Policy Forum on Public Attitudes towards European Integration and the State Communication Strategy
On December 15, The East-West Management Institute’s (EWMI) ACCESS project organized presentation of the public attitudes survey towards European integration and a follow-up discussion on how these findings can be used to inform EU Integration Information and Communication State Strategy 2014-2017.
The forum began with a presentation of the results from the Media Development Foundation (MDF) – led and ACCESS – supported survey: “Youth Attitudes towards European Integration.” The survey solicited opinions of youth in 13 cities across Georgia to learn about their knowledge and attitudes towards Georgia’s European integration, and to identify primary sources of information on EU-related issues. The survey found that 78.5% respondents support Georgia’s European integration, which is considerably higher when compared to the findings of NDI’s nationwide survey which recently found that only 61% of the general population support Georgia’s European integration. Tbilisi has the highest rate of supporters (82.5%) compared with other cities (74%). However, the number of youth supporting European integration is lower in the cities with large communities of ethnic minorities (54%). Only 14.3% of the surveyed youth say that they are very well or well informed about the EU-integration processes, while vast majority of the respondents (65.4%) would like to get more detailed information about the EU Integration and about benefits stemming from this process. 60% of respondents receive information on social and political affairs from TV, and 49% from social networks. Of particular concern are the findings that show 30% of ethnic minority youth do not watch the Georgian national TV channels. Although a sizeable number of respondents (38.3%) are aware of the Information Center on NATO and EU, the survey revealed little effect from the enforcement of the communication mechanisms provided within the “Communication and Information Strategy of the Government of Georgia in the Sphere of EU Integration for the Period of 2014-2017”: only 9.4% of respondents get EU-related information from the NATO and EU Information Center, 6.4% from meetings with central government representatives, 7.1% from meetings with local government representatives, 6.6% from schools and 2.9% from religious leaders. Majority of respondents get EU-related information mainly from informal sources: friends (42.4%), family members and relatives (39.3%), and neighbors (18.4%). The majority of youth expect EU-Integration to bring an improvement of general living conditions and economic growth (63.8%), however they are mostly uninformed about benefits of the proposed DCFTA and the role of the EU in Georgia’s conflict resolution. Meanwhile, 30.1% of youth fear that as a result of EU-Integration, the country will lose its traditions (30.1%), and 27.5% fear that tension with Russia will increase.
The head of CRRC-Georgia also presented key findings of the EPF-initiated public opinion poll “Knowledge of and Attitudes towards the EU in Georgia” and discussed using the survey findings to inform the government’s communication policy.
After presenting the surveys’ findings, the invited experts spoke about ways of improving existing government EU-related communication strategy in order to reach the target audience and transmit the right messages and information that various target groups are mostly interested in. Participants also broached the topic of Russian propaganda and ways of handling it. The Estonian experience of EU-related information communication practice was also widely discussed. Representative of the State Ministry for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration spoke about current and planned activities to increase public awareness and support to EU.
Below are the key points/recommendations for better policy planning:
- Rights and responsibilities of various state entities in EU-related public awareness and communication process should be clearly divided. Messages from various government agencies should be coordinated and not be contradictory.
- More focus should be made on quality rather than on quantity of the information disseminated to the public; information should be easily understandable for general audiences.
- The government should work to gain public support on implemented reforms necessary for EU-integration processes.
- Youth education exchange programs should be more proactively disseminated among the target audience.
- Communication strategies should be tailored to needs of rural population and ethnic minorities.
- TV should be more actively used as the primary source of information dissemination.
- Specific cases of Western and EU support to Georgia should be widely promoted. Special emphasis should be made on EU support for the preservation of Georgian cultural heritage.
- The government should circulate success stories of people who utilized free trade opportunities.
The Media Development Foundation is currently assessing the effectiveness of state strategy on EU communication. Findings of the assessment will be shared with wider audiences in the nearest future.