The story about Europe Direct and its role in communicating EU provoked some further questions about functionality of the service. Meanwhile, a press information was released which announced introduction of the Second generation of Europe Direct. And what does Europe Direct team think about it? Brief questions were addressed to Christiane Walcher, Deputy Head of Unit of Web and Contact Centre, DG COMM at European Commission.
1. How would you estimate the work of Europe Direct and why do you think EU needs such a service?
The EUROPE DIRECT services –the Contact Centre and the Information Centers in the Member States - are tools set up by the European Commission to provide information and explain the EU and its policies to the general public in the Member States. The lack of information on the EU amongst citizens is a fact which can be observed via diverse sources, like for example the regular Eurobarometer studies. Therefore, the European Commission has created these two services in order to address this need for information and also to ensure that citizens can exercise their rights to access information about the EU in an easier and more user-friendly way. In addition, the EUROPE DIRECT services provide valuable feedback to the European Commission on the concerns and information needs of citizens. This feedback is very helpful in order to adapt policies and communication actions accordingly.
Concerning the EUROPE DIRECT Contact Centre in particular, we can inform you that it underwent a process of upgrading its systems and organization in 2008. Currently, it operates in all 23 official EU languages and can be reached via the free phone number 00 800 6789 10 11 (some mobile operators do not give, however access), by e-mail and via a web chat (in English, French and German). The Contact Centre is located in central Brussels and its staff has around 40 members from all over Europe. The Communication Officers dealing with citizens’ queries are all university graduates specializing in EU affairs and speak at least three EU languages.
2. In statistical reports (quarter reports for 2008) I noticed a gap between “new” and “old” member states. What are the reasons for lower interest about a work of the service by the side of the new member states?
The EUROPE DIRECT Contact Centre was set up much earlier in the so-called “EU – 15″. The decision on the creation of the service goes back to 1998 and the Contact Centre, in its current form, is in place since 2000. It was only in the respective years of accession in the so-called “EU-12″ that the Contact Centre services were introduced. In addition, during the accession process of the EU-12 countries, several national information services were put in place to provide information to about the EU. Some of these national services are still active and working in parallel with the EUROPE DIRECT Contact Centre. In this respect, we are seeking to explore forms of cooperation and synergies with these services.
3. How would you comment a decreasing number of enquires in 2008?
There could be several reasons for the lower volume of enquiries. A first reason is linked to the fact that the contact centre is essentially reacting to the need of information of the citizens, and this naturally fluctuates according to the EU agenda. An other important reason is related to the fact that the Contact Centre was used to a lesser extent as the support information channel in communication campaigns about specific EU policies than in the previous years (like what we did for the air passengers rights’ campaign).
In 2009, we are actively seeking to act as the information contact to more information campaigns, and thereby become more widely known to the general public as the contact channel for information about the EU. As we’re aware that these fluctuations of the volumes of enquiries need to be fully explained, we’re launching in the coming months an evaluation of the Contact Centre which will seek, among other aspects, to establish the reasons behind the variation in the volumes of enquiries.
4. A press release about introduction of the second generation of Europe Direct was published in these days. What are the main characteristics of updated version and in which sense it differs from the first one?
First and foremost the centers will play a more pro-active role, reaching out to the public rather than simply answering their questions. The re-launch was the occasion to give the network a more pro-active mandate to trigger European debate and engage in dialogue with the general public, in line with the evolving communication strategy of the Commission. In order to maximize the impact of their activities, the centers will focus on the communication priorities of the European Institutions and will prioritarily engage with specific target groups, multipliers and local media. Also, the grant scheme for funding the information centers has been rendered simpler and more flexible in order to reduce the administrative burden and allow focus on the operational aspects.
5. How do you advertise the service and what is the role of European Direct’s information centers in the member states?
Funded by the Commission, Europe Direct centers are the local face of the Commission’s strategy for dialogue with citizens. Covering all the Member States, they stimulate European debate at local level, give answers to citizens’ EU-related questions and provide feedback to the Commission. DG COMM Unit B2 and the Representations coordinate and manage the network, providing support in the form of training, information, documentation, promotion and networking.
And now dear Thinkers, what do you think about it? All comments would be really appreciated and somebody from Europe might get involved in Direct discussion with you…