lagging behind.

Public opinion lagging behind policy decisions is not unusual anywhere, but there seems to be very little effort by the EU, and its institutions, at directly engaging with the Ukrainian population – and direct engagement is the only way to re-frame opinion when there is so little trust in government, civil society and the media in Ukraine.

So, will a public “town hall” styled EU delegation roadshow be arriving in Odessa any time soon?  Of course not – there are more pressing matters, such as why after investing in a bike rack – there is only one bike in it!

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