'Rapid reaction force' to monitor Constitution debate
By Honor Mahony
A 'rapid reaction force' has been set up by MEPs to try and put the record straight if lies are told about the European Constitution.
"Within three hours, or at least within the same day, we want to react to lies and distortions about the Constitution", stated Jo Leinen, head of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee.
Dear EUobserver reader
Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.
Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.
- Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
- All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
- EUobserver archives
EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.
♡ We value your support.
If you already have an account click here to login.
Speaking to the EUobserver, Mr Leinen, a German Socialist MEP, said he and a group of MEPs had taken it upon themselves to be the watchdogs on utterances about the Constitution as nobody else is doing it.
"Who is defending the Constitution? No European government is doing it", says Mr Leinen, with an eye on the referendums on the Charter that are to be fought in several member states.
Mr Leinen's other companions in this exercise include the President of the European Parliament, Josep Borell, as well as the authors of the report endorsing the Constitution - overwhelmingly supported by MEPs last week - Inigo Mendez de Vigo and Richard Corbett.
To help the group of eight MEPs keep an eye on debate in 25 member states, European Parliament offices in the member states will "pick up" any information they consider to be a lie and pass it back to the group.
Mr Leinen said that they "would not react to small and tiny comments on the Constitution" but just substantial untruths.
Citing some examples of lies, he said that during the debate in the run up to the Nice Treaty referendum in Ireland, there were claims that it would enable abortion.
Meanwhile, in Germany, there is a peace movement that says the charter is a "military Constitution".
In such cases, a press release or a letter to the editor may be sent by the MEPs.
Line between opinion and fact
However, the MEPs' action does raise questions about the extent to which Constitution opponents may be corrected for giving an opinion on the document.
Mr Leinen admits that there is a thin line between opinion and a lie and that things will have to be dealt with the "on a case by case basis".
Jens-Peter Bonde, a Danish eurosceptic MEP, said it was "a splendid idea" to try and ensure that the debate surrounding the Constitution is factual but criticised the fact that the MEPs involved are all strongly in favour of the charter.
This is not the first instance where the EU is trying to hit back at incorrect reporting in the press.
The European Commission also has a website which has a detailed rebuttal of stories that it says are untrue.
These include stories that have appeared - mainly in the UK press - about such diverse things as pigs having to be given toys; the euro being responsible for impotency and eggs having to carry details of the hens that laid them.