The European Commission has put out to tender a €30m contract to provide the citizens of Europe with a “better understanding” of the European Union.
It hopes that the successful contractors will stage events in which Commissioners can sell first hand European policies to the people of Europe.
Case studies accompanying the tender give a flavour of what the Commission wants to see from the winning bid – including an event staged at an ancient amphitheatre on the tiny island of Lampedusa, in which one or more Commissioners could engage in a “citizens’ dialogue” with the people of the island on migration.
Lampedusa, situated just off the coast of Libya but belonging to Italy, has been struggling to cope with the thousands of migrants who have flocked to the island to gain entry into Europe.
Nevertheless, convinced that it can persuade the people of Lampedusa that unlimited migration is a good thing, the Commission wants to see the contractor provide a live video and internet link of the event in which citizens would be encouraged to participate in a Q&A.
The successful contractor is also expected to provide their own interpretation facilities, despite the European institutions already being home to the world’s largest interpretation services, comprising some 641 full time interpreters and a further 3,000 freelance interpreters.
Politico, which has found the tender among the procurement pages of the Commission’s website, describes the tender as the “largest ever”. But an anonymous reader has commented: “[This has] been going on for many years, this is certainly not the first multi-annual communications framework tender published and certainly not the largest ever.”
Indeed, a 2008 report by the think tank Open Europe found that in that year alone, the Commission spent at least €2.4bn promoting the European institutions – more than Coca Cola spends each year on advertising, worldwide. The true figure is difficult to ascertain as much of the spending is hidden away in the communications line of various projects. Other funds are handed to NGOs and lobby groups to act as third party cheerleaders for the institutions.
A Commission spokesperson, Alexander Winterstein, has defended the project’s budget, telling Politico “Not a single euro is committed at the signature of the contract,” because buying occurs only when “participating institutions decide to actually organize an event.”
He added: “Usually, we spend considerably less that the maximum amount under these contracts. No more than two-thirds on average.”
Open Europe’s report also revealed that, although the Commission’s marketing strategy is ostensibly designed to give information about the workings of the European Institutions, it is not above putting some spin on the picture it presents of itself.
Within its “Information and Communication Strategy,” the Commission states: “Neutral factual information is needed of course, but it is not enough on its own… Genuine communication by the European Union cannot be reduced to the mere provision of information.”
Going beyond “mere provision” results in subliminal messaging such as found in the sentence: “If you are lucky enough to be a citizen of the EU…”.
As the report’s authors noted: “There is a clear consensus within the EU institutions that if only people knew more about the “benefits” of the EU, then they would be more supportive of it.”
They cited the former President of the European Parliament and MEP Nicole Fontaine, who said in the aftermath of the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty: “We have a communications problem… We haven’t explained enough the benefits of European construction… We have been too modest.”
16 months later the Irish were famously asked to vote again.
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