Monday, January 31, 2005

The real reason for ignorance?

Forget the constitution. According to Mr Dudley Curtis, writing to the Financial Times today, things are pretty dismal when it comes even to general knowledge about the existing EU.

Ask your average Spaniard, German, Belgian or Pole what is meant by "the Lisbon Strategy", he writes, or ask for an explanation of the functions of the Council of the European Union, European parliament and European Commission, and the response will probably be similar to those given by members of the British public to Mori researchers recently commissioned by the BBC's governors.

This is the survey which accompanied the Wilson report on BBC bias on the EU, which is also available on the BBC site.

The fact is, he writes, most people in Europe are largely ignorant of the workings of the EU and the real impact of European legislation on their lives.

So far so good, but then Mr Curtis argues that the EU itself must shoulder part of the blame. It has an abysmal record of communicating with "Europe's citizens", he says.

And it gets worse: "No one understands this better than Margot Wallström, the Commission's vice-president responsible for sorting out the mess", he adds. In her European parliamentary hearing in September she said: "It can seem a long distance between what is decided in Brussels or Strasbourg and what actually happens in the places where most Europeans live."

Mr Curtis thinks that while the BBC, and other European public-service broadcasters, obviously have a key role to play in explaining the complexities of EU affairs in an accessible way - the job surely starts with the EU itself.

Clearly, Mr Curtis himself knows very little about the EU, otherwise he would know that the organisation is inherently incapable of communicating with ordinary mortals, while its apologists seem to spend most of their time concealing its real agenda, or denying it exists.

But, he nevertheless raises a good point about the general state of ignorance about the EU and the fact that it is Europe-wide. This, in my experience, extends to politicians from all sides, and especially includes many MEPs, who seem remarkably ignorant of the institution they serve.

But what was especially interesting about the Mori survey was that the more informed people were about the EU, the more distrustful the seemed to be, both of the BBC and the EU. Perhaps that is the real reason why neither the BBC nor the EU go out of their way to keep "citizens" informed.

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