|Vol.7, No.27, 5.7.01, p4
MATERIAL critical of EU policy should be circulated by the Union's institutions as part of a revamped public relations strategy, a leading Brussels-based think-tank has recommended.
Friends of Europe is urging that far higher priority needs to be given to explaining EU activities, so that widespread confusion and scepticism among ordinary Europeans can be combated.
It believes that the paper published last week by the European Commission concerning the EU's "information and communication activities", and how to make them more effective, does not contain sufficiently ambitious proposals.
The group's secretary-general, Giles Merritt, said the Commission should not be reluctant to publish documents by outside bodies or provide links to them from its website - even if these take issue with policies which it advocates. "Setting out the arguments is what communication is all about. The Commission should respect its position as being a neutral executive, rather than seeing itself as being a protagonist in the debate about what's best for the future of Europe."
Commission officials say that the new paper is aimed at sparking off a wider debate on how EU institutions can cooperate on improving their communication efforts. A more detailed blueprint, containing concrete ideas, is due to be completed later this year. "Much of the information which we provide is already quite objective," said one insider. "Before the Irish referendum, we simply answered questions about the Nice Treaty because we did not want to interfere in the campaign."
David Harley, head of the European Parliament's press service, told a recent conference that debates in Brussels can be lamentably short of "intellectual rage". "I can't say in all honesty that the paper is exceptionally rage-friendly as it's just a first step," he said. "We have to set the scene if people do want innovative measures to provoke a robust public debate."
It is expected that the next proposals on improving communications will concentrate on redeploying existing staff and not seek an increased PR budget.
Currently, the Commission can spend up to a threshold of 97 million per year on communications, while the corresponding figure for the Parliament is €24 million.
Almost half of the latter sum goes to subsidising 'fact-finding' visits to its headquarters in Brussels and Strasbourg by community groups and individuals.
Reaction to the European Commission's recent Communication on information and communication activities.
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