18th Nov 2018

Commission pushes unpopular EU singing show idea

The European Commission is sticking to the controversial idea of a Eurovision-style singing event in all member states to celebrate the EU's 50th birthday next year - but national capitals fear tabloid press ridicule and soaring costs.

Member states' experts in a communication working group were on Thursday (13 July) shown an "indicative list" of commission-proposed festivities for next year, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

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Brussels' communication department led by commissioner Margot Wallstrom is lobbying for big-style birthday celebrations to "highlight the benefits that European integration has brought to its citizens," according to the document seen by EUobserver.

Ms Wallstrom's wishlist, presented also to fellow commissioners this week, notably includes one controversial idea originally proposed by Belgium to organise an EU-wide song party.

Diplomats said the idea has sparked feelings of disgust among new member states, which are reminded of "Stalinist times" when people were forced to sing.

But despite national experts describing the idea as a "non-starter," the Eurovision idea still figures prominently in the commission document under the title "Europe Singing and Giving," with the revenues of the event planned for charity.

According to the text, "'Europe Singing and Giving' could be organised in all member states next summer with different types of music."

"The involvement of/possible linkages with the Eurovision contest could be seriously considered in this respect," the note says, adding that costs still need to be evaluated.

Member states grumpy

Brussels also intends to spend around €300,000 on the appointment of 50 citizen "ambassadors," dubbed the "Faces of Europe," who are supposed to "tell their story" throughout the year on what the EU means to them in their daily life.

Ms Wallstrom further proposes a "competition to invite young writers to create a small novel around the notion of freedom to travel within the EU (also creating or revisiting European legendary personages)."

Member states are meanwhile being asked by Brussels to strike a commemorative two-euro coin with a common design.

The total cost of the plans are not known yet, but Ms Wallstrom's department alone foresees spending of over €7 million.

Brussels notes in the document that member states also need to contribute financially to guarantee a "successful outcome," which according to diplomats is one key reason why many national governments are grumpy about the plans.

On top of financial concerns, EU capitals fear that the festivities - the Eurovision project in particular - will be ridiculed by tabloid press, with some commission representations in member states reportedly strongly echoeing these fears.

50 cakes?

But member states seem to agree on the idea that there should be at least "one or two" EU-wide birthday activities and have agreed to file concrete proposals before the end of this month.

In the national communication experts meetings, termed by one contact as "extremely funny," a number of ideas has been floating around including a weekend with reduced air or train tickets to celebrate freedom of movement.

The commission, member states and the European Parliament are expected to agree on the final list of EU-activities at the end of September.

Meanwhile Germany, which will hold the EU presidency during the anniversary year, will in any case go ahead with its own idea to let "thousands" of its bakeries bake 50 sorts of cakes with recipes from all 25 member states.

The Germans were initially thinking about two recipes per member state which amount to exactly 50 - the anniversary number.

But in one communication experts meeting, a clever participant reportedly asked "what do you do when Romania and Bulgaria enter [the EU] next year?"

A German contact acknowledged the problem, but added "I'm sure we will find a solution."

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