Thursday, 5 February 2009

EU publicity campaign to target Lisbon No voters

THE EUROPEAN Commission is spending €1.8 million on a communications strategy to target Irish women, young people and low-income families with information about the EU.

Blogging, cinema advertising, listening exercises and advertising in women’s and youth magazines are key parts of a 12 month EU-Ireland information plan, which specifically targets segments of the public that voted in large numbers against the Lisbon Treaty.

“The representation wishes to communicate with the general population and in that context, specifically with target groups within the general population,” says a call for tender for a public relations agency to run the campaign.

“These target groups comprise: younger people in the 16-30 age bracket; women of all ages; lower-income families and individuals.”

The tender does not mention the prospect of a second Lisbon referendum this year, focusing instead on the need to provide public information on matters emanating from the EU and how it affects daily life.

But Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald yesterday strongly criticised the EU tender, which she said amounted to “propaganda” and taking a “hard sell” approach to Lisbon.

“To me it seems the commission is targeting groups identified with voting No to Lisbon in the last referendum. This new strategy does not amount to dialogue but rather propaganda to influence an expected referendum later this year,” said Ms McDonald, who was one of the leaders of the No campaign in the first referendum.

Research conducted by the commission in Ireland a few days after the first Lisbon referendum last June showed young people between the ages of 15 and 29 voted against the treaty by a factor of two to one. A majority of women also voted against the treaty while a majority of men voted in favour. Separate research compiled for the Government by Millward Brown confirmed these findings while also noting that the biggest No vote came from the lower-income group where 65 per cent voted against the treaty.

The commission yesterday rejected any suggestion that its Irish communications strategy was part of a campaign to get the Lisbon Treaty passed in a second referendum.

“There will be no advocacy or publicity campaign ahead of the second referendum,” said Joe Hennon, spokesman for EU communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom. He said any additional resources diverted to Ireland would be in response to the conclusions of the Oireachtas special joint subcommittee’s report, which identified serious lacunae in communications on Europe in Ireland. He said any extra resources would be for several years and would aim to address the problem of a lack of knowledge about the EU.

The closing date for the tender is February 24th and the communications strategy is expected to be rolled out as soon as the contract is signed. Last year the commission spent about €650,000 on a communications plan in Ireland. Senior commission legal sources said they do not envisage any of the activities in the €1.8 million plan would fall foul of the rules regarding public spending during a referendum campaign.

The tender document says the maximum amount to be spent on organising listening events such as seminars is €500,000; on internet social networking, €500,000; and on cinema advertising, €800,000. It also specifies that the contractor must attend regularly weekly meetings with the commission to report on actions taken under the contract; present reports on the listening activities; and update on web strategy.

By JAMIE SMYTH in Strasbourg

This article appeared in the print edition of the Irish Times