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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On another planet

A pretty bizarre article in the FT today (and the EU Referendum blog) alerts us to the EU's new propaganda campaign for the European Parliament elections. Encouraging turnout is one thing - but, as usual, this is far more to do with trying to promote the whole idea of the EU. And at enormous cost to the taxpayer.

For €28 million, the European Parliament has hired ad agency Scholz and Friends European Agenda , to run

"a series of 3D installations. The larger than life sculptures will draw the public´s attention to the 2009 European Elections and illustrate different aspects of the voters’ influence on tangible political decisions that result from their participation. Interactive multimedia boxes invite the EU citizens to cast their personal wishes for Europe as a video message. Together with ten billboard motives, the 3D installations and the multimedia boxes show that Europeans have a choice and the chance to participate in the EU's decision making – emphasized by the claim "It's your choice!"
Plus some weird enormous billboards like the chickens above.

As if we needed any more evidence of the EU institutions being completely out of touch with the real world - here we have some of the best yet. In the middle of dire economic circumstances, with jobs, pensions and savings all going down the bog the good old EP sees fit to lavish millions on what this ad agency boasts is: "for sure Europe’s most complex communication campaign ever."

Great. Will it have any impact at all on turnout? It strikes us that a far cheaper option to energise voters and get them going would be to remind them about the referendum they never got on the Lisbon Treaty - and the efforts to bully Ireland into voting again.


Eurocentric said...

That cheaper option strikes me as propaganda too, and for an area of decision-making over which the EP has no control.

I doubt that the campaign will be effective, but how else do you get voters to vote without pointing to the issues that their votes could affect? Besides running candidates for the Commission Presidency, which the party groups seem sadly reluctant to do.

Using a parliamentary election as a referendum seems to me a very ineffective way to use your vote: these people have to work in their voters interests for the next 5 years, so it would be better to vote for someone with a 5 year programme, at least in my opinion. Just like in local government elections, using your vote as a referendum on the national government or another issue over which the body in question has no control leads to poor local level, etc. governance and poor levels of accountability, because their mandate for their period is only tenuously linked to their platform at best.

Which is why I object to your proposed solution/alternative to the voter awareness campaign: it will only perpetuate or worsen the lack of oversight of the MEPs - after all, how can you hold to account someone who was elected without a 5 year policy platform?

On the propaganda issue: it can of course be argued that by highlighting the issues that the EP can decide on, you legitimise it as a forum to debate on and decide those issues. This is true in the sense that all institutions have their own ingrained ideology and project that in their justifications for their involvement and for people's involvement in them. As a level of propaganda, however, the posters rank quite low down the scale of megalomaniac brainwashing schemes.

First, it could be contended that any drive to increase voter turnout has the same effect, in which case even your alternative contains similar ideological undertones, even if primarily directed against the organisation of the EU.

Second, the weakness of these posters as a form of "propaganda" - ideological content is in all forms of media, so I would say that propaganda is a strong term in this particular case - in that they just highlight select areas of the EP's decision-making competence. I would contend that these posters - and the wider campaign - will have minimal to no impact on voters' opinions on either constitutional questions of the EP's/EU's power or on the issues highlighted. If people debate these issues, then all the better.

Finally, as an issue to promote to increase voter turnout, the Lisbon Treaty may be just as out-of-touch. Voters are more concerned with the economic crisis, which might be a better issue on which to promote debate and voter participation. The EP's influence in this area is quite limited, but they do have budgetary powers, and decisions in other policy areas are important here too.

Gawain Towler said...

That agency is really rather close to the President of Parliament's CDU party.Very close indeed

Anonymous said...

It's pretty difficult to encourage people to take an interest in the EU, when most of what it does is boring - and nothing at all to do with our daily lives (like holding on to a job, kids' education, health, social security, etc).

That said, I agree - this is a stupid waste of time and money. When you look at some of the messages on the postcards .... words fail me. How can the EMPs (Yes, it's said it was them, not Commission bureaucrats) believe these are uppermost in people's minds right now?

Anonymous said...

I find it rather amazing that the EU would attempt to show its value to European citizens with the example of food labelling, an issue that was put aside by the European Parliament just last week after disagreement. What do labelling standards, which are often evoked as a protectionist measure, have to do with the real issues demanding attention from the EU, such as unemployment, scarce credit and trade liberalization? Personally, this overwhelmingly expensive advertising campaign smothers any previous interest I had in EU elections by revealing just how obscene and distorted the entire process has become.