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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Curious eh

The Mail's Mary Ellen Synon has the lowdown from last night's well-attended Open Europe meeting in Brussels on the EU communication policy and the 'campaign for hearts and minds'.

One of the most interesting bits was the EU Commission spokesperson denying that Margot Wallstrom's office had sent a politically-charged email to the Swedish media suggesting that OE are extremists, as we alluded to yesterday.

He claimed that they had merely responded to a request for information from one media outlay - (which, he added, was very different to sending out a mass press release - thereby suggesting that he would agree that that indeed would be underhand). Interesting, given that the email we saw from Ewa Hedlund, Wallstrom’s Communication manager, to Swedish journalists began:

"I would like to draw your attention to inaccuracies in a press release that you received today from the Swedish MEPs in the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament. The press release cites a report from Open Europe..."

Doesn't sound much like a mere reply to someone looking for a response, does it?

Well, we can't quite work out what has happened - presumably the Commission wouldn't just lie to a room packed full of people?

6 comments:

John McClane said...

The Commission lies to a continent full of countries. Why shouldn't it lie to a room full of people?

Witterings From Witney said...

Why not - if they can prevaricate, ignore rulings, try to change definition of words.

See the following:
http://www.statewatch.org/news/2009/jan/07sw-ombs-com-register-complaint.htm

Joe Hennon said...

Curious indeed that you rely on a report from a Daily Mail journalist who was not there. What about all the journalists who actually were there? I'd be happy to read their accounts. I did not deny that we sent an email - I even said I had the email with me. I said we were reacting to a message sent by the GUE to all Swedish correspondents about the nonsense in your report about Margot Wallstrom's blog. Here's the full correspondence:

From the GUE to Swedish press:

Hej korrespondent.

Jag vill gärna tipsa om en intressant rapport från organisationen Open Europe: http://www.openeurope.org.uk/research/hardsell.pdf

Bland annat demonterar den EU:s och Margot Wallströms försök att övertyga opinionen om EU:s kvaliteter.

Margots blogg och hennes chattbluff nämns på sidan 22 - nästan bara EU-entusiaster och egen personal fick vara med på chatten där Margot "lyssnade" på allmänheten:

Part of the exercise involved EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom launching a blog and occasional webchats to “listen” to citizens. A recent webchat which the Telegraph commented on allowed 15 guests to join in. Three of them worked for cafebabel.com, a Commission funded think-tank; one of them worked for Margot Wallstrom herself; one of them worked for the Commission-funded European Movement; one was the
Vice-President of the Young European Federalists (also funded by the EU); one described himself as “Long-time federalist and ex-coordinator of the YES Campaign”; another worked for EU’s Publications Office in Luxembourg; and four were activists from the heavily Commission-funded NGO ActionAid, who said: “From the perspective of the Southern hemisphere, there is a regret that there is not a stronger Europe to counter-balance US hegemony.” Finally, there was Reijo Kempinnen, head of the European Commission’s delegation to the United Kingdom. MrsWallstrom asked him: “Reijo tell us the true attitude of the people in UK towards the EU”, to which he replied: “Margot, honestly, I believe most Brits are just closet europhiles who do not simply know that it’s alright to come out.”

Med vänlig hälsning
Roger Falk
Press officer for Eva-Britt Svensson and Jens Holm
GUE/NGL Group, European Parliament

and the reply from my Swedish colleague:

Hej

Jag vill göra er uppmärksamma på felaktigheter i ett pressmeddelande som du antagligen fått idag från de svenska ledamöterna i GUE/NGL gruppen i Europaparlamentet. I pressmeddelandet citeras en rapport från Open Europe http://www.openeurope.org.uk/ som är en euroskeptisk think-tank som står till höger om de konservativa i Storbritannien. Om du är intresserad av vad kommissionen tycker om deras rapport kan du gå till det seminarium som de organiserar i Bryssel nästa vecka. Där kommer Margot Wallströms talesman, Joe Hennon, att representera kommissionen.

Här är fakta om chatten som nämns i rapporten:

The chat they speak about took place in 2005 and was an experimental live chat for an hour to test out new chat software. We limited it to 15 people to see if we could have a useful live discussion. We invited 7 regular eurosceptic commentators from her blog - 3 replied and took part, 2 others said they were unable to connect and 2 didn’t reply. We also invited 1 person from Margot's Cabinet, a couple from NGOs, one Head of Rep and the guy from OPOCE was a regular contributor to her blog and always made intelligent comments. The point was to allow the eurosceptics to discuss 'live' with people from the Commission and NGOs.

We found the discussion chaotic and impossible to follow so we have not repeated the exercise but eurosceptics are allowed full voice permanently on Margot's blog, in Debate Europe and on Eutube.

Café Babel is not "a Commission funded think tank" it is a magazine-style European website created by Erasmus graduates and funded at the time by the city of Paris. It is sometimes critical of the Commission. And as far as I can remember only 1 person from them was invited, not three.

There was one person from ActionAid invited although two logged on to help their secretary general type his comments, and that organisation is independent and often publicly critical of the EU.

We do not 'pretend' anything - Margot's blog is a public one and is open for comments 24 hours a day 7 days a week as is very clear from the comments section if they bother to look.

Och här är fakta om en del av de felaktigheter som nämns i rapporten:

The Open Europe claim that the EU spends 2.4 billion euros a year on what it describes as "propaganda" is simply ludicrous. Open Europe's starting point is that almost any money the EU spends on information, education, culture, youth and citizenship is "propaganda".

They include, just to pick a couple of examples:

- administrative expenses for MEPs, including eurosceptic ones.
- EURES, the service which helps people to find jobs.
- support for the European film industry, including the MEDIA programme
- technical assistance related to the European Regional Development Fund
- the Education, Audiovisual and Culture agency which manages town twinning and other activities
- education projects and student exchanges such as lifelong learning, Comenius, Erasmus, Leonardo etc
- the Culture Programme
- the Youth in Action programme
- climate change information
- expenditure on social inclusion and protection

In fact almost every budget line in all of the EU Institutions which touches on communication in any conceivable way is included.

As far as communication itself is concerned, Open Europe calls for the Commission's DG for Communication to be scrapped which would, among others, mean closing all of our offices in Member States, ending citizens consultations, scrapping the Europe Direct service which answers citizens' questions, stopping services such as providing studio facilities for radio and TV journalists, closing our audiovisual library, ending our daily press briefings and closing down most of our websites.

We do not think this would be of any benefit to citizens or to democracy and transparency in EU policy making. The Commission makes no apologies for trying to reach out to citizens, to communicate better with them, to inform them about EU policies and engage them in open debate or for trying to create a European ethos or public space.

Bästa hälsningar
Ewa Hedlund
Communication manager
European Commission

Open Europe blog team said...

Not relying on a report at all - we were there ourselves, remember?

You said that the claim we'd made on our blog that day that your office had sent an email to journalists in Sweden alerting them to the Left group's press release about our research and telling them that Open Europe was to the right of the British Conservatives was untrue.

So now you're saying that you didn't say that, which means that your office did indeed send such an email - or should we say press release - given that it went to a whole list of press contacts.

Which brings us back to the original question - what on earth is the Commission doing sending out politically charged press releases to targeted sections of the media in which it attempts to slander organisations which don't share its view? As our contact in the left group says - claiming to Swedish journalists that Open Europe is far to the right is poison.

Talk about trying to silence your critics.

Joe Hennon said...

Yes - you were there, so why quote from someone who was not? I've published the entire mail so you can see exactly what we said. If someone sends a press release to targeted sections of the media, as the GUE did, you can expect us to respond, especially when it is based on a complete distortion of facts. You also accuse us in the same part of your report of leaking documents to the Irish press, which we most certainly did NOT do, and it's a shame I forgot to mention it while the Irish Times correspendent was in the room because he could have confirmed that.

By the way a Swedish journalist asked you on Tuesday who funded Open Europe and the reply was that all the information is on your website. I don't find it, only a list of people who have lent their names in support.

Open Europe blog team said...

Ah, good - so now we have an admission that you did indeed send a press release to the entire Swedish press corps. Glad we finally got that cleared up.

Noone is objecting to the Commission having its say - of course you were always going to take issue with research that is critical. That is what debate and democracy is about - hence the invitation to put your view across at our debate (in fact we've invited the Commission to all our debates since we launched in 2005).

What we do object to is your ludicrously obvious attempts to slander us.

The "complete distortion of the facts" here is the Commission telling everyone who will listen that Open Europe is not an independent think-tank - simply because it cannot bear criticism.

It's quite a transparent attempt to distract attention from the real questions. Such as:

Why does the EU-funded European Movement say it is "independent from governments, European institutions and political parties"? Why does the EU-funded Friends of Europe say it is "completely independent"? Why does the EU-funded European Policy Centre say it is "an independent think-tank"? And so on and so on and so on.

These are the organisations that you should be looking at if you're concerned with "independence" - not us.

Glad you have brought up the stuff about leaking documents to the Irish press - we also meant to do so during the debate.

We can't understand why, if you certainly did not allow documents to be leaked, the European Commission office in Ireland, who one of our (former) colleagues called shortly afterwards, did not deny it?

Instead, they told us that what ended up in the press was “not an official document”, but a “routine” note produced by the Commission’s representation in Ireland which was meant for “internal” use. They were
“surprised” to see it reported in the Irish Times, but “didn’t see anything controversial in it.”

(See here: http://openeuropeblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/eu-strikes-back-at-media-and-bloggers.html)

For a department that is supposed to be full of experts on "communication", there are a lot of mixed messages flying about. Not least the press release-that-wasn't-then-was to the Swedish media.

We do appreciate you stopping by on our blog though - definitely a sign that the Commission is at least trying to listen.