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25th Jul 2021

Commission defends von der Leyen hiring PR firm

  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has a private contract with a German PR firm to polish her image (Photo: Global Panorama)

The European Commission has defended the use of a public relations firm to gloss the image of president Ursula von der Leyen.

Von der Leyen had hired the Berlin-based Story Machine while a candidate to become European Commission president, to set up her social-media accounts.

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Once she landed the job, the contract continued according to revelations in the Swiss-media outlet Aargauer Zeitung.

"It is a private contract. She pays for it herself," Eric Mamer, the European Commission's chief spokesperson told reporters on Friday (24 April).

Mamer said the agency provides von der Leyen with monthly advice when it comes to "aesthetics, to the visual image."

It has no input on public messages like Tweets sent in her name, he said.

"This company has absolutely nothing to do with how Tweets are either prepared, validated or published," he said.

However, that the contract is private and kept out of the public domain remains unusual for a European Commission president.

The European Commission has its own internal communications department that provides the very same service.

But Mamer suggested the hiring of an outside firm to do the same job may come down to the inherent bias of an in-house service.

Story Machine was co-founded in 2017 by Kai Diekmann, the former chief editor of Bild, the best-selling German tabloid newspaper, owned by Axel Springer.

Michael Mronz is the other founder and reportedly knows von der Leyen in a private capacity through their shared interest in horses.

Story Machine has itself been in recent trouble.

In an article out earlier this month, Stern, a German weekly news magazine, reported the agency was being investigated by a government regulatory body after bungling a coronavirus campaign to ease lockdown restrictions.

Story Machine has yet to comment to this website when asked what exactly it does for the European Commission president.

Despite its defence of Story Machine, the commission added it would still look into the matter to see if there has been any violation.

"The president will look at this again to check whether or not this could someway not correspond to some European rule that might exist," said Mamer.

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