Thursday, October 25, 2007

They're at it again!

After recent evidence that the EU commission was paying Friends of the Earth Europe to lobby it on global warming, we now have another example of how our money is being used to shape the EU agenda.

This one comes via the Financial Times, which offers a story on how the EU commission stands accused of "covert lobbying" by funding groups campaigning for controls on pesticide use.

The source is Conservative MEP Christopher Heaton-Harris, who complains that he had been "bombarded by e-mails" from groups funded by the Commission's environment directorate pressing him to vote for a ban on aerial spraying and other measures tougher than the Commission had proposed.

The e-mails came from an organisation called Pesticide Watch, whose constituent organisations, claims Heaton Harris - receive large amounts of funding from the European Commission. He goes on to say:

This payroll lobbying has certainly led to an increase in the number of e-mails being received by MEPs – but surely it is wrong for one Commission directorate to use large sums of taxpayers' money to abuse the role of non-governmental organisations and try to change the views of parliamentarians and other Commission directorates on this matter.
We then get a spokeswoman for Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, saying that the accusation was "ludicrous": "Just because we finance NGOs does not mean we control what they say," she says. "They are guided by the views of their members. We fund them because there are many voices that are not heard at European level. There is a democratic deficit."

The use of this term "democratic deficit" is not accidental. In fact, it betrays a strategy which was set out in the 2001 White Paper on European Governance which, amongst other things, explored the vital role of "civil society" - including NGOs as a crucial part - in getting "people and organisations involved in shaping and delivering EU policy".

This in turn was a response to the catastrophically low turn-out at the 1999 European elections, where the problem of the "democratic deficit" was never far from the Commission's thoughts. And, having failed in their bid to gain legitimacy through the ballot box – in what was known as "representative democracy" – the commission thus sought to create its own constituency of supporters through what it termed "participatory democracy".

However, as we noted in a detailed critique of the White Paper, the Commission was not prepared to trust to the spontaneous workings of the various groups it had targeted. Instead, they had to become "organised civil society", with which the Commission would then "consult" and "involve" in the policy-making process.

It is in that context that we see the sinister nature of the EU funding. Having awarded NGOs a special place in its scheme to legitimise its own actions, The Commission has to ensure that its "organised civil society" does its bidding.

Thus, as the Financial Times now reports, Dimas's department gave €7.9m ($11.2m) to organisations engaged in environmental protection in 2006, including WWF and the European Cyclists' Federation. And, we hear from Ingeborg Graessle, a German centre-right MEP, that some 10,000 NGOs receive €800m a year from the Commission. Money is clearly one of the key means by which the message is controlled.

On the basis of her information, Ms Graessle adds: "We could convince ourselves on the fact that the NGOs are financially controlled by the Commission. However these controls do not give any reference if the political aims of the European Union are actually achieved."

In fact, to look for direct results is to miss the point. A good guide as to what is expected of them is contained in an "Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee", entitled: The role and contribution of civil society organisations in the building of Europe.

The title itself tells you virtually everything you need to know, but it is instructive to find in the document "organised civil society" being described as, "an essential bridge between Europe and its citizens". One also finds that it has a role in "opinion-forming and decision-making, and promoting a Europe that is closer to its citizens." Therefore, just by encouraging "citizens" to contact their MEPs and thereby engaging them in the European Union's political process, this NGO was perfoming its task.

This in turn helps to create a climate of opinion which is conducive to European political integration, as the European Union is seen as an "actor" in issues which affect the lives of "EU citizens". It is this role which the various NGOs are fulfilling admirably, which makes them worthy of their hire.

The flow of money points up the degree to which the EU is going to shape and control opinion and, more importantly, increasing its visibility. Furthermore, it is seeking to maximise the reach of its voice in the corridors of power, in the media and in the myriad of campaigning groups throughout Europe.

Orwell would have recognised the technique. And so must we.

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