EC press plan angers media: Attempt to spread the Community message leads to breakdown in communications

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The Independent Online
THE European Community yesterday scored an extraordinary own goal, appearing to lend support to an inept document that promotes curbs on press freedom and the establishment of a new all-powerful communications office.

It takes quite a lot to produce a walk-out from a Brussels briefing, but the Expert Group on Information and Communications Policy managed it. The plan was to produce some ideas on how to improve communication of the European idea. But the report's mixture of weird symbolism and totalitarianism so enraged Constantin Verros, the president of the International Press Association, that he suggested that perhaps journalists should wear uniforms. 'We're not living in the era of the Colonels,' he said and stormed out.

The report says that 'the media must be persuaded to present the achievements, the benefits, the opportunities (of Europe) in a positive, optimistic way, and not delight in criticism and failure'. It adds of the media that 'it is crucial to change their opinions first, so that they subsequently become enthusiastic supporters of the cause'.

At times it lapses into the mystical, saying that 31 December 1999 should be declared a special date for the EC. This is partly because it is the end of the millennium and partly because 'seven years from now not only has mystical connotations of its own, but it also coincides with the lifespan of the current Commission plus the lifespan of the next (five-year) Commission and parliament'.

It proposes allowing the Commission a special symbol - a sun-like 12-pointed star - and giving the EC a motto: In Uno Plures (Many in one). A new communications office would be set up with special powers, including the remit to seek 'a change in the undisciplined behaviour of the transmitters'.

Commission officials were privately very disparaging about the paper. 'It's trying to sell the EC like cornflakes,' said one. But Joao de Deus Pinheiro, the EC's Communications Commissioner, bravely made an appearance, dodging the verbal flak and smiling serenely.

The document was masterminded by Willy De Clercq, a member of the European Parliament. He referred to 'this evolutionary, unstoppable process of European Union', a theme that the Commission is currently trying to play down to say the least. Coming only days before the Danish referendum takes place, the timing is appalling. 'That's a couple of percentage points off the 'yes' vote,' said one Dane yesterday.

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