Sweden’s Reinfeldt urged to end ‘EU propaganda’

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A new report by Swedish libertarian think-tank Timbro argues that the EU is using taxpayers’ money to disseminate pro-integration “propaganda”, and called for the Swedish EU Presidency to draw a line between factual information and biased “opinion-shaping activities”.

The Timbro report, published earlier this week, attracted considerable media coverage in Sweden and sent outgoing Swedish Communications Commissioner Margot Wallström scrambling to publish a lengthy rebuttal in leading Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter yesterday (28 July). 

While such reports have been published by think-tanks before (see EURACTIV 29/01/09), there is arguably an added significance to Timbro’s publication, given that the Swedish think-tank is criticising the EU’s scope of action, and notably that of a Swedish communications commissioner, and calling for the current Swedish EU Presidency to do something about it. 

The report argues that “the EU wants more integration in Europe, despite the fact that Europeans are more hesitant”. 

To overcome this contradiction, the authors – one of whom previously worked as an advisor to Swedish Eurosceptic MEP Nils Lundgren – argue that “the EU annually spends several billion in various information activities” designed to stealthily win popular support among citizens for the EU “project”. The content of these activities is “usually unbalanced”, claims the report. 

With this goal in mind, it argues, “the EU has created its own television channels, radio networks and training for journalists. [The] EU makes attempts to colonise civil society and each year [giives] substantial financial support to think-tanks and organisations who share the vision of closer European cooperation”. 

The commissioner strikes back 

An article on the report by its authors appeared in Dagens Nyheter on Sunday (26 July) under the title ‘Millions of taxes fund EU propaganda’. 

As well as summarising the report, the article called on Swedish Prime Minister and current EU Council President Fredrik Reinfeldt to spearhead reform of the Union’s communication policy, “drawing a clear line between information and propaganda”. 

In response, Commissioner Wallström yesterday (28 July) published a rebuttal piece in the same paper, arguing that the goal of the EU’s communication policy is “not to make people love the EU” but to make the Commission more “open and receptive to viewpoints and opinions from the greater public”. 

Hitting back at Timbro’s allegations, she claimed the think-tank gave an “incomplete, oversimplified and biased picture” of the work she and other EU officials are undertaking in the communications arena. 

The Swedish commissioner argued that the EU’s recent work has been a “two-way dialogue” between the institutions and European citizens, while she rejected the report’s claims that the EU’s communication budget was bloated and misguided. 

“Communicating in 27 countries using 23 languages does not come free,” Wallström said, arguing that the cost per citizen of the combined EU communication budget is minimal. 

In its official work programme, the Swedish Presidency makes no reference to strategies for EU communication policy, other than an oblique commitment that, should the Lisbon Treaty be ratified in all member states before the end of 2009, “the presidency intends to act so that the treaty is launched in a positive spirit”. 

Swedish Presidency officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. 

Better communicating EU policies to European citizens became a priority for the European Commission following the rejections of the Lisbon Treaty by popular referendum in Ireland in June 2008 (EURACTIV 13/06/08) and of the proposed EU constitutional treaty by French and Dutch voters in 2005 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Consumer communications'). 

Boosting popular support for the European project is also seen as critical to reversing the steady decline in voter turnout in elections to the European Parliament. 

Criticism that the EU is cut off from the concerns of its citizens led Communications Commissioner Margot Wallström to launch a 'Communicating Europe in partnership' initiative in October 2007, which seeks to foster greater cooperation between EU institutions and national governments in communicating EU policies. 

The Timbro report, published earlier this week, argued that such activities go too far in spending "several million euros on opinion-shaping activities designed to promote a broader and deeper European integration". 

  • European Commissioner Margot Wallström:Blog

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