In recent years, bright-eyed europhilia has been on the wane – you almost never read or hear someone just praising the project. Even if they aren’t outists, most journalists have come to recognise the Euro has been a disastrous failure, and the EU has plenty of other flaws.
This is why I, along with quite a few others, was surprised to see a four-page special feature in yesterday’s Evening Standard, i newspaper and Independent explaining why the EU was so great.
The section was headlined “The European Debate” – though there was very little debate going on.
The Evening Standard’s coverage, for example, contained the following:
- “Do you know your EU rights?” – an article which explained that “we all benefit from EU citizens’ rights”, quoted the vice president of the EU Commission and made no mention of the costs of EU red tape, trade barriers and so on.
- “Ignorance is no laughing matter” – a mini-feature quoting left-wing ‘comedian’ Marcus Brigstocke as he explained that euroscepticism is based on “paranoid xenophobia”.
- “So what has Europe ever done for you?” – ten case studies of people who felt they personally benefited from the EU.
- “Time to influence the debate” – an article explaining why we should all vote in May.
- “Building bridges and reaching out so we can all have our say” – an opinion piece by Viviane Reding, the vice president of the EU Commission repeating the message that we benefit from EU membership.
- “The word on the street” – a vox-pop of eight members of the public, five of whom were pro-EU, one was a eurosceptic who “would begrudgingly vote to stay in” and two were undecided, a split totally at odds with the opinion polls on the topic.
The answer as to how this weird propaganda came to be published lies in six simple words: “In association with the European Commission”.
In translation, it’s an advert – presented as part of the newspaper, but bought and paid for by the EU. Judging by the fact the freelance authors and the headlines were the same in each publication, the money seems to have been sufficient to buy them editorial control of the content.
So I asked the EU Commission office in London how much they paid for The European ‘Debate’ to be published. The answer is £65,000.
That’s quite shocking when you think about it. If a company paid for a newspaper to publish a glowing review of their own product which they had commissioned, we would call it an advert – by law, it would have to be clearly labelled as such. This is even worse – not only is the EU taking out such adverts to propagandise the electorate at a time when we are deciding whether to keep funding it or withdraw, but they are using our own taxes to do so.
In their reply they even boasted of the “value for money” in reaching 2.6m people with their political message.
When I challenged them over it, their response was to claim the piece was balanced because it “included UKIP”. Nigel Farage was indeed quoted – saying how important the 2015 European elections are, and nothing more. Nowhere was the increasingly popular idea of leaving the EU represented, except to smear it as ignorant and xenophobic.
This is an out-and-out attempt to unduly influence our decision about the future of our democracy. We probably all expected the EU to throw money at an in/out referendum in the UK – in fact, their campaign has already started.