Sunday, 8 July 2012
Explain, please! The failure of crisis communication by our political elite
Germany’s new president Joachim Gauck is in office for five months only, but he already made a number of remarkable political statements. His most recent one is directly addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel: she shall explain her crisis policy.
“It is now up to her to explain her plans in detail, including her fiscal plans.” Gauck said in an interview with a German television programme. It is a matter of simple and open communication to the general public, especially when the policy in question is an essential one for the economic, social, and political stability of a country.
It is indeed a remarkable statement by a president, who more or less says that he does not fully understand how the German government and all the other EU government want to solve the current Euro-Crisis. Basically, he quotes the vast majority of the German population who is eager to be told what its government is up to do in order to rescue the EU and the Euro. It is also a call for an open, clear, and unambiguous explanation of all plans and strategies.
Clumsy communication, rhetorical tricks, and loads and loads of technical terms marked the language of policy makers and experts in the view of the crisis, but hardly anyone in the general public is even remotely able to comprehend the message behind the terms. And if you don’t have a university degree or even a Ph.D. in economics, it is even trickier to catch the key messages.
A crisis that affects the very basics of the European welfare systems in all its member states requires an unambiguous message to all its citizens, no matter if academic or not. Obviously, most members of the political leadership class have not learned how to break down complex economic terms into a language that can be understood by its people. Instead, governments hide themselves behind a sheer wall of technical expressions, micro- and macroeconomic complexities, and legal provisions of national and EU Law, and they keep talking to the media in this language. Apparently, they should be reminded of an imaginary switch behind their ears, which they shall pull when they start talking to the public.
On the one hand, they underline the seriousness of their strategies and the full scale of the crisis, which requires overall consensus in all EU member states and all affiliated international organizations like the IMF. Naturally, a mammoth effort like the rescue mission of the Euro as the “millennium” achievement in the European integration process requires interdisciplinary cooperation and interlinkages between policy makers, economic and legal experts, as well as full public support.
However, this public support is set on a very vulnerable basis, which depends on constant and still volatile communication channels. If these channels fail or the messages are not being fully received, how do you want to promote a decent strategy to resolve the crisis? It is a dilemma any European government is going through – the affected countries as well as the not yet affected one, and the more the failure rate of received messages increases, the less public support will be rewarded to the political elite and to the system as such.
If even the president of a European country states that the crisis managers and national leaders have to explain their policies much better than they did so far, national governments now have to become aware how they want to explain their plans and agendas to the people, and what they are actually willing to explain. It is not only crucial for the next elections, but for the long term, which will be even more essential to them and to the entire EU. If the elites start to lose support from the public, it will not only set an end to their rule, but most of all set an end to the existence of the EU as a whole.
A message to our political elite: please, explain your plans to us!