“The EU approach to self-promotion would hardly be acceptable in individual member states if applied by national governments, the think-tank says.”
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – A former speech-writer of Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has in a report accused the EU of creating an illegitimate “propaganda machine.”
Maria Rankka, who worked for Mr Bildt in 1999, currently runs the Swedish pro-free markets think-tank Timbro, which in a paper out this week says that Brussels is overstepping its mandate of facilitating cross-border co-operation.
“The EU, at the tax-payers’ expense, actively advocates more European integration and prevents free debate on the future of Europe, extending the limits of what we normally regard as communication,” the study says.
“Sweden, during its presidency of the EU in the autumn of 2009, should highlight the issue and take the first step in reversing this trend.”
Timbro notes that the European Commission each year allocates funds far in excess of its official €213 million communications budget to projects ranging from EU-sponsored radio stations and websites, such as Euranet and EUtube.
It points out that popular broadcaster Euronews benefits from EU assistance to the tune of €10.8 million a year, raising questions over its objectivity.
The Brussels and Maastricht-based European Journalism Centre, which trains future reporters, took a €1 million grant in 2008.
The EU also contributes funds to a number of pro-European “NGOs” in order to substantiate claims that there is civil society support for deeper integration, the think-tank argues.
The list of what Timbra likens to “GONGOs” – Government Organised Non-Governmental Organisations – includes the Centre for European Policy Studies, European Movement, Europe for Citizens and Friends of Europe.
In one striking example, the report notes that schools keen to benefit from Brussels’ €69 million a year free milk scheme must display an A3-format poster outside their canteens showing the EU flag and stating that EU money paid for the drink.
Brussels is currently rolling out a similar-scale free fruit project.
The EU approach to self-promotion “would hardly be acceptable in individual member states” if applied by national governments, the think-tank says.
Swedish politician Margot Wallstrom, in charge of the commission’s communication wing, fired back in a comment for Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, calling the report “incomplete, simplistic and biased.”
“Our task …is to stimulate debate and discussion about various EU topics that relate to all of us. It’s not propaganda – it’s to strengthen democracy,” she said.
“My aim is to make the European Commission more open and responsive to people’s opinion and attitudes. Not to make people love the EU.”