2nd Oct 2023

MEPs accuse commission of foul play on EU TV money

  • The culture committee is due to decide whether to release the reserves at a meeting on 21 May (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs and the European Commission are embroiled in a dispute over what happened to €8.7 million originally intended for an EU-wide TV station.

The commission put up the cash in a call for tender in 2008 for a Europe-wide broadcaster - "EU TV" - that was to pool existing TV organisations and channels into one body beaming programmes to around 150 million viewers.

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It attracted several serious bids, including from ETVN - a consortium of 25 broadcasters from 13 different countries, including Belgium's RTBF, Italy's Rai and TV5 Monde from France, headed by the Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union.

The project was to go live in 2011. But on 25 January 2011 justice commissioner Viviane Reding pulled the plug later saying it would have incurred excessive costs of between €41.5 million and €70 million over its five-year lifespan.

"In the present budgetary situation we should focus on already existing projects and tools doing this in a cost efficient and effective way," Reding's spokeswoman told EUobserver on Tuesday (15 May).

For his part, Danish Liberal MEP Morten Lokkegaard says the move has nothing to do with austerity because the commission diverted the money for its own "pet projects."

Lokkegaard told this website some of the funds were used for a new Brussels office for Euronews, a multi-lingual news channel. He added that other moneys went on communications projects directly benefitting commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Reding herself.

The deputy, who co-chairs parliament's culture committee, is also annoyed that Reding did not follow protocol. "This approach is extremely worrying as it seems the commissioner is significantly changing strategy without notifying the parliament," he said.

The culture committee has put €4.5 million of the EU's 2012 budget "in reserve" until the commission re-establishes the EU TV project, discloses all the contracts benefitting from the old €8.7 million and puts out a comprehensive communication strategy.

Italian centre-right MEP Carlo Cassini, who chairs the constitutional affairs committee, is also asking prickly questions.

"Of the €8.7 million ... €2.7 million was used for Euronews, but we have not received satisfactory information as for how the remaining €6 million was spent," he said in a letter to Reding on 10 May - seen by EUobserver. He is still waiting for a reply.

Meanwhile, the commission told this website that €2.8 million went to Euronews, €3.7 million went on reinforcing "existing communication structures" such as press conference transcripts and audiovisual footage for journalists, €1.8 million went on Scad Plus (an online portal that summarises EU legislation) and some €400,000 went to redesigning various commission websites.

The affair has dented Brussels' reputation in the private sector.

The commission in an internal report entitled "EU TV network - state of play of procurement" in November 2010 - also seen by EUobserver - already warned that the money might be "reallocated, for example, to the further development of Euronews."

The paper noted that if EU TV fell by the wayside, the commission could suffer from "substantive and reputational risk, in addition to the potential legal risks."

The commission told EU TV bidders in a two-paragraph letter dated 17 December 2010 that the tender was cancelled. It also gave the bidders €150,000 each in compensation for wasting their time during the two-year-long procedure.

ETVN chief Jean-Paul Philippot estimates his company spent at least three times that on the tender.

He said in a letter addressed to Reding on 14 January 2011 that "the logical consequence of this is that the European television networks [ETVN] have lost the trust they had put in the European Commission." He added that he "deeply" regrets ever getting involved.

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