Friday, June 14, 2013

A somewhat different Barroso statement on Syria and EU Foreign Policy

European Foreign Policy. A fascinating subject that I had decided not to cover. Why should I talk about it in a blog that covers visual communications and Europe? It is by now well known that the current High Representative runs away from video cameras so it would be a cheap shot to dig at the lack of interesting visuals. By the way, I understand now that cameras run away from her too, as EU photographers have decided to boycott her, but that is another story.

As I was saying, I had decided not to cover European Foreign policy. Until now. Why? Because of a video. The protagonist of the video - surprise, surprise -  is not Lady Ashton. No, this video is an inspiring statement by the Commission President José Manuel Barroso on Syria.

Here it is ( it's just under 1 minute 30 so watch it before reading on!):

Now, a key caveat to what I am about to say: the situation in Syria is catastrophic. It is indeed a stain on the world's conscience. It is painful to watch the country being destroyed and its people dying in huge numbers. Having been there and seeing all the places that we visited transformed into war zones makes me feel incredibly sad. So it should definitely be time to act in some way or another.

But....what is the point of this video statement? I ask because I am puzzled on two levels, one technical and the other linked to the actual content.

Let's get technical:
Why a video? If you read it, the statement has some strong elements, especially at the end. But this delivery straight to camera, in a monotone voice reduces enormously the dramatic impact of what is being said. Why this incredibly ugly blue background (OK, we get it that you represent the EU so everything needs to be blue and yellow but there is a limit!): why couldn't it have been recorded in a normal office?

Video is a great tool, but needs to be used properly. With some small adjustments, this video statement could have been much more powerful and might have had more than the current 270 views.

Adjustment number 1) Avoid the studio and record in a nice office.

Adjustment number 2) I am guessing that the recording was done in between series of official meetings, almost on the run; the text would have been written by his staff and given to him just before entering the studio. Had he managed to read it a couple more times before recording it, the delivery would have sounded more heartfelt and sincere;

Adjustment number 3) To sound sincere and heartfelt the statement would have had to be slightly more personal with maybe a couple of short extra sentences, but this goes to touch on the content, hence...

Puzzlement number two:
Why announce that you are giving more money (I guess the reason for the statement in the first place) and then shrink its importance by saying that it is only a palliative?  Here, one little extra sentence I was referring to, might have helped to personalise it, something like:' I know it's far from being the perfect solution but sometimes keeping people alive is the only thing we can do and should do'.

But then, maybe, the reason for the statement is in the final sentences: "What we need is a political solution to the conflict...And we need a transitional inclusive government". Strong but necessarily vague words.  And while we could all agree with them in principle, what is the EU doing to make this happen? To make WHAT happen exactly? And what CAN the EU do? 'We have a duty to act', he says. Never mind the fact that he used exactly the same 'stain' metaphor talking about Syria when he picked up the Nobel peace prize six months ago. What he should have added though is ....'but we really cannot do much because we don't agree with each other, and for that matter there are very few things we really all agree on, when it comes to foreign policy'.

And he could have concluded - ad lib - along these lines:

"So, you can blame the Commission and the High Representative until the cows come home but you should actually blame the Member States who still have not got it that together we would be much more effective and influential in the world. Or maybe they have got it but simply cannot let go of the notion that foreign policy is a member states' prerogative.  A strong European foreign policy requires courageous and visionary leaders both here in Brussels and in national capitals. Leaders that actually believe that Europeans deciding and acting - or maybe deciding not to act - together will make this world a better place, not just Europe.

OK, maybe he could not have concluded like this...I will.

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