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Thursday, August 13, 2009

EU Commission officials - coming to a Uni near you

We have just seen an email that the European Commission would probably have preferred we didn't.

Dominic Brett, Head of Public Diplomacy (!) at the European Commission Representation in the UK, has just sent an email out to students and teachers using the huge mailing list of the University Association for Contemporary University Studies. (UACES)

In it, he offers Commission staff to speak to students, either by visiting their universities or by hosting meetings in London, about topics such as climate change and the Lisbon Treaty.

As we've argued many times before, the Commission is engaged in many attempts to influence young people's thinking about the EU - but this has to be one of the most blatent.

Is there any possibility whatsoever that these talks will be balanced? Of course not - this is the Commission, whose job it is to work towards 'ever closer union'. Commission officials speaking to students about the Lisbon Treaty can only mean one thing - trying to convince them that it is a good thing .

How do we know that? Because endless Commission documents confirm that it sees its "mission" as promoting the EU and its policies, not merely providing neutral information. See this latest one for example, which we mentioned the other day. It clearly states that in its communication policy, the Commission aims to "build up support for the European Union's policies and its objectives".

That means, therefore, that this is a completely unacceptable use of public money, and goes way beyond even the remit of the EU institutions. The EU has no mandate for education policy - so why is the Commission interferring in university teaching?

Here is the email in full - we particularly like the "we specialize in" bit, which makes it sound like some kind of corporate marketing bumf. It's like an after-dinner speech service with a twist (i.e. that it's "of course" free of charge, because we EU taxpayers are forking out for it.)

Following the high level of demand over the past twelve months, we're repeating our offer to speak to students in 2009-10. I'm the head of public diplomacy here at the EC Representation in London. Part of our job is to offer relevant departments in English universities (other parts of the UK have their own Commission office) presentations to their undergraduate and master's students. Over the past couple of years, we've hosted dozens of student groupings here in London or gone out to visit universities across the country.

We specialize in:
- key policy areas (climate change, economic recovery package, Lisbon Agenda, Lisbon Treaty, etc.) - the structure of the EU and the division of labour in Brussels and between the Union and its Member States on the other
- careers in the EU institutions.

This service is of course free of charge to any universities who so request it. Generally, we look for a two-month lead time. Our tight schedule and limited budget means we can't satisfy every request.

If you're interested, please e-mail me.
All the best, Dominic Brett
Dominic Brett Head of Public Diplomacy European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom


via said...

nice posts :)

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to know whether anyone from Open Europe has ever been to any of these presentations? Can you say with any certainty what the content is and therefore offer proof that it's propaganda? Do you think it would be possible for any civil servant to peddle "propaganda" in universities, many of which are staffed by some of the sharpest minds in EU affairs this country has to offer - and not all of them committed Europhiles by any means?

Lastly - and most importantly - would I not be right in thinking that Open Europe has spoken at at least one conference for sixth-formers hosted by Civitas?

Look forward to your reply.

Open Europe blog team said...

Hi Anonymous,

Over the years we've been to plenty of talks by EU Commissioners and officials. Their job is to promote the work of the Commission, whose job in turn is to work towards 'ever closer union', as mandated by the Treaties. Therefore, and as pointed out explicitely by the policy documents we have linked to, the purpose of going into schools and other educational establishments is to promote the EU.

The problem is that this activity is funded by the taxpayer, with no attempt to balance it with an alternative view (think of the constant pressure on the BBC to spend taxpayers' money on balanced output). If that alternative was available, it wouldn't be so bad. Is the Commission going to pay for speakers from Open Europe or elsewhere to give talks in schools, to ensure they are balanced? If indivuals want to go into educational establishments and give their opinions on such controversial topics as the Lisbon Treaty, that is fine, but they should not be paid for out of the public purse.

And on that point, yes, Open Europe has indeed spoken at a sixth form conference hosted by Civitas. But did taxpayers pay for us to be there? Do taxpayers pay our salaries? No. The rest of civil society has to fundraise in order to put forward our views. Not the EU institutions. They have a substantial budget paid for by the very people they are seeking to influence. If that is not propaganda, I don't know what is.

And just for the record, for the majority of Open Europe's public events on EU topics, we've gone out of our way to make sure they are balanced - inviting Commissioners and MEPs and anyone else whose views differ from our own on a particular policy. See our events page to read about them.

Anonymous said...

You have not provided any direct evidence that these talks are propagandist in tone.

And the idea that the EU can oblige any university to accept its speakers is surely laughable. If HE establishments don't want to take it up on its offer, they don't have to. Simple.

Open Europe blog team said...

Read the internal policy documents provided. They have a 'policy' to promote EU integration. Fact.

Who said anything about the EU 'obliging' universities to accept speakers? Did we not say that the email was about offering services?

Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstand the role of the EU institutions. The Treaties that establish them have as an objective of the 'ever closer union among the peoples of Europe' (NB: the full quote gives a more balanced understanding what is meant rather than our selective approach). It is in fact an obligation of the intsitutions to promote this approach and is nothing to be ashamed of. Were they to question the Treaties they would be going againts their legal mandate. In the same way, the UK civil service promotes the policies of the government of the day. They do not entertain a balanced approach. It is not their mandate to do so.

More study and less prejedice and you might have a few more interested readers.