Active rebuttal of Lisbon misinformation urged


IN THE wake of the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty, the European Commission's vice-president has called for a more vigorous engagement by the commission in responding to "misinformation" about the treaty and the EU.

Sweden's commissioner Margot Wallström, in an internal letter to fellow commissioners on the lessons to be drawn from the Irish vote for EU communications policy, calls for the setting up of a "rebuttal function" within the EU executive to counter the type of misinformation she argues was spread by anti-EU forces during the referendum campaign.

She also proposes the commission assist in drawing up a "citizens' summary" of the Lisbon Treaty to be distribute in states where it has yet to be ratified, and focus Brussels more on communication in the run-up to next year's European elections.

The letter, "Communication Policy and the Irish Referendum - Lessons Learned and the Way Ahead", sent in mid-July, sets out detailed proposals to deal with problems encountered in trying to explain to citizens the rationale for the Lisbon Treaty and the EU.

It says general lessons can be learned from the result of the Irish referendum, both on the treaty and the EU more generally. These include:

"The more emotive No campaign worked better than the more factual Yes";

"Not enough was done by the Yes campaign to reach out to young people and women";

"The internet was almost exclusively used by No campaigners";

"There was no effective rebuttal of misinformation about the treaty".

Ms Wallström calls for the creation of a new communications culture in the commission and the need for "misinformation to be targeted by activating a rebuttal function in the member states and/or directly from Brussels".

"We cannot treat the Irish No as merely a national issue or only a treaty ratification problem.

"The difficulties in explaining to citizens the rationale of the Lisbon Treaty and in clarifying that the EU needs to be equipped for today's and tomorrow's challenge are difficulties which we encounter across the union," the letter argues.

Ms Wallström says the commission needs to address wider audiences, specifically women and young people, through TV, radio and internet. This implies the acceleration of strategies to develop a new TV network, the overhaul of its website, development of the EU Tube services, modelled on YouTube, and greater use of blogs, she says.

She also calls for a partnership to be agreed between the commission and member states: "One aspect of EU communication which hasn't changed is the blame game . . . It can only change if we are prepared to work together in partnership."

Ms Wallström will address the issue at next week's EU leaders' summit in Brussels.