Monday, April 06, 2009
Make your mind up
It sometimes seems amazing that the EU Commission can spend so much money on its own special department for Communications, and yet prove so spectacularly terrible at PR.
EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom has thrown her hat in the ring and responded to Open Europe's recent findings that Commissioners leaving office this year can expect in excess of £1 million in pensions and pay-offs, courtesy of EU taxpayers.
In response to questions about her own enormous (£1.8m) pay-off in an interview with Focus Information Agency, she said:
"I'd like to thank you for the possibility to respond to the series of 'clever' press releases by 'Open Europe' - a British NGO, advertising itself as a think-tank - which has been regularly publishing articles against the club of 27, containing deliberately twisted and exaggerated data. Stepping in office within the European Commission (EC) does not include talks about salaries, allowances and retirement payments. It's the Council of the European Union that decided in the matter and therefore all changes are up to it. The current rules have been around since 1967 and are open to the public."
Why is the Commissioner responsible for Communications now saying that Open Europe's figures are "deliberately twisted and exaggerated data", when the Commission has already confirmed the truth of the figures?
When the news first broke a couple of weeks ago, Commission Spokesperson Valerie Rampi said, "Open Europe did not discover anything new, it's all public and online".
Then, when confronted with the reports, Development Commissioner Louis Michel exclaimed "if that's true, I'll retire immediately." Belgian daily De Standaard went on to report that, "after consulting an assistant, the message however appeared to be accurate. This was followed by Louis Michel suddenly changing his mind, saying the compensation is completely justified: 'We are being well paid. But every morning getting up at 5 o'clock, lots of travelling, heavy files...This is a parachute but not a golden one.'"
Not only that, but as we have seen, Danish Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel responded to the figures saying "I'm worth all the millions."
For an organisation which spends millions of taxpayers' euros a year on its very own PR office, it is surprising how bad it is at putting out a straight line of defence.
The spokesperson was spot on - all we did was to use the publicly available data and estimate how much these people stood to receive. In fact we used the figures pretty conservatively - we reckon they're an underestimate.
The point is there really is no need to "twist" and "exaggerate" the data, because it's devastating enough on its own.
Still, at least Wallstrom didn't do a Fischer-Boel and try a "Because I'm worth it" type argument. Given the clear failure to get people to like the EU and the Lisbon Treaty - her main job - that would have been hilariously difficult to defend.