Anyone who knows me well knows I am fascinated by the use of words about the EU. Since @europasionaria first got me to read Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, I’ve been wondering how to apply his ideas to the debate about the European Union. I’ve even run a couple of workshops about it in the UK as well.

Where Lakoff tries to arm progressives with the right words to make their case, I want to try to arm supporters of the European Union to better be able to make their case.

My quick post – railing against “More Europe” earlier today (and, as pointed out by @karmel80 on Twitter, “less Europe” should also be avoided) – has prompted some debate and discussion about what to do. @runekier and @ktowens have proposed some kind of wiki solution, to try to crowd source some sort of guide to what words to use, and to not use, but a response from @serge_arno demonstrates the complexity of the issue – where I see a problem in the vagueness and potential downsides of the term “More Europe”.

On this blog in the past I’ve had a go at “Bringing Europe closer to its citizens“, “pro-European“, “national interest“, and “hard-headed [about the EU]“, and all of those posts have drawn a variety of reactions.

So what should be done?

If it is to be some sort of crowd-sourced, wiki based solution, how do we build it to reflect this combination of views? To incorporate the positive and the negative aspects of a phrase like “More Europe”? Conversely, I would love to have a go at writing a book about all of this – a kind of EU Don’t Think of an Elephant, something that tries to make the case for how I see these sorts of issues with more coherence than a series of blog entries ever can. But am I capable of writing a book? Would anyone read it? And, crucially, how the hell would I fund it? And is there some way to combine these two approaches?

Anyway, do comment below, or tweet me or e-mail me, and I will do my best to make something out of all of this!


  1. Jon, I totally think you should write the book and you should seek funding for it. Write a concept note, perhaps a teasing chapter, overview of the chapters, target group etc. Then address a few publishing houses you know and foundations. I’m happy to brainstorm on where to look.

    As for the content, I would be inclined to add a further caveat: the EU communication is difficult, because there is a constitutional imbalance, i.e. the EU doesn’t really do simple beneficial things like states do (e.g. social transfers, police, judiciary, pensions, healthcare, education), but does mostly regulatory work, with some funding (that I believe is of marginal importance and problematic in itself). Thus, it does carry the stick most of the time and I also believe it does so to the detriment of the weakest segments of the society. This imbalance is much more problematic and it’s substantive, polishing of words might help on the margins, but it won’t change the underlining problem.

  2. Hey Jon,
    Exciting projects! Your search for framing inspired me the following:
    In political communication, slogans do the broad framing, right? So what if we could build a database of slogans used by national parties for the EP elections 2014?
    If you like the idea, I would be very much welcome your feed-back on the first layout (trying to learn Drupal at the moment :)). PS. One has to login to be able to add a slogan.
    It would be great if we could motivate our respective networks to add slogans to the database.
    Hope you’ll mention me in the book, of course:)

  3. Yes, write it. Do one of your crowd sourcing things, but like all writers the actual process will end up a personal cost of time and effort 🙁
    Early thoughts:
    I have always had a problem with More Europe, probably because I don’t like phrases onto which you can add “for the love of God, please no” on the front so easily if you are a tabloid… I agree, the EU is too important for our kids’ futures to be left as something just for politicians to speak about. It’s a bit scary that – now I am out of London- I keep meeting otherwise intelligent people that don’t vote and don’t watch then news and cannot for the life of them understand why I would find politics not only interesting but important. You need to find language that helps them understand why it matters for them… There’s still the environment that we can’t sort out alone… There’s something around what we take for granted – the free movement and ability to study anywhere, that products will be both available and of a certain quality, things that we are just blithely assured wouldn’t disappear if outside the EU and yet so easy to headline immigration or red tape and say you are against… There’s something about banding together as a market and for defence in a not as post cold war as we thought world… There’s also something around identity. We are Europeans additionally, not in place of our other identities. Younger people are used to constructing an identity for themselves online, not tied to a geographic identity in the same way…
    I am somewhat scared by the EP/ Commission slate of potential Commission Presidents, not at all candidates that I can see as easy to persuade cynical electorates that the EU is about them and for them and not a Brussels-based elite. I actually think a stronger council would help in this rather than a stronger EP but I need to think it through a bit more.
    The problem is it is simple to characterise the EU by the shocking things that have happened thanks to the Euro and There’s more to the EU than that and I hope that by your framing exercise you can help set this out positively.

  4. May be it is best to start on a European-wide level as or with ordinary people to discuss what we expect from Europe, from its political institutions and practices, how we want it to organize so it serves our common interests and values. My 1. rough take: we should not load to much on its shoulders, give it time to grow, see how a common European civil society unfolds. Bilinguality is a topic here imo. For a start I like a common Europan foreign policy, a common market with free flows of goods and common standards, free movement for everyone, a common ground for securing human rights including a free internet and prevention of mass surveillance, see also my current blog

  5. Martin Westlake

    Of course you’re capable of writing such a book, Jon, and I very much look forward to reading it! Martin

  6. Oliver H

    Jon, as long as the other side finds “negative aspects” even in their absence, I find the talk about negative aspects of a certain framing a bit… well, academic?

    I AM a scientist by training and all for being precise and accurate, but I have enough experience in industry and marketing to understand that having all the facts on your side doesn’t help when no one is listening, when no one WANTS to listen. Conspiracy theories make way too good a yarn. What you can try to do is two things: Do the hard work and improve education on how to assess the critical issues properly. And try to have someone with a vision who can inspire people into believing in that vision.

    A major part of the problem is that the national governments themselves – even many allegedly pro-European ones – do a lot to undermine the European idea. Not just through that rise in utter selfishness at the expense of anyone else, but also through the incessant blaming of the EU for everything bad while everything good has been achieved by the national government in the Council and is by no means an achievement of the EU.

    I think the EU would greatly profit if the balance of power would be shifted to make the Council something like the German Bundesrat – which is similar in overall purpose, but of course quite different in its influence on legislation. It would put the EP more into focus and reduce the ability of national governments to “nationalize successes” – but which government will agree to that? The EU is too good a scapegoat, and the Council too much power to let go.

    One silver lining I see is that regardless of the outcome of the elections, we are likely to get a commission president who is unabashedly “European”. But we’d need an entire commission of such people in order to be able to truly have the Commission pursue a vision for the Union. And the sad part is that if the parliament insisted on getting such a Commission instead of the usual set of domestically decommissioned commissioners, they would also hurt the authority of a new Commission President.

  7. Yes, Write the book. People will buy it, read it and it will be worth reading. But I am not sure if writing a book about framing will help, but it may still be enlightening. Because the communicators may never be able to communicate properly about the EU with the set-up as it is and the politicians in it. It could be interesting to see an analysis of why we can’t talk politics or why we do it so poorly when we talk about EU politics. So do write it anyway.

    However it is not only about how we talk about Europe, but also who talks about Europe. EU and Europe is communicated too much by institutions and stale politicians.

    When institutions communicate, they go for the common ground. I agree with Rune’s post ( in order to be visionary, you need to have an idea that people will disagree with. Nobody cares about the common or middle ground, so how can they communicate properly about it.

    Stale politicians, most if not all politicians in the EU are former / wanna-be national politicians so they fawn over and cater to the national governments. Look at the rights of minorities and regions – EU politicians are too scared to address the problems and their rights. Everything needs to be put in national boxes.

    We need to say what we want from the EU as a tool. Because the EU is just a tool to be applied to problems we cannot solve alone in the member states. We need to be passionate about our passions and how the EU can help them. If we don’t talk about what we want from the EU, it will end up as a discussion of technicality of politics – national vs. European and passing the blame. We need to use the EU as a tool. A tool to save bees, to stop ACTA, to ensure my rights and your rights are put before the rights of a national system.

    PS add to the no-go area: An EU that is big on big things and small on small things / A sharper but smaller EU / all rephrasing less EU but not say what kind of actions we want from the EU.

  8. First we crowdsource which terms should be examined. Then we look at the unintended meaning and the aspects forgotten in the reception. And then we propose better alternatives. Maybe even multiple proposals depending on attitude.

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