Failure to spread message of EMU lamented in report

 

The European Commission's failure to educate people about the European Union and EMU has led to an "epidemic" of Euro-scepticism, a study published by the independent British think tank, Demos, concluded yesterday.

Falling short of predicting a gloomy future for Europe if member states did not develop a pro-European attitude, the report suggested that during its presidency of the EU, Britain could lead the way by communicating its message to the people more effectively.

At the launch of the report, Making the EU Popular: The Search for European Identity, the former Labour leader, Mr Neil Kinnock, who is now the EU Transport Commissioner, argued that debate on key issues had been handed to pro-Europeans and Euro-sceptics with "a vested interest in exaggerating the substance and the potential of the European Union".

The report's findings also showed that only one in 50 Europeans thought they were "very well informed about the EU".

In Britain only 27 per cent of those asked knew that Mr Jacques Santer was president of the European Commission.

Seven out of 10 people think that the environment, solving international crime, common defence and foreign policies, drug trafficking and solving long-term employment should be priorities for the EU.

But money and time are now being spent on reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy and preparation for a single currency - priorities for only one in 10 of Europeans.

The report supported Mr Kinnock's claim that the EU had promoted high-profile campaigns that in the end yielded very little. The report found that despite initiatives across Europe, fewer than half of all Europeans (370 million) supported their country's membership of the EU. Fifteen per cent believed membership was a "bad thing".

However, the report found a "latent legitimacy" for the single currency among Europeans - while more than half the population said they feared the single currency, 75 per cent were resigned to it.

Euro-scepticism featured strongly in Britain's response. The report found that only 35 per cent of the population supported the single currency but 57 per cent saw it as inevitable.

The report said if leaders did not "develop a convincing story of European integration before they launch into their ambitious programmes for a single currency and enlargement, their failure could haunt them for years."

The author of the report, Mr Mark Leonard, described the EU as a "public relations disaster" and urged the government and the EU to adopt its recommendations. The report identified five key issues: to tackle the issues people want the EU to solve; to deliver tangible benefits and communicate them early; to develop a sense of mission by linking political decisions to long-term priorities; link EU institutions to people's everyday experience, and to make Europeans more knowledgeable about the EU and Britain's role in the community.

Responding to the report's criticism, the European Commission's representative in London, Mr Geoffrey Martin, said it represented a "watershed" in public opinion about the EU. The EU would support Britain during its presidency "but it is for the ministers and for the senior politicians to lead their people, not institutions in Brussels".