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24th Mar 2019

Brussels to educate Ireland on EU realities

  • Commissioner Margot Wallstrom says the citizen's right to know should be enshrined in the EU Treaty (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission plans to help the Irish government communicate "Europe" better to citizens after June's shock No vote on the Lisbon treaty, with a new inter-institutional agreement to pull together the PR efforts of the main EU institutions.

"It's not about the European Commission interfering with the procedures and referenda on the Treaty, but it is investing in trying to correct the situation where so many people said they didn't know anything about the EU, or didn't know enough to take a position when they were asked," communication commissioner Margot Wallstrom said on Wednesday (22 October) in Strasbourg.

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Ms Wallstrom plans to sign a "memorandum of understanding" on launching a new communication "management project" in Ireland when she visits Dublin on 13 to 14 November.

The one year partnerships - already up and running in Germany, Hungary and Slovenia with eight other EU states about to sign up - see the commission provide EU literature, journalist training, school manuals and other civic education programmes.

One concrete project in Germany was "Guess who is going back to school," in which about 500 German officials paid visits to their former schools, explaining to pupils what their job is within the EU institutions.

The commissioner on Wednesday also signed an inter-institutional agreement between the European Parliament, commission and Council to co-ordinate the three institutions' communication efforts.

She said the move was not designed to create a "propaganda machine" but to support the fundamental democratic principle of the right to know. "It is the first time we have this framework after heavy resistance from member states," the commissioner explained.

The new agreement foresees co-ordinating future communication efforts on common priorities, such as the 2009 European elections, energy and climate change and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is also designed to avoid situations where both the parliament and the commission organise events or print leaflets on the same topic without knowing what the other is doing.

Co-ordination will be provided by the Interinstitutional group on information (IGI) comprised of Ms Walstrom on behalf of the commission, French minister Jean Pierre Jouyet on behalf of the European Council and the vice-president of the European Parliament, Spanish conservative MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras.

IGI will not have its own budget, but will draw from the coffers of the three institutions.

Irish public was misinformed

Going back to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty, Ms Wallstrom said the public debate included a lot of "emotional arguments" and "disinformation," such as the idea that by voting Yes, people would have to send their children to an "EU army."

"The EU uses too much bureaucratic language, too much of a jargon impenetrable to normal people. There is no need for emotional arguments either, but for a factual language that people can understand," she explained.

Asked what would be the outcome of a pan-European referendum on the Lisbon treaty - as suggested by some Irish campaigners - Ms Wallstrom stressed that it is "the ultimate challenge" from a communication point of view to hold any referendum on a complex legal text.

"Whatever you do, you won't have in the end everybody reading a 400-page document," she said. "That's what MEPs are being paid for."

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