The Brief – Campaigning in the gutter

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Propaganda is as old as language, and political campaigning is a grubby old game. As long as there have been elections, politicians and their advisors have been lying to voters.

However, it is hard to think of another political consultancy that has had its reputation as thoroughly traduced as the now notorious Cambridge Analytica.

Today, Brittany Kaiser became the latest CA operative to give evidence to MPs in the UK parliament. These evidence sessions have become akin to religious confessions.

Suspended CEO Alexander Nix has done what remains of his public reputation little good by refusing to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport committee and its fake news inquiry on Wednesday.

The inquiry, and demise of CA, is uncomfortable for the Brexit campaign leaders who employed them.

Even so, it is hard to think of anyone who emerged from the referendum campaign with much dignity.

David Cameron’s inept Remain campaign threatened British citizens with an immediate economic slump if they voted for Brexit, much of which has so far proved to be wildly over-exaggerated.

The quickie-trade deal with the EU and ‘Brexit dividend’ – the infamous £350 million a week in extra health spending –  promised by the Leave campaign were either wishful thinking or fabrication. Both sides lied to voters.

But there is a fine line between propaganda and promoting hatred, and the latter became Cambridge Analytica’s calling card.

Traded on its notoriety after Brexit and Trump, CA was hired last year by Kenya’s governing Jubilee party, on a multi-million dollar contract, to fight another dirty campaign, using its data-mining and targeting on social media to exploit tribal divisions.

The aftermath to the August poll in Kenya brought the country close to ethnic violence.

In fact, CA is not the only political consultancy to grossly over-step the mark and pay the price. London-based PR outfit Bell Pottinger went into administration last year after a backlash against its work for the Gupta family, which was closely connected to ex-South African President Jacob Zuma, which also promoted racial tensions.

Even so, by giving the likes of CA so much airtime, are we in danger of over-egging the importance of political campaigns and companies like CA? No matter what ‘dark arts’ were used, the British people voted to leave the EU, they were not forced to mark ‘Leave’ on their ballot papers.

Blaming one company for Brexit however dodgy its tactics – is a cop-out.

But the CA saga should be a reminder that ugly political campaigns have consequences. The xenophobia and, at times, naked racism, of the June 2016 referendum campaign poisoned British politics.

We have all paid the price for that.

The Roundup

Emmanuel Macron took his charm offensive to Strasbourg but he only made a somewhat lacklustre push for eurozone changes.

The EU club might be getting bigger after the Commission said it would start negotiating with Albania and Macedonia (if all member states approve it).

The spat between Greece and Turkey continues: according to a draft resolution, the Parliament could decide to call on Turkey to release two Greek soldiers who were arrested last month.

A new EU proposal, labelled as “revolutionary”, will force tech companies to share their users’ personal data with law enforcement authorities from different member states upon request.

Treebeard’s revenge: at an Entmoot in Luxembourg, ECJ judges decided that logging in a protected Polish forest is illegal. Warsaw will now have to take action or be hit with potentially heavy fines.

Is the EU united in diversity? The institutions are surprisingly lax when it comes to implementing it in practice, particularly in terms of employing racial minorities.

Air pollution is the fourth biggest cause of death worldwide, a new study found. More than 95% of the world’s population breathe unsafe air and the burden is falling hardest on the poorest communities.

Europe needs to decarbonise its economy in order to meet its Paris Agreement obligations, but how ambitious are its plans for an energy transition? Read our special report here.

According to Climate Commissioner Cañete, the need for energy transition in Europe is becoming more urgent and – despite geopolitical changes – is going ahead.

Croatia will reveal the results of a tender to use the capacity of a planned liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal. Construction has not yet begun, but a lack of demand at this stage could scupper the plan.

Look out for…

Juncker’s Commission is on thin ice as the Parliament’s budget control committee adopted its report on the Selmayr appointment calling on the EU executive to reopen the appointment procedure. Look out for tomorrow’s vote in Strasbourg!

Views are the author‘s

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