How the insidious EU propaganda machine has cost us millions

How the insidious EU propaganda machine has cost us millions

Current recipients of EU grants – by which we of course mean UK taxpayers’ money – have been informed that they will continue to receive what they have been pledged. Meanwhile, existing payment deals (especially those that exist under the CAP) will continue to be honoured.

This makes perfect sense. It allows security and stability for programmes, projects and businesses during a period of gradual transition. Brexit is a strategic and democratic revolution, not an economic and social Great Leap Forward. However, that does not mean to say that every drop of EU funding should automatically be sacrosanct.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed the extent of European Commission PR expenditure in the UK prior to the referendum on EU membership. The Directorate-General for Communication has funds that are spent at national level to bolster its activities, which is classed as “routine administrative expenditure.”

A review of this expenditure relating to the UK in 2015, prior to the launch of the referendum campaign, reveals a number of notable finds. These include on the one hand significant funds dedicated to alcohol, restaurants, and chauffeurs – plus funds set aside to support organisations that would play a significant part in the referendum campaign.

While some individual elements in this list may have been above board, money spent on selling the EU has always been an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ funds. As the results of the referendum happily show, it has also been money doubly wasted.

With Brexit, we are provided with a major opportunity not just to fix this issue but to be more ambitious. We have an opportunity to look afresh at all domestic processes, and make any individual in the public sector who incompetently mismanages funds properly accountable for poor choices they have made.  As in so many other areas, Brexit gives us opportunities and incentives like never before.

So what is on that list of where the European Commission PR budget went? The first thing to note is that the details supplied are partial but indicative. The Commission does not supply a list of all EU grant recipients in 2015. Nor does it fully expand on the nature of the funding. But it does supply a list of UK recipients from what amounts as the EU’s PR catch-all ‘slush’ fund.

The figures are significant, and on a par with funds spent during the referendum itself. The total amount of these types of funds in the UK in 2015 amounted to €9,052,560.92, covering 139 commitments. €5,902,899.44 came from the Communications element.

Items that raise particular eyebrows include in particular the debiting of €6,819.87 spent at the Theatre of Wine; plus bills for restaurants, chauffeurs, and expenditure at the Balmoral Show.

By itself, these lines might shrugged off as ‘loose change’ spending by a slightly wayward press team. What is more striking is the money that was also spent on organisations that supported the European Commission’s own messaging priorities. Not surprising, a number of these in turn would emerge as “opinion multipliers” facilitating or endorsing the Remain campaign in the following months.

Recipients of interest include the Liberal Democrats, Regents College, the Museum of Labour History, the Fabian Society, and the Federal Trust. The University of Aston would later provide what amounted to the launch venue for the academic campaign to Remain.

None of the money by contrast seems to have gone to groups that would go on to support Brexit.

Whatever the reason for that, and one can suggest several, the result of course is political imbalance in the deployment of public funds. But then, for the EU institutions, what is important in doling out grants is not the political hue of the recipient, but what they think about the EU.

The Brexit vote now means that can change. I’ve written in the past in considerable depth about how the EU operates a vast PR budget – some of it direct propaganda, some indirect, some insidious. It happens by attaching conditions to programmes; or branding activity; or producing literature like cartoon books to win over the vulnerable; or by co-opting the middle men as messengers.

The time is overdue for it to end. Meanwhile, we need to keep particular tabs on what comes out of DG Comms during the run-up to Article 50 trigger time. We know from experience how fond some in the Commission are of supporting political allies who seek to overturn a contrary democratic vote.