Communicating the State of the European Union

When President Barroso stood up to make his annual State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech to the European Parliament on 12 September, his immediate audience was the hundreds of MEPs packed into the chamber in Strasbourg.

But digital media helped to relay the messages contained in the speech to a much wider public, as well as providing a forum for feedback and debate.  The communication of the 2012 State of the Union speech mobilized one of the broadest arrays of online tools seen so far for a political event of this kind at EU level.


The SOTEU was actively promoted by the Commission on Twitter, and President Barroso used the occasion to begin tweeting in his own name for the first time.

As the chart below shows, there was a significant peak of activity around the time of the speech on 12 September (the #soteu hashtag was even trending internationally for a while on the day).

#soteu hashtag on Twitter

There was also a live chat on Twitter with some of the Commission spokespersons on 17 September to answer questions about the speech.

If you missed it, you can get a flavour of the discussions on Twitter by looking at the summaries produced by the Commission on Storify.

Some commentators (see, for example, this post on Blogactiv) have suggested that the online discussion was mainly limited to insiders from the “Brussels bubble”.  However, the map below showing the geographic distribution of #soteu tweets on the day of speech indicates that the reach was much broader.

Map of #soteu tweets


Under the heading ‘Ask Barroso’, the Commission used its Youtube channel to offer the possibility to submit questions.  How will the European Union emerge from the economic crisis? Are we better off with the Euro… or without it? Is austerity the answer… or the problem?

Google+ / Euronews

The questions submitted via the Youtube channel served as input for a debate with President Barroso hosted by Euronews on 19 September.  The debate also featured live interaction with three outside guests using Google+ hangout technology.  The discussion was broadcast live on Euronews TV, the Euronews website and Youtube.

There was also a Google+ hangout on the SOTEU with two of the Commission’s spokespersons earlier in the week on 17 September.


The Commission made active use of its Facebook page to promote the SOTEU and the opportunity to ask questions about the issues raised in the speech.

Images and quotes from the speech generated a good level of interaction, with the most popular posts generating more than a hundred likes, comments and shares.

What can we learn from SOTEU?

What wider lessons about political communication in the digital era can we draw from the SOTEU experience?

I put this question to Dana Manescu, who moved recently from the Council Secretariat to take over responsibility for social media in the European Commission.  She stressed the importance of expressing ideas in a simple and accessible way, of being prepared to explain and being open to new ways of engaging in dialogue.

In his speech, President Barroso said:

“I would like to see the development of a European public space, where European issues are discussed and debated from a European standpoint.”

The online communication and discussions of the SOTEU show how digital media are contributing towards the development of this “European public space”.


Filed under Digital media, EU

3 responses to “Communicating the State of the European Union

  1. Here are some other interesting blog posts about the communication of the State of the European Union:

    Should the European Union be a federation? by Debating Europe
    Optimistic and empowered EU citizens? by Grahnlaw
    Quel dispositif de communication numérique autour du 3e discours sur l’État de l’Union de José Manuel Barroso ? by @lacomeuropeenne

  2. Very interesting article.

    It is encouraging to see that leaders are increasingly using twitter, and other mediums of social media to communicate their policies and to also get critical public feedback. To me the most encouraging aspect s that, European Union and other developed countries are not the only countries using social media, even the developing countries have joined the social media bandwagon to improve sharing of official communication with the general public and also get their feedback.

    One prominent example is the Indian Prime Minister Office which also supports its own twitter, and youtube channel. Even the head of provincial government of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India (the province which is at the centre point of the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan) has an active twitter account which he uses to communicate with his followers.

    However, in my opinion, setting up the twitter and youtube channel to engage the public is just one small part of the battle. What is critical is to generate relevant, timely and meaningful response from the public. Here in, I completely agree to the point Dana Manescu made in the article on stressing “the importance of expressing ideas in a simple and accessible way, of being prepared to explain and being open to new ways of engaging in dialogue.”

    Much like our leaders (José Manuel Barroso or Manmohan Singh or Omar Abdullah), we also want the public to be ready and willing to be a part of this social media ecosystem wherein there is a healthy and constructive dialogue between everyone involved. Suitable enabling conditions must be setup for that as well.

  3. Pingback: Quels sont les publics du discours sur l’état de l’Union européenne de Barroso ? | Décrypter la communication européenne

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