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Shooting fish in a barrel

Posted by Richard Monday, March 07, 2005

You don't know whether to laugh or cry. Having launched her Blog to the expectant (not) world, only to find the comments section hijacked by – mainly British – Eurosceptics, the fragrant Margot Wallström gets her spokesman (person, shurly?) to declare that this "proves those in favour [of the EU] are the silent majority ."

Certainly, the Europhiles are silent, as The Times records in its story today headed: "The face that launched 1,000 Eurosceptic quips", noting that the arguments in the comments section are so one-sided that one reader asked for someone to agree with Ms Wallström to add balance. "It's a bit like shooting fish in a barrel otherwise," the comment went.

It was such a good idea at the time, an attempt to bring the European Union closer to its citizens, putting an appealing face on what often appears to be a distant bureaucracy. But, as The Times observes, the personal blog, or internet diary, of a European Commissioner has been hijacked by British Eurosceptics. They are using it, instead, to attack the EU and to pour scorn on those who lead it.

The fragrant Wallström was handed the job of boosting support before the wave of referendums on the EU constitution and she started her Blog on the Commission website after the new year, mixing the personal and political to emphasise the benefits of Europe.

Her efforts have been engulfed in a cyber-war, however, with British Eurosceptics leaving hundreds of messages attacking the Commission for destroying British industry and Britain’s democratic traditions.

Writes Anthony Browne, the row has got so bitter that Ms Wallström replied recently: "The EU-negative crowd in the UK or elsewhere seem very happy to have found in me another object of hatred — help yourselves!" (It should be noted, incidentally, that yours truly replied that we did not hate her - only what she stood for.)

In the very first entry in her blog, Wallström emphasised her concern about the Asian tsunami, before turning to the problem of the long lunches that she has to have for her job. Worrying about the weight that she has put on over Christmas, the Swedish commissioner wrote: "The official meetings don’t last that long, but the lunches are three or four or even more hours from now on."

A man named Sean replied: "At least you are making an attempt to communicate with the great European public. But I'm afraid there is no getting around the fact that you represent an elitist, corrupt, and unelected politburo, which for some reason exercises enormous power over the lives of millions. Why? Why do you have this power? Who voted for you?"

An entry on the benefits of recycling, in which the commissioner mentioned that she had been sent a bag from India made from used newspapers, prompted a round of derisive comments. She replied: "The one I liked the most was the guy who wanted my recycled bag to throw up in! Funny!"

Detailing the benefits of new EU legislation on hazardous chemicals, she recounted that a doctor once found 28 "chemicals" in her blood and said that she was worried about passing them on to her children through breastfeeding. "This is not the stuff that I want my boys to inherit first thing!" she wrote.

In response, the wonderful, far-sighted and intelligent Times – in addition to providing a link to this Blog - cites that great guru, Richard North, described as "a prominent Eurosceptic" – too right – who replied to Wallström with the stunningly penetrating comment: "That, I am afraid, is the classic cry of the charlatan and the snake oil salesman throughout the ages. Tugging on the heartstrings may be all right for the tabloid newspapers, but it is not something that politicians should indulge in."

Another reader, John Coles suggested: "She should be locked in a room and told to read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations before being allowed out."

Sometimes, observes The Times, the comments descend into English nationalism. A contributor called Kissingengland listed triumphs from the Magna Carta to the defeat of Fascism, adding: "This free, unconquered nation of mine, which has nourished, defended and preserved its institutions and liberties through eight centuries of continental despotism and warmongering, has nothing to gain from suborning itself to the inferior political structures of the EU."

In conclusion, the paper notes that the 10 Downing Street website quickly closed down its public message board because it was exploited as a platform to attack government policy, but Ms Wallström’s spokesman said that she had no plans to follow suit. One certainly hopes not – shooting fish in a barrel can be quite therapeutic.