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Intensive self-promotion

In the previous chapter, we saw how the governmental institutions of the EU have been surrounded by a civil society of a peculiar sort. Alongside well-organized multinational firms and trade, trade union federations with offices and professional staffs, and a host of accounting, legal and public relations consultancies, there is a third sector of civil society which has been largely constructed by the Commission itself.

All three types are listed, annually, in print and online, in stakeholder.eu: the directory for Brussels. The Integrity Watch website of Transparency International EU is useful for those who want to learn about what these organized lobbies and interests are doing in Brussels, their funding, and their meetings with EU Commissioners, director-generals and other senior officials.[1] It was launched in October 2014 and, though still under development, this website promises a significant advance in making the European Commission more accountable.

The European Commission sometimes justifies financial support for this third sector on the grounds that they counterbalance already well-organized and funded corporate interests. In one respect, however, they are not a counter-balance at all, but a strong reinforcement: all three sectors sympathize with increased centralization and ever closer union of member countries.

If the ever closer union was completely fulfilled, and all trading standards across the Union were harmonized to the point of complete uniformity, large multinationals would, it seems safe to say, be delighted. Standardization, uniformity and centralization also has a strong appeal to trade unions, especially when it can be used to outflank and embarrass a national government that is bent on unwelcome measures against some aspect of union activity. Subsidiarity can be a real nuisance to both organized business and trade unions. Moreover, it seems unlikely either group would be in favour of cutting the EU budget since they are both regular recipients of European Commission grants.[2] When the sock puppets, who are also on the EU payroll, urge more centralization, European civil society must appear from Brussels at least to be consistent supporters of further integration even though they disagree about the merits of particular policies.

Unfortunately, whenever the wider grass roots of member countries have been able to express their views via elections, referendums, opinion polls, or through newly-organised political parties, they have often proved less than enthusiastic, or even hostile to the whole idea of further European integration, irrespective of the merits of any particular policy.

Since Maastricht, one or other of these signs of disaffection in the wider civil societies of member countries has frequently recurred. However, when faced with them, the Commission and Parliament have responded not by reconsidering their policies or by re-assessing the merits of inter-governmentalism and subsidiarity, but by criticising themselves for failing to communicate effectively the benefits of European integration, as if the only reason people could disagree with the goal of further integration was that they were ill-informed, or perhaps distracted and misled, by irresponsible media reports or xenophobic populist politicians.

The favoured solution therefore has been for the Parliament and Commission to redouble their efforts to inform citizens of the past and future benefits of the integration, and therefore to increase the budgets devoted to promoting European awareness and spelling out the past and future benefits of ever closer union in a simple, straightforward and convincing manner.

The strategy of persuading the population, in particular children, students and the so-called ‘opinion multipliers’, became a high priority within the Parliament and the Commission for many years, and the subject of intensive analysis and review in a succession of influential parliamentary reports, notably:

  • The 1985 Adonnino Report[3] favoured further steps to promote an EU identity. EU branded driving licences and passports should be followed by a flag, an anthem, citizenship, an ombudsman and EU postage stamps, all of which, bar postage stamps, later came to pass.
  • The 1993 de Clercq Report[4] is perhaps the most explicitly informed by marketing techniques and vocabulary. It wanted EU communication to evoke ‘the maternal care of Europa for all her children’. Specifically, it hoped to personalize the advantages of the EU for women ‘since they are the most receptive of receivers and the more active of the relays’. Further still it hoped to make youth ‘a primary target for persuasion and conviction… since it is strategically wise to go where resistance is least’ but also to target the ‘particularly relevant multipliers’, of journalists, editors and programme directors.
  • The 1998 Pex Report[5] sought to promote ‘awareness of the European citizenship and the commitment of young people to the development of the Union’, as well as ‘help to fight for respect for human rights and to combat racism, nationalism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia’ by transnational voluntary service.

These were followed by a succession of Commission white papers and action plans giving operational details and indicating the progressively increasing emphasis on communication as described in the European Commission Information Providers Guide.[6] There were two Commission white papers in 2001 which discussed how communication might ‘generate a sense of belonging to Europe’ and help policy makers stay in touch with public opinion. In an action plan from 2005 communication was formally declared a strategic objective of the EU and was followed by further plans and papers in 2007, 2011 and 2012, refining operational details to support this strategic objective.

As a result, all Directorates General, EU civil service departments, not just the Directorate General of Communication, gave a great deal of careful attention to the presentation of their work, made use of every contemporary form of advertisement and communication, and also made extraordinarily precise plans of when, how, and to whom they intend to speak and convince.

The example given below is taken from a 2014 plan of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy,[7] whose main responsibility is the distribution of the EU’s Structural and Investment funds. This plan marked the start of the new seven year budgetary period, 2014-2020. It identifies priority themes, countries (the UK being deemed one because of its relatively low levels of awareness) and audiences. It then goes on to specify the ‘short and simple’ messages that will be given to each of its five audiences: core stakeholders, opinion leaders, regional and local media, beneficiaries, and young people. The message for young people will tell them that the EU ‘invests in the future of your region’, ‘helps to create jobs’, and that ‘you may be eligible for funding’. Older people are not a priority audience.

An excerpt from a 2014 plan of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy is given below:

Traditionally, REGIO’s primary audience has been the “core stakeholders” that are directly or indirectly involved in the implementation of Operational Programmes (managing authorities, regional and local administrations, economic and social partners, civil society…).
Through its events, communication products and media outreach, REGIO also aims to reach “opinion leaders” who take an interest in regional economic development (Brussels-based journalists, other EU institutions, academics and researchers, teachers, political parties, think tanks, international organisations).

While continuing to serve these audiences in 2014, REGIO will aim to raise the profile of Cohesion Policy by developing specific communication activities and tools that target the following groups and multipliers:

  • Regional and local media (people’s top source of information about regional policy, according to the Eurobarometer survey
  • Beneficiaries of EU funding (potentially the most credible ambassadors for the policy, if we can provide them with opportunities to share their stories
  • Young people (whose future job prospects and quality of life will be impacted by EU investments)

It then spells out how various ’channels and tools’ are to be used: internet and social media; press and media relations, including invitations to accompany the Commissioner on trips to various regions; the diary of conferences, seminars, awards and events for the year; a long list of publications and ‘information products’ including posters, PowerPoint presentations, videos, working papers for academics and stakeholder audiences; a cartoon book for young people; the use of ‘documentation centres of European Universities’; contributions to the Euronews TV series called ‘Real Economy’; developing its own team of specialist Team Europe speakers; and mobilizing its own staff as ambassadors.

At the end of the plan it gives 50 performance indicators, with the results for 2013 beside the targets for 2014. In 2013, for example, there were 15 new videos added to the InfoRegio website, while the goal for 2014 was 30. There were 1,467 tweets sent in 2013, so in 2014 their goal was 1,500. There were 33 articles, forewords and interviews written in the name of the Commissioner, so in 2014 their aim was 50. There were 11 Euronews programmes produced in 2013. In 2014 their plan was for 13, and the audience grew from 5.5 million to 6 million.

It is difficult to convey the full scale of this effort across all the directorates and the EU in a short note. Some of the better-known channels and tools will be described below, and conclude with estimates of the communications effort’s costs.

A few of the better-known ‘channels and tools’

  1. Monnet professors, networks and actions

Apart from the institutions that the European Commission owns and manages, like the College of Europe and European Institute in Florence, universities are involved in the EU’s information and communication strategy in three ways. First, by Jean Monnet professorships, second, by establishing three-year networks of Jean Monnet European Centres of Excellence, that is university level institutions recognized by the European Commission for high quality research and teaching topics related to European integration, and third, by funding Jean Monnet projects or actions, meaning teaching modules or research projects which ‘deal specifically and entirely with the issue of European integration.’

The professorships were started in 1989 and are jointly funded with the host university. In 2009, there were 1,500 Monnet professorships worldwide. There is no annual report on their activities or bibliography of their publications.

They appear to be selected by academic merit and to respect academic freedom. However, when one considers their responsibilities set out on the EU website,[8] it is clear that they also have functions which are not dissimilar to that of Captain Euro and other channels and tools of the EU’s information and communication strategy. ‘They are supposed’, it says:

  • To publish at least one book within the University Press during the grant period. The grant will cover part of the publication and, if need be, part of the translation costs.
  • Participate in dissemination and information events at European and national level.
  • Organise events (lectures, seminars, workshops) with policy makers at a national, regional and local level, as well as with organised civil society and schools.
  • Disseminate the results of their activities via the organisation of seminars or lectures geared and adapted to general public and civil society representatives.
  • Network with other Jean Monnet Chairs, academic modules, centres of excellence, label holders and supported Institutions.
  • Apply Open Education Resources, publish the summaries, content and schedule of their activities as well as the expected outcomes.

Monet networks have a duration of three years and those in Europe require the participation of universities in three different countries. In 2015, 15 UK universities were designated Centres of Excellence, whilst the US had 22, and the rest of Europe had only ten.[9]

Monnet actions are intended to promote excellence in teaching and research in the field of European studies worldwide. This ‘discipline’, as the European Commission describes it, places ‘particular emphasis on the European integration process… [and] also covers the role of the EU in a globalized world and in promoting an active European citizenship and dialogue between people and cultures.’[10]

  1. Town twinning

This is intended to show the benefits of European integration at a local level, and to forge a European identity. Over past years towns and cities in the UK have, however, sometimes veered off script and displayed a rather global vision, and for a mixture of reasons have chosen to twin with towns in Nicaragua or Africa or the United State or even China.[11] Moreover, the spontaneous and voluntary ties formed through the Commonwealth Local Government Good Practice Forum appear to be of more practical value than EU sponsored efforts.[12]

  1. The ‘opinion multipliers’

The European Journalism Centre

Located in Maastricht, the European Journalism Centre describes itself as an independent, non-profit centre which provides ‘services for journalists and other media professionals at all career stages’. It also has a range of ‘grant based activities’. The latter appear to be largely or wholly European Commission funded. However, since it does not publish its accounts the significance of the European Commission’s involvement in its varied activity areas (such as ‘dissemination of European research activities’ and ‘web-based resources and services for journalists, including Brussels correspondents’, and ‘media watch’) cannot be assessed. Nor can we say how far its involvement in various events, seminars, conferences, field trips and awards for journalists have an EU inspired mission. Some awards are rather more explicit. The Salvador de Madariaga Prize for European Journalism in Spain recognises the personal work of journalists from the Spanish media (written press, radio and television), which have helped increase awareness of European integration and European policies.

Troll Patrols

In 2013, The Daily Telegraph obtained a confidential document of the administrative bureau of the European Parliament entitled, ‘Political guidelines for the institutional information and communication campaign.’[13] It described a plan to conduct ‘qualitative media analysis’ and ‘public opinion monitoring tools’, in particular in countries that have experienced a surge in euroscepticism.

‘Parliament’s institutional communicators must’ the guidelines said, ‘have the ability to monitor public conversation and sentiment on the ground and in real time, to understand “trending topics” and have the capacity to react quickly, in a targeted and relevant manner, to join in and influence the conversation, for example, by providing facts and figures to deconstructing myths.’ Parliament officials were to be trained for this work.

  1. Captain Euro, ‘kick-starting the new European enlightenment’

Captain Euro is a comic superhero. Created in 1999 because, according to its creator, ‘there were no attractive popular European culture icons’ and because ‘the EU did not have the right narrative to help people identify with Europe’. Initially he was intended to promote the euro, but he now has a wider mission to ‘help combat public scepticism and enlighten the public of the merits of a united Europe.’[14] He is a Superman look-a-like and has a blond female assistant, Europa. They do battle with Eurosceptic terrorists led by the sinister Dr. D. Vider, whose current master plan is Brexit, and broadcasts such messages as:

Across Europe we are wasting our time with national political infighting, while other blocs are preparing for global domination… Join me in my mission.

The captain is part of Brand EU, ‘the independent brand marketing think tank of the EU’ which is working ‘to re-invent the EU’s brand vision & kick-start the new European enlightenment. Brand EU is generating a people movement for the millions that believe in European Unity and want to engage actively to innovate and reinvent Brand Europe.’[15]

  1. Euronews

Euronews was created in 1993 by a group of ten European public broadcasters to present information from a European perspective. Its major shareholder (53%) is an Egyptian businessman but the original ten and a further 13 broadcasters are also co-owners. It is based in Lyon. The CEO is French, and the Executive Board and Management Committee are in the main French. It is available in 170 million European households, 350 million worldwide, by cable, satellite and terrestrial TV and by multimedia platforms and apps.

It clearly enjoys an amiable working relationship with the Commission, from whom it receives regular payments, whether for specific services or as a subsidy. The European Commission seems to look on it as a sympathetic and supportive outlet.

How much does it all cost?

  1. The 2008 estimate of €2.4bn: out-spending Coca Cola

More than seven years ago, Open Europe investigated EU’s self-promotion expenditures.[16] After a detailed breakdown of every line of the EU budget in 2008, it concluded that in that year this expenditure totalled €2.4bn. This figure includes only those budget lines which referred to the Information & Communication strategy of the European Commission which explicitly indicate expenditures ‘for fostering European citizenship or promoting a common European culture.’ It should therefore be regarded, the authors say, ‘as an absolute minimum amount’.

Many other similar expenditures are, they point out, ‘hidden deep inside the EU budget’, but since they were ostensibly for another purpose, they were excluded. Most importantly, the €2.4bn figure did not include the funding to the civil society organizations mentioned in the previous chapter which are assumed to have political or charitable functions.

To give some idea of the scale of this self-promotion budget, they pointed out that €2.4bn is larger than the total global advertising spending of Coca Cola. In the same year, the UK government ‘spent around £190 million on advertising in press, TV, radio and digital media advertising, out of the Central Office of Information’s £392 million budget.’ [17]

  1. The 2014 estimate of €3.9bn: more than is spent on trade negotiations and disputes

In 2014, Business for Britain conducted a similar study using exactly the same methodology. It also distinguished three categories of European Commission spending: primary, where the primary use of the funds is for self-promotion which totalled €664 million; secondary, where the allocated amount is to be spent on both EU promotional activities and other initiatives (€2.1bn), and tertiary, where some of the allocated amount may be used for self-promotion (€1.1bn).[18] This comes to €3.9bn if we take the maximum assumptions.

To illustrate how secondary and tertiary budgets may be used for promotional spending, it was pointed out that funding for EU comic books, so-called ‘Brussels Beanos’, which had attracted some attention at the time, did not come from a primary budget.

The budget of the Directorate-General for Communication in 2016 was €204 million. It employed 1,016 people, and had a bigger budget and larger number of employees than the Directorate General for Trade, which had 607 staff and a budget of €107 million.[19]

Notes

[1] http://www.integritywatch.eu/about.html 

[2] EU Transparency Register, available at http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homepage.do

[3] http://aei.pitt.edu/992/1/andonnino_report_peoples_europe.pdf

[4] http://aei.pitt.edu/29870/1/DE_CLERCQ_REPORT_INFO._COMM._POLICY.pdf

[5] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=REPORT&reference=A4-1998-0115&language=EN

[6] http://ec.europa.eu/ipg/basics/policy/index_en.htm

[7] http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/dgs/complan_2014.pdf

[8] http://eupa.org.mt/erasmus-programme/jean-monnet-activities/jean-monnet-chairs/

[9] http://www3.ul.ie/~ceuros/jeanmonnet_centresofexcellence.htm

[10] http://ec.europa.eu/education/opportunities/jean-monnet/index_en.htm

[11] Clarke N (2011) ‘Globalising care? Town twinning in Britain since 1945’, Geoforum 42: 115-125 http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/169119/1/Globalising_care_FAVPPR.pdf

[12] http://thecommonwealth.org/organisation/commonwealth-local-government-forum-clgf

[13]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/9845442/EU-to-set-up-euro-election-troll-patrol-to-tackle-Eurosceptic-surge.html

[14] www.captain-euro.com

[15] www.brandeu.eu

[16] Open Europe “The Hard Sell: EU Communication Policy and the Campaign for Hearts and Minds”, Research by Lee Rotherham and Lorraine Mullally, London, 2008. https://ia600504.us.archive.org/10/items/TheHardSell/TheHardSell.pdf

[17] COI annual report http://www.coi.gov.uk/documents/coi-annualreport2007-8.pdf See also Telegraph, 10 November 2008

[18] ‘How much does the EU spend on promoting itself?’ BfB Briefing Note 10 http://forbritain.org/propagandapaper.pdf

[19] Official Journal of the European Union, Vol.59, February 2016, available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2016:048:FULL&from=EN  p.381
Staff figure from http://ec.europa.eu/civil_service/docs/europa_sp2_bs_dist_staff_en.pdf European Commission, Statistical Bulletin, 01/02/2016


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