‘Evil’ Brussels vs. ‘good’ Prague: Czech MEPs want to change EU’s image

A cycle path paid for with EU funds. Prague, 2012. [Daily Sublime/Flickr]

Only 1/3rd of the European Union’s population knows the positive effect that Union funds have on them. For example, Czechs have received hundreds of billions of crowns since the country joined the EU, but only 33% view EU membership as positive. Aktuálně reports.

Modernisation of small railway stations in the Bohemian Forest. Damage clean-up after the floods in 2010 in Bohemian-Saxon Switzerland. Cycle paths and a playground with water games in a park in Prague-Malešice.

A few examples of successful investment that have been made thanks to European funds. The only problem is that Czechs don’t know about them or the fact that the country is a net beneficiary of European money.

“The Czech Republic has received more than CZK 1.1 trillion from Brussels,” Czech ČSSD MEP Pavel Poc (S&D) told Aktuálně. “After deducting contributions to the EU budget, the net income is CZK 640 billion.”

However, awareness of European funding is poor throughout the EU. MEPs have therefore come up with a project to better explain to EU citizens what benefits they have received from the European budget.

“In a situation where you have a sign on every Czech railway station, road and pavement, and even labels on recycling bins, saying that the project was funded by the EU, but people ignore it, good advice is priceless,” says Czech KSČM MEP Kateřina Konečná (GUE-NGL).

Therefore, they want to focus on social networks and other forms of online promotion.

Will digital technology help?

According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, only every third EU citizen is aware of the positive effects that European investment has in the region where they live.

While 41% of Europeans think that the EU should only invest in poor member states, 53% of people believe that financial aid should be for everyone.

MEPs have therefore proposed a plan to better explain cohesion policy to EU citizens – using digital technology and social media.

“Communication reflecting the results of European investments has not yet been very effective,” said Romanian National Liberal Party MEP Daniel Buda (EPP), Parliament’s rapporteur.

Czech Regions VP: Cohesion policy must serve citizens

Czech and Slovak national delegations to the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) recently presented a joint opinion on the future of cohesion policy after 2020, in which they set out seven common principles and priorities for the next programming period.

Therefore, he believes that it is necessary to change these methods.

“The EU should definitely improve its communication strategy – the European Parliament has called for it after all,” agrees Czech TOP 09 MEP Luděk Niedermayer (EPP).

“This could be facilitated by a lot of good examples of how European money has been invested, especially those with visible positive results,” he adds.

A fairy tale about evil Brussels

According to MEPs, poor awareness has been caused by the media and education in schools.

“Of course, it can also be partly blamed on us, politicians, because we aren’t able to explain complicated European issues to people,” adds Konečná.

“I see the main space for improving the awareness of the EU at home, with national governments,” believes Niedermayer.

“Governments often keep back from citizens how important resources from Brussels are for the economy. On the other hand, by using them poorly or insufficiently, they discredit this essential tool for poorer countries,” he adds.

According to MEPs, a lack of information leads to an increase in Euroscepticism.

“Repeating the fairy tale about evil Brussels and good Prague has contributed to the spreading of negative attitudes towards the EU, in which, unfortunately, our country is currently playing a leading role. Public debates about our membership in the EU are often dominated by populists and nationalists who find it easier to capture the attention of the media and, therefore, also the attention of people,” adds Niedermayer.

The Czech Republic has received hundreds of billions

Although the Czech Republic has received a net income of CZK 640 billion since joining the EU, surveys show a rather negative attitude towards the European Union.

The Eurobarometer survey mentioned above shows that only 33% of Czechs perceive EU membership as purely positive. This is the lowest figure in the entire European Union.

According to MEP Pavel Poc, the feeling that Czechs have that they contribute more to the Union than they receive from it has been caused by the manipulative arguments of some EU opponents who also include dividends or profits flowing away from companies with their foreign owners against the net position.

“This is nonsense, of course, because they would flow away anyway,” stresses Poc.

“Similarly, even some of the absurd privatisations can’t be blamed on the EU, because they took place long before we joined. EU membership protects us, preventing some multinationals from acting like in a conquered territory,” adds the MEP.

He also points out that we need to be interested in European funds and follow their further development.

Rich countries of the European Union want to cut EU funds

The fact is that the funds could be significantly affected by Brexit.

The talks between the European Union and the United Kingdom about its withdrawal from the EU started on Monday. This will, among other things, result in lower revenues for the European treasury.

In connection with this, some richer EU countries are proposing that EU funds be reduced in the following budgetary periods.

Each member state pays 1% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) to the common treasury. The countries with higher absolute numbers, such as Germany and France, contribute more.

In addition, it is mainly the regions whose GDP is below 75% of the EU average that are eligible to receive money from EU funds.

This means that the countries of the former Communist bloc, including the Czech Republic, have so far received more money from the European treasury than they have contributed to it. However, this could be changed by the negotiations on Brexit and its impact on European funds.

Nevertheless, the European Parliament stood up for the poorer countries of the European Union in June, approving a resolution under which it is not possible to reduce the share of the cohesion policy in the European budget.

MEPs: European funds for poorer member states must not diminish

Negotiations are beginning on the future of the European budget, which also includes funds financing cohesion policy. Meeting in Strasbourg, MEPs agreed they should not be reduced. Aktuálně reports.

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