Make Europe sexy again: how an image makeover could improve the fortunes of the EU

If we want to build a cohesive Europe, it pays to make it look fun and exciting. Is it time to sex up the EU?

January 16, 2018
Thousands of protesters take part in a March for Europe, through the centre of London on July 2, 2016, to protest against Britain's vote to leave the EU, which has plunged the government into political turmoil and left the country deeply polarised. Protes
Thousands of protesters take part in a March for Europe, through the centre of London on July 2, 2016, to protest against Britain's vote to leave the EU, which has plunged the government into political turmoil and left the country deeply polarised. Protes

How to render the EU sexy? Many rather unsuccessful attempts have been made. The Young Europeans of Isère, a French department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, conducted a campaign with the theme “Europe is sexy” to increase voter turnout in the 2014 European elections. In 2017, the German TV channel Tele5 launched its “Europe ist geil” campaign which, albeit in a more colloquial way, also translates as “Europe is sexy.”

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, former MEP, went even further and acted as columnist in the German erotic magazine Praline explaining the EU to its mainly male adult (18+) readers. The Party of European Socialists tried something similar with the election spot “Let’s make Europe vibrate,” featuring a couple sexually “vibrating.” Finally, Herman Van Rompuy, European Council President AD, set his sights on “Revitalizing the European Dream” and confirmed that Europe is still sexy.

All these initiatives provoked negative reactions. Few were appreciative in nature; many were just indifferent.

Looking at this, one could draw the conclusion that the EU and “sexy” do not go well together. When mentally combining “sexiness” with the European Union, people probably think more of EU-regulated condom sizes (which, by the way, is a myth) than of the glamour and excitement that the word typically connotes.

One could obviously argue that it is acceptable for the EU to be dull as long as it delivers the required outcomes. However, the recent increase in nationalistic tendencies across many EU member states shows a need to foster a European spirit—one which will continue to break down barriers and forge a real European identity amongst its more than half a billion citizens.

This raises the question: why can some nations (even Germany) be sexy, but the European Union is convicted to dullness?

People are sexy

People who represent a certain country can make that nation sexy. Research has shown that better looking politicians obtain higher votes and interest, especially in low-information elections. Handsome Prime Ministers or Presidents like Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron definitely give sex appeal to their respective nations. Powerful people are also sexy, and the fact that Angela Merkel was elected to the most powerful woman in the 2017 Forbes list for the seventh year in a row and for the 12th time in total, undoubtedly gives sexiness to Germany.

Unfortunately Herman Van Rompuy, who in the aforementioned speech also underlined his own sexiness, neither has Justin Trudeau’s looks nor Angela Merkel’s power. While the EU did initially have charismatic politicians such as Robert Schuman, French Prime Minister and first President of the European Parliament, it has apparently become more difficult to be, or stay, charismatic on the European political stage—especially in recent years.

José Manuel Barroso, the former charismatic prime minister of Portugal, lost quite a lot of his appeal during a decade as European commission president.

Brussels labyrinth of bureaucracy and political correctness seems to breed charismatic scarcity and dull appearances. Rather than inflame passions, this focus on process over image dampens them. The EU is filled with European politics who raise little drama but a lot of boredom.

Content is sexy

Obviously, politicians are not the only ones responsible for EU attractiveness (or the lack of it). Topics and subjects or content in general also plays a role.

Content is potentially sexy. Unfortunately, when one thinks of the most famous EU subjects, one imagines mainly boring topics such as the bendy banana law or endless regulations concerning incandescent lightbulbs.

Not even the EU commemorations—usually a nation’s warrant for glamour and appeal—are sexy. Outside of certain countries like, e.g., Latvia, most people do not even know that the 9th of May is Europe Day. And except for the rare occasion where the Eurovision Song Contest takes place by chance on 9th of May, very few people will celebrate this day in style.

The success of Eurovision, meanwhile, suggests better content could be created. A talent show titled “Europe’s Got Talent,” similar to the successful show “Britain’s Got Talent” but geographically broader, could be sexy. The creation of European sports teams competing for and representing all European citizens could be a possibility. Just thinking of how excited national soccer fans become when supporting their team shows the opportunity a European team playing against nations outside the European Union could represent.

What is frequently forgotten, however, is that the EU already has several attractive achievements and content. Examples are the removal of mobile phone roaming tariffs, the simplicity of studying abroad via ERASMUS+, the creation of top soccer teams on national level due to the freedom of movement, or just more exciting food on dinner tables across Europe—something which the Brits might lose as workers depart with Brexit, which might nudge UK food back to its reputation of being “boring, bland, and boiled.

Communication is sexy

Since appealing topics exist, there must be an issue with EU communication. And indeed it seems that communication appears not to be a priority in Brussels. While former European commission president Barroso had a Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, this position has not been sustained inJean-Claude Juncker’s commission. A communications commissioner together with a commissioner for happiness could be a good base for the increase in Europe’s sex-appeal.

Some operational improvements could also be helpful. For example, communications about the EU should be decentralized and be part of the objectives of national, regional, and local authorities. This way, communications would take place at the level of its citizens and could be adapted to their specific context.

EU press announcements need to become more comprehensible and less technocratic. If a journalist will not understand the press release (or be bored out of his or her mind by it), chances are low that he or she will write about it.

A positive example for EU communications is a YouTube ad which suggests European films are sexier than their US counterparts. Next to YouTube, additional social media channels should prominently serve the EU’s communications strategy. Several studies have examined the potential of social media to create a European identity and attraction.

Unfortunately, research also shows that EU citizens do not relate to the current social media usage of European institutions. The content of the latter appears again as too technocratic and distant and therefore has little to no appeal, particularly for the younger generation.

Sexy, but not too sexy

EU politicians need to become more charismatic and sexier. More appealing and exciting content should be created and existing content should be better communicated upon. However, we should not forget that Europe, host of two world wars, had a lot of excitement in the past. We want sexy, but not too sexy either. Some dullness is ok and breakups are definitely very unsexy. In this sense, Brexit or Catalonian independence are not a move in the right direction…