As we are about to enter a new decade, the EU seems to be facing one of its worst existential crises since its inception. Euroscepticism is not something new. Ever since the efforts to achieve European integration started in the Fifties, political parties that made anti-integration their main platform started to mushroom throughout the continent. The current pandemic, lockdown measures and the economic crisis looming seem to be exacerbating divisive trends in Europe.
For example, a recent poll shows that 67 percent of Italians believe that being a member of the bloc is a disadvantage for Italy.
Moreover, this month, Italian Senator Gianluigi Paragone announced that he will soon launch a new party – and that the word “Italexit” could figure prominently in the new group’s logo.
He told Bloomberg: “The EU and the euro were imposed from on high.
“They’ve hurt the real economy, families and workers and small and medium-sized businesses.”
As many wonder whether the EU will be able to survive in the long run, unearthed reports reveal how the bloc responded to the rise of euroscepticism in 2013.
Amid fears that hostility against the EU was growing before the European Parliament elections in 2014, The Telegraph reported that the European Parliament was planning an unprecedented propaganda blitz.
Key to the new strategy were “public opinion monitoring tools” to “identify at an early stage whether debates of political nature among followers in social media and blogs have the potential to attract media and citizens’ interest”.
Spending on “qualitative media analysis” was to be increased by £1.7million and while most of the money was to be found in existing budgets an additional £787,000 was needed to be raised, despite calls for EU spending to reflect national austerity.
The publication quoted a confidential document agreed in 2012 as saying: “Particular attention needs to be paid to the countries that have experienced a surge in euroscepticism.
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“Parliament’s institutional communicators must have the ability to monitor public conversation and sentiment on the ground and in real time, to understand ‘trending topics’ and have the capacity to react quickly, in a targeted and relevant manner, to join in and influence the conversation, for example, by providing facts and figures to deconstructing myths.”
Paul Nuttall, UKIP’s former deputy leader, attacked the proposals, as he claimed they violated the neutrality of the EU civil service by turning officials into a “troll patrol”, stalking the internet to make unwanted and provocative political contributions in social media debates.
He said: “Spending over a million pounds for EU public servants to become Twitter trolls in office hours is wasteful and truly ridiculous.
“It strikes me as bizarre that the EU administration is playing such an explicitly political role with a brief to target Eurosceptics – that’s code for parties like Ukip, and this is hardly neutral.”
Parliament officials declined to comment on the confidential documents and ongoing private discussions within the EU assembly’s administration.
However, a confidential document entitled “political guidelines for the institutional information and communication campaign” was agreed by the Parliament’s administrative “bureau” the year before.
The text highlighted a “sharp contrast” between “growing perception of endangered welfare, rising insecurity and financial instability” and EU promises to guarantee “freedom, security and social justice with a prosperous internal market”.
The document said: “The current economic and financial crisis together with high rates of unemployment, particularly among young people, is resulting in diminished trust in European institutions by citizens… it is evident that the EU’s image is suffering.
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“In order to reverse the perception that ‘Europe is the problem’, we need to communicate that the answer to existing challenges… is ‘more Europe’ not ‘less Europe’.”
In an entry for the European Parliament’s website, EU officials responded to The Telegraph’s report, saying: “Like any other parliament, the European Parliament makes use of media monitoring services to follow what issues are reported on in its fields of interest, including its own activities.
“Traditionally the focus was on the printed and audiovisual media, but as online media and social media platforms have become more and more important sources of information, the Parliament is looking into ways of upgrading its media monitoring to keep up with the new media landscape.
“In a separate effort, the Parliaments is looking into modernising its communication efforts, focussing on peoples’ real concerns and on entering into a real dialogue with citizens.”
The report added: “Beneath a lot of sound and fury about secret documents, wasted millions and sinister plot to ‘spy’ on eurosceptics, the EP is basically being accused of wanting to know what citizens think and of spending money in an effort to communicate with them effectively on whatever platforms they happen to be nowadays – two extremely counterintuitive ‘crimes’.”