Politics: Blair think-tank dismisses Europe as a PR disaster

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Fear and ignorance about the euro are still widespread, and New Labour-type rebranding exercises are unlikely to be win over citizens, according to a report. Katherine Butler in Brussels looks at a perennial problem.

A British study today says the European Union is a public-relations disaster and warns Brussels against a campaign to make citizens accept the single currency. Demos, the think-tank hired by Tony Blair to help rebrand first the Labour Party and then Britain, says Europe is more unpopular than ever, with just 46 per cent supporting membership, and more than half admitting they "feared" introduction of the euro.

"There is no mystery," its report claims. "Forty years of elitism are coming home to roost". It accuses Eurocrats of letting the EU become "bogged down in bureaucratic minutiae" while failing spectacularly to overcome apathy and ignorance. Echoing the Blair campaign to create "a people's Europe", it says Brussels ought to exercise extreme caution before trying to win over a hostile people to the single currency. "The probable effect is a further erosion of the tenuous support the EU holds" write the report's author, Mark Leonard.

Last night Neil Kinnock, the Transport Commissioner, said proposals outlined in the report would promote understanding. But privately some EU officials dismissed British attempts to "rebrand Europe". "This sounds like the viewpoint of newcomers. The British are waking up from a long night's sleep on Europe", said one official.

Primary responsibility for conveying the EU to people is with governments, not Brussels, and none had done more to vilify the image than the British, said another. Attitudes also vary, with, for example, high approval ratings in Ireland, while levels of ignorance are worst in Britain. "Only in Britain do we still find around 4 per cent ... who do not know their own country is an EU member-state" said Anna Mellich, in charge of opinion polls at the European Commission.

Spyros Pappas, the commission's director-general for communication, admitted the public were neglected in the early years but it was "unfair" to assume all citizens viewed the EU with the disdain fostered in Britain by the last government. He said 800,000 citizens a day call the EU site on the Internet. But the report accuses those in charge of the EU of failing to forge a recognisable European "identity". Only one in ten Europeans see farm incomes as important, yet half the EU budget and a fifth of ministerial meetings are devoted to the Common Agricultural Policy.