Cohesion policy finances concrete and visible projects in Europe’s cities and regions, and therefore has a lot of potential to influence citizens’ perception of the European Union on the ground. However, only one third of European citizens have heard of EU co-financed projects in the area in which they live and only half have heard of EU development funds.

Better visibility of the European structural and investment funds (ESIF) could contribute to improving citizens’ perceptions about the effectiveness of cohesion policy and to restoring their confidence in the European project, believes rapporteur Adrian Teban (EPP/RO), whose draft opinion on Better communication of Cohesion Policy was adopted unanimously by the members of the COTER Commission of the European Committee of the Regions. The opinion provides recommendations on better policy communication in the upcoming programming period 2021-2017.

Rapporteur Teban calls for more spending on communication in the programming and implementation of cohesion policy with the aim of connecting more directly with citizens in their daily lives. Cohesion policy needs to be communicated differently, targeting wider audiences and not only stakeholders:

“Communication of cohesion policy has to resonate with the people, it has to be more storytelling that is reaching local citizens and not numbers and charts about some far-away job markets or infrastructure”, rapporteur Teban said.

He provides a number of concrete proposals on how to simplify communication of EU-funded projects, such as the use of a single ‘EU brand’ instead of references to different funds and instruments. “Better communication means wider use of digital media, less technical language, better targeting of actions and monitoring the impact of such actions,” Teban believes.

Teban advocates the multi-level governance model and the partnership principle, which are based on enhanced coordination among public authorities, economic and social partners and the civil society. Communicating the goals, funding opportunities and results of cohesion policy programmes and projects is a key task for managing authorities and beneficiaries in the Member States. Bottom up approaches are needed to increase public participation in the design and implementation of cohesion policy projects, his draft opinion states.

Finally, as the level closest to and most trusted by the citizens, regional and local authorities have an important responsibility in increasing citizens’ awareness of EU policies. CoR Members as ‘ambassadors of Europe’ in their regions, cities and municipalities should set an example on good communication of cohesion policy through their work with citizens.

“The recommendations set out in this opinion are welcome and can contribute to counteracting populism locally. I believe cities and regions are beginning to realise the benefits of communicating the positive contribution of the EU to their local communities,” said Deirdre Forde (EPP/IE) during the debate.

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