< SWITCH ME >
- Written by Stefan Popp
POLITICAL POSTER TALK
How are you after the 7th of June? Happy with the outcome of the European elections? I hope so. If not, you may only feel unhappy if you did not vote.
What happens in Europe is "your choice" - that's what the Parliament's own campaign logo for the elections proclaimed. What you actually chose didn't only depend on the different goals the parties had, but also on the way they presented these goals. And as effective advertising and public relations are inextricably linked to an appealing linguistic strategy, E&M put the pre-election ‘poster talk' of European politics to the test.
First of all, it is worth noting that the European Parliament itself had designed posters, billboards and e-banners in the respective language of each country. Look at the effort of the UK Office of the EP: it even produced beer mats showing the word "Cheers!" in every official language in the European Union! Then again, aren't the words for clinking glasses a bit of a flippant advertisement for the elections for a supranational parliament? Do the British MEPs consider their job one big ‘toast' in the end?
The mission, however, was clear: in order to mobilise as many people as possible - including those who only get political in pubs - the campaign posters placed emphasis on questions that would make people realise Europe's influence on their everyday life: "How should we help balance family and career?" or "What kind of energy do we want?" Questions instead of imperatives - great idea. One question mark remains, though: why only 42.5% turnout?! Maybe because the abilities of the EU Parliament do not so much lie in fields such as energy and the labour market than in defining which beverages may call themselves "beer". So maybe the "Cheers!" campaign was actually the more appropriate one!
What about the individual member states and their parties? The Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) went for parallelisms to create a sense of logic in voting for them: "A Vision for Europe, Ambition for You" was the title of their manifesto and was combined with the happy conclusion "When we win, you win." Listen to that outstanding alliteration! And - seriously - the overall tone created by "vision" and "ambition" together with the prospect of ‘winning' really makes for a positive message. Congratulations!
In England, ‘Obamania' had taken over the Conservative Party, whose leader, David Cameron, proudly presented the slogan "Vote for Change!" To be honest, the identification with Barack's campaign motto on the European stage seemed quite unimaginative. As if the word "Change" were some magic key to the heart of the body politic! At least the Conservatives don't have to feel lonely: the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland actually joined them with exactly the same clever slogan. After their good results (27.7 and 17.1%), however, it is worth noting that the change Cameron proclaimed is much less constructive than his imitation of the most powerful man in the world suggested: his main intention is to withdraw from the European People's party and to join the fraction of Eurosceptics - an understanding of "change" very much different from the Obama idea of multilateralism and promoting international cooperation. How deceptive the word ‘change' can be!
A completely anti-European stance in the form of a (luckily uncategorical) imperative was taken by the UK Independence Party (UKIP): "Say No to the European Union!" Next to this, a grinning Winston Churchill showing the victory sign was followed by the outrageous - because absolutely nonsensical - assertion: "He would get our money back." Dear UKIP, who was the man who stipulated the creation of the United States of Europe during a speech given in Zürich in 1946?
Crossing the Channel from the British Isles to the continent, one was confronted with a fusion of the Irish leaning for parallelisms and the English Conservative's Obama rip-off. The French Socialist Party went for "Le vote efficace pour changer l'Europe, le vote pour changer en France, c'est le vote socialiste." ("The right vote to change Europe, the right vote to change France, that's voting socialist.") So, "change" has obviously become the new hope of Europe's parties since it marked Barack Obama's successful campaign in the US. Although their result did not really reflect this, the French Socialists' change was perhaps a little bit more substantial for Europe than the rather anti-European change of the English Conservatives, comprising amongst others an increase of the credit capacity of the European Central Bank.
The best slogan in sight, though, was the one coined by Nicolas Sarkozy's party UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire): "Quand l'Europe veut, l'Europe peut." ("If Europe wants to, it can.") Short, concise, and it cuts to the chase. And a rhyme! Bravo. It shows commitment to and belief in Europe's potential. What's more, it's a slogan that encourages people to realise the possibilities that lie within the European project if individuals make an effort. So, good first effort, UMP!
Germany's electoral landscape was literally ravaged by one party's posters: the German Social Democrats (SPD) launched some sort of anti-campaign, causing indignation amongst opposition politicians. One of the billboards showed a stupidly grinning shark wearing a white collar and a purple tie. The slogan ran: "Finanzhaie würden FDP wählen." A literal translation is "Finance sharks would vote for the liberals," where the ‘finance sharks' have to be seen as the greedy, powerful and relentless counterparts of the real predators under water.
Another poster in the SPD series featured a hairdryer in the same attire as the shark and read: "Heiße Luft würde die Linke wählen." ("Hot air would vote for the Left.") The crucial thing here is that, in German (as in English), if somebody is talking without actually providing an argument, he can be judged as "talking hot air." A serious accusation! But at least the SPD stands for "a Europe in which responsibility counts." The right and honourable SPD! After their bad result, however, the advice to them cannot but be: Europe needs positive thinking, and parties which create ideas rather than denounce those of others. Think imaginatively about Europe - with or without that tinge of Obama!