This part of our work is aimed at helping local people find out about what the EU does and how it, along with other European integration institutions, shapes their lives.
We want to undertake a stock-taking exercise with local citizens, civil society groups and media representatives so that we can establish how people in Surrey find out about EU events, and what the strengths and weaknesses of these channels of communication are. We also want to establish whether and how local people and groups seek to influence European-level decisions.
Through this mapping exercise, we will develop a strategy for more effective communication in both directions: from Surrey citizens to the EU, and from the EU to Surrey citizens.
Why do I need to bother with the EU?
The EU long ago ceased being purely a matter of ‘foreign policy’, and shapes legislation in a wide range of areas from the environment and education and health to social policy. The House of Commons estimated in 2010 that 50% of economically significant laws in the UK are actually of EU origin. So, whether you like or loathe the EU, what it does really matters and affects your daily life.
OK. But why bother me about this now?
Because in 2014, there are elections to the European Parliament. The elections to the European Parliament are really important. Whoever gets voted for as a representative in Brussels (MEP) has a lot of power - in some policy areas, more than Westminster MPs. What's more, MEPs will be responsible for choosing who runs the other main EU institutions. So it matters who we send to Brussels to make policy for us.
Is it all about elections?
No. The EU makes law on a daily basis. The rights we have as EU citizens are for every day. Over the last few decades, the political systems of all the EU's member countries have become more enmeshed with the EU level of government. In many ways it's hard to say where, politically speaking, 'Brussels' stops and Westminster or Surrey begin. However, citizens and journalists often struggle to identify when EU issues are relevant to local communities, and across the EU citizens often lack knowledge about how the EU affects them – or what they can do about it.
So where does 'Surrey COMMeuNICATE' come in?
The aim of this project is to help the people of Surrey become more aware of two things. First, of how and when the EU impacts on their lives. Second, of what they can do to respond and even shape what the EU does.
We hope to produce a communications strategy - 'Surrey CommEUnicate' - which will identify how people in Surrey find out what happens in the EU, assess the strengths and weaknesses of these sources, and set out ways in which we can find out about the EU more effectively while making our voices heard.
Is this just a pro-EU front?
Absolutely not. Surrey CommEUnicate is run by CRonEM, a research centre in the School of Politics at the University of Surrey. It is non-partisan, and takes no collective stance on EU politics. Our hope is to work with local people from civil society, political parties and the media, regardless of their respective views (within the law!).
Read the strategy that was devised as the result of public workshops and consultation with citizens from the Surrey County.