The European Parliament: between ice cream and development education

How much did it promote intrinsic values to adopt a European Parliament declaration on development education and active global citizenship when this relied in part on enticing Members of the European Parliament with “Earth balloons” and photo opportunities?

This was the question Tobias Troll of DEEEP (Developing Europeans’ Engagement for the Eradication of Global Poverty) asked the Common Cause Brussels chapter on 12 July.

Tobias first gave us a crash course in written declarations of the European Parliament: They become automatically adopted once a majority of the Parliaments’ 754 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have signed them (within a deadline of three to four months). The declarations have to be less than 200 words, have no binding force, can be linked to any policy area of the European Union and do not automatically give rise to any specific follow-up. The main purpose is political: with a written declaration in your pocket, it is easier e.g. to ask the Commission to take action. It gives you a political “foot in the door”.

The written declaration on development education and active global citizenship  was adopted on 5 July 2012 and the key sentences are as follows:

“(…) 1. Calls on the Commission and the Council to develop a long-term, cross-sectoral European strategy for development education, awareness-raising and active global citizenship;

2. Calls on the Member States to develop or strengthen national development education strategies (…)”

At any point in time, there are several parallel written declarations for which lobbyists seek signatories. For instance, at the time DEEEP was seeking signatories for its declaration, another group worked for a declaration to call for a European artisanal ice cream day. It is instructive to look at the overlap and differences between signatories of the two declarations in the figure below (EPP = centre-right, S&D = centre-left, ALDE = liberals).

It shows that a majority of MEPs do sign “anything”, and that there are predictable political differences among those who do discriminate between declarations: No liberals and hardly any Greens signed the “ice cream declaration”, whereas most of the right-wing MEPs did. It is good to see those differences as it shows that the declarations are taken notice of by the MEPs, which is not self-evident for all EP instruments.

Tobias explained that although the text of the declaration fits well with intrinsic values on the value circumplex, the tailor-made arguments they used with MEPs did not necessarily do so. The message to left-wing MEPs was about justice and a sustainable world, but with right-wing MEPs it was about building individual skills and competence in a globalised world. Chiara Tripepi explained that she had tried intrinsic arguments with an Italian centre-right MEP, who then responded “this could be politically dangerous for Italy.”  Eivind Hoff of Bellona noted that the correlation between left-right position on the political spectrum and intrinsic-extrinsic value priorities should not be exaggerated. Data from the European Social Survey indicate that age is just as good predictor for value priorities as political position (young people tend to be more extrinsic than older people).

DEEEP discovered that also “gamification”, which is currently hyped in the IT sector, worked in the Parliament too: MEPs liked being taken picture of, while holding a balloon with the Earth drawn on it. So DEEEP organised photo opportunities and then made a new leaflet for other MEPs with pictures of fellow MEPs that had signed, holding the balloon. As many MEPs wanted to have a balloon, some MEPs mobilised and even found ten signatures in order to get a balloon. This mix of appeals to conformity, image and achievement worked.

Tobias mapping out the values circumplex

“Was it worth it?” Tobias asked. Patricia Scherer pointed out that from the moment you say “go” any campaign for a written declaration is competitive and will probably trigger extrinsic values. Because so little is at stake with a declaration, it is virtually impossible to engage in depth with MEPs on the actual topic (the situation is better with assistants and advisors, some of whom took a real interest in the topic of development education). The real question, then, is if you can build on the declaration to create a political process where real engagement is possible, where you can appeal to intrinsic values. Patricia mentioned that she had been involved in a similar written declaration campaign for the development organisation PLAN, and it had been great for PLAN’s branding and recognition.

“There is a follow-up now and the Parliament is looking at writing a report on development education,” Tobias explained, who still was wondering if it might have been better to engage in-depth with a smaller group of MEPs in the first place.

“The problem is that by engaging in this campaigning behaviour, our own values and attitudes may be influenced,” said Alexander Steinhart of DEEEP. “We have to be careful about what we say as we have a blind spot through the fact that we need to justify to ourselves what we do, in order to have a positive self-concept.”

Common Cause Brussels wishes Common Cause sympathisers in the north of our little planet a relaxing summer with lots of leisure and nature. And for those down south, Brussels weather right now is nothing to be jealous about.