Jean Monnet Open Online Course of European Integration: Strategic Communications
EU leaders are increasingly concerned about the destabilising effect of messages sponsored by foreign powers in what they consider coherent hostile ‘strategic communications’ campaigns. Both Russia in the east and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the south are accused of infusing their communications with an agenda to influence the behaviour of a target audience in the EU or its sphere of influence, often using aggressive messaging and deceptive media campaigns.
The Russian government has been accused of sponsoring propaganda campaigns promoting Euroscepticism during the Brexit referendum or the French elections, promoting separatism in regions such as Scotland or Catalonia, or undermining EU enlargement and neighbourhood policies by shaping popular perceptions about the EU in candidate and EaP countries. The means they use range from official TV channels and news agencies to the so-called web brigades. In turn, with its slick magazines and videos, and effective use of social media, ISIL has quickly gained a solid reputation with regard to its strategic communications. With the ultimate objective of ensuring the organization's long-term political survival, its strategic communications are tailored to several audiences, ranging from those susceptible to the idea of a ‘clash of civilisations’ to active members of ISIL and potential recruits.
But strategic communication campaigns aimed at mobilising the public in order to influence EU policy-makers are neither new nor exclusive of foreign governments. So-called outside lobbying tactics, like organising public events and launching media campaigns, despite being largely discredited, are very important in granting interest groups access to EU decision-makers. News stories often portray outside lobbying campaigns as attempts to mislead policymakers by exaggerating public support or opposition to certain policies, and the idea that the "appearance" of a Twitter or Facebook spontaneous uprising can be purchased is so widespread that commentators are tempted to treat all of outside lobbying as misleading propaganda. Obviously not all grassroots campaigns are fake or unhealthy, which makes it all the more important for the EU to be able to assess the qualitative differences in their claims of popular support.
Besides, the EU is not a mere passive target of strategic communications activities, and runs its own information campaigns, both domestically and internationally. NATO's Riga-based Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (StratCom CoE), opened in 2014, is just a recent step in the organisation's long history of involvement in information campaigns. The EU itself is also increasingly active in strategic communications, both domestically and internationally, from dissemination activities within the Erasmus+ programme to the creation of a Strategic Communications Division that works closely with its European External Action Service. These information activities have been vectored into defensive (react and respond) and offensive (probe and push) dimensions.
Finally, social media have disrupted traditional EU communication channels and created new opportunities and threats for EU strategic communications in the digital age. They have also highlighted the importance of influencers and brand advocates, or the importance of critically analysing information to detect manipulation campaigns or fake news.
This course is aimed at students that have little to no previous knowledge of the EU, especially those coming from EU neighbourhood countries. No previous specialised knowledge of social media is required either. It will be useful not only for those wishing to understand EU strategic communications, but also the wider context in which they take place. Academic debate among students of different nationalities may not only contribute to better mutual understanding among future leaders, but also to the development of a more critical public and stronger democracy in the EU and its neighbourhood. Focusing the course in Ukraine, a land that for centuries has been a battleground of rival empires, gives researchers and students a unique opportunity to discover the current day workings of strategic communications.
The course is divided into three parts. The first part aims to offer an introduction to EU policy and policy-making for students that are completely new to the subject. It is especially designed for students from EU neighbourhood countries that are unfamiliar with the EU, its policies, institutions and politics. It starts with an introduction to what the EU is and how we can study it from a scientific perspective. Then it presents an overview of its main policies, from the single market, EMU, competition, environmental, and transport policies, to the EU budget and redistributive policies such as the CAP or regional policy, without forgetting the role of the EU in the world by means of its immigration, trade, enlargement and other foreign policies. Finally, it also deals with how the EU makes its policies, from how laws and regulations governing the single market are made to how they are applied by EU and national executives and courts. By the end of this part, you should have a clearer understunding of what the EU does and how.
The second part covers how in the EU, as a democratic political system, policy-makers are heavily influenced by public opinion, and how private and public, domestic and foreign, interests try to and do influence public opinion through strategic communication campaigns, with the ultimate goal of influencing EU policy makers. It starts by presenting the importance of public opinion for EU policy makers, and how EU they react to elections and lobbying. It goes on to present the basics of strategic communication, its goals, stages and elements. It presents strategic communication in action through grassroots and astroturf lobbying campaings. It deals with foreign propaganda campaigns, sometimes considered hostile by EU leaders, with special attention to the role of Russia and ISIL. Finally, it presents NATO's strategic communications policy and the emergence of its EU counterpart.
The third part of the course aims to prepare students for the new opportunities and threats that social media have created for EU strategic communications in the digital age. It offers some practical power tips for those who want to become influencers in the field of EU strategic communications. Topics covered include how to optimise your profile, how to build EU-related content, perfect your posts, respond to comments, socialise events, or integrate the different social media platforms. Whether you are interested in advocating the interests of EU farmers, fighting corruption in Romania, or promoting peace in Ukraine, this course will equip you with the tools you need to be able to rock the social media.
PART 1: S. Hix and B. Høyland, The political system of the European Union, Palgrave Macmillan. PART 2: Hix, S., & Høyland, B. (2011). The political system of the European Union. Palgrave Macmillan; Kollman, K. (1998). Outside lobbying: Public opinion and interest group strategies. Princeton University Press; Greenwood, J. (2017). Interest representation in the European Union. Palgrave; Chalmers, A. W. (2013). Trading information for access: informational lobbying strategies and interest group access to the European Union. Journal of European Public Policy, 20(1), 39-58; European Union Institute for Security Studies (2016). EU strategic communications with a view to counteracting propaganda. European Parliament. PART 3: Kawasaki, G., & Fitzpatrick, P. (2014). The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users. Penguin. Further reading: Hlavac, R. (2014). Social IMC Social Strategies with Bottom-Line ROI; Poston, L. (2012). Social Media Metrics for Dummies. John Wiley & Sons.