EU caught off guard by NASA publicity coup

An artist's view of an exoplanet. [NASA]

NASA announced on Wednesday (22 February) the discovery of planets outside the solar system that might support life. The EU was more than associated with the project, but its contribution was eclipsed by the NASA publicity stunt.

In a major communications feat, NASA kept the world in suspense for several hours yesterday, before announcing that seven Earth-sized planets have been found orbiting the habitable or ‘temperate zone’ of a star just 39 light years away.

NASA called it a “sister solar system”, and says several of the planets could potentially host liquid water, and maybe even extraterrestrial life.

The team behind the discovery was led by Belgian researcher Michaël Gillon and the discovery was made possible thanks to €2 million in funding by ERC, the European Research Council.

ECR was aware of the upcoming announcement, but it only was able to publish a tweet, past the emargo deadline, which didn’t get massive attention.

Today, the Commission tried to catch up.

The NASA official announcement makes mention of Gillon and of the University of Liege in Belgium but omits to mention ERC, the European Research Council, which provided the funding.

The ERC website doesn’t make mention of is contributiont, at least until the time of the publication of this article.

Asked if the Commission would try in the future to have the EU logo more present in projects like this, and if it should try to be better associated with the communication of success, Commission Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said jokingly:

“I completely agree, and the proof is that while NASA is sleeping, I push forward Europe.”

This is only the latest in a series of cases where the EU admitted it needed to “show the flag”, without any progress being made.

One typical example is external aid. Although the EU is the world’s largest donor, its flag is almost never seen on food sacks arriving in disaster zones. In contrast, the US flag is highly visible, and American journalists are always present to film the deliveries.

Parliament wants more visibility for EU external aid

Urged by MEPs to make the external aid action of the EU more visible, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner conceded that this was her “greatest challenge” and outlined her ideas on how to “show the flag” more in future.

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