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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Enlarge your vision

We learn from PA that the Commission's DG Enlargement has today launched the 2009 European Young Journalist Award - called "Enlarge your vision".

According to the press release "The pan-European competition offers journalists from the UK and across Europe the opportunity to reflect and express their views on the enlargement of the European Union."

Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Enlargement, said: "Young people are important opinion leaders for their generation and the competition gives them an opportunity to share their experiences and visions of our European future."

This is the second year of the competition, and the Commission has created a new category for radio journalists in 2009. "The theme of all applications for both categories must refer to the enlargement of the EU or the future vision of Europe or both."

Looking through the competition website it is clear that this is all part of the Commission's wider strategy to promote EU integration. There is much on there to perusade young people about the 'benefits' of being an EU member and to encourage them to write about them in order to win a prize.

It's doubly interesting because over the past couple of weeks several people (especially in Brussels) have taken issue with our new research on the EU's campaign for hearts and minds, claiming that money from areas of the budget outside DG Communication, cannot be considered as part of calculations for spending on EU promotion. (This is in spite of the fact that, as admitted by the spokesperson for EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom last week, many of the EU's culture, education and citizenship projects actively seek to promote EU integration.)

But the launch of this new competition by DG Enlargement is a clear example of how the EU's efforts to 'communicate' (or should we say sell) the EU are by no means exclusive to the EU Communications department. In the book, we note the difficulty of trying to quantify how much the EU is spending on efforts to promote the EU becasue of the sheer opacity of the enormous budget - and the fact that many budget lines are dedicated to activities which are not obvious from the name of the budget line. For that reason, our estimate that the EU is spending around €2.4 billion on efforts to promote EU integration every year, is probably a huge underestimate.

Whether or not you think EU integration is a good or a bad thing, and whatever your opinion on EU enlargement, the question remains: is it right for the European Commission to be funding prizes for young journalists? Is there not some kind of inherent propaganda value in a public body which relies for its very existence of support for the EU project paying for young people to write about Europe? Especially when you read what the jurors on the panel who will be awarding the prize have to say about European integration.

On the 'Your Mentors' page the first quote is: "As a matter of fact, the European Union is the most successful project of the 20th century having provided its members with a state of peace unprecedented for the continent as well as helped them develop as democratic countries and advance in economic matters."

If this isn't about promoting the EU, then we don't know what is.

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