The European Union (EU) needs to develop a strong brand if it is to halt the rise in Euroskepticism and reduce the risk of breaking up the 28-country union that has kept the region free from war for more than half a century, a think tank has claimed.
Pro-Europe business think tank Gold Mercury International has set up the Brand EU Centre to, unofficially, reposition and clarify what it calls the EU's poorly communicated "brand image." It is concerned that the benefits of being in the EU – such as regional security – are being ignored amid an increasing push within some member states to leave the union.
"The time for Europe is actually now," Nicolas de Santis, president and secretary general of Gold Mercury International, told CNBC, adding that the situation in Ukraine is only reinforcing the need for a stronger union.
"Imagine Ukraine without the EU, imagine what happened in Yugoslavia only 20 years ago with massacres and genocides… Europe is still a volatile area of the world," he added. "If you said to me: why should we keep the EU? That's number one."
But while the role of the EU is critical to the region and world's peace, the message of a peaceful union – at least to its citizens – seems to have been lost in translation.
"There's an identity issue in Europe at the moment. That is why all these Eurosceptic attacks are so easy," de Santis said, arguing that with the European elections just a week away, the need for a strong EU identity has never been more important.
But de Santis accused both member states and Brussels – where the European Commission and Parliament are based – of being useless at communicating the EU's work.
"One of the key problems we have with brand Europe is that national governments would never go to their citizens and sell them brand Europe because they also use Europe as a scapegoat for national problems," he said.
Time for Action
The European public do appear to be increasingly disengaged with European politics, with the turnout at European elections falling. Data from Eurostat shows that in the past twenty years, region-wide voters turnout went from 56.67 percent in 1994 to 43 percent in 2009.
This is even the case in traditionally pro-European countries like France, where historically, support for the EU has been close to German levels, but is now falling.
At the same time, Euroskeptic right-wing parties have been gaining momentum across the region. A YouGov poll released on Monday showed a swing towards the anti-EU right in France, U.K., Finland, Denmark, Germany and Sweden between 2009 and 2014. And in four of them - the U.K., France, Denmark and Finland - Eurosceptic parties lead in the polls, coming ahead of both the ruling and main opposition parties in the upcoming European elections.
And it's not just de Santis who thinks the EU's lack of effective communication is hurting the EU's message - Catherine Bearder, British Liberal Democrat MEP, agreed.
"The level of understanding on how the EU functions, the democratic input, the role of the parliament and the Council and how the civil service works (Commission) is very low across the whole of the EU, but particularly bad in the U.K.," she told CNBC via email. In Britain, the ruling Conservative Party have promised to hold a referendum on EU membership if it wins the next general election in 2015.
"(There is) a fear of the unknown that can only help the extreme parties emerging across the continent," Bearder said. She added that she has started a "Euromyth Buster" group to counter misreporting of the EU, particularly in the British press.
The Brand EU Centre's aim is similar. It hopes to tell people "the truth about Europe" by explaining to what the EU does for them. This is especially important, according to de Santis, because as more super-powers - such as China, Russia and also India and Brazil – gain in strength, Europe needs "to stay united" in order to hold its own.
The EU does seem to have awakened to that fact that more needs to be done. On May 12, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) unveiled a project entitled: "Action plan for Europe – Five years to save the Union!"
"We need to give a clear and comprehensive response to the European public's fears, outlining the necessary and sometimes difficult steps ahead," Cristian Pirvulescu, a Romanian EESC member said in a statement at its launch.
"With this year's elections in sight and a new Commission in the offing, this is the right time to act."
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