European Parliament chiefs are planning a taxpayer-funded campaign to dissuade people from voting for Euroskeptic parties in the 2019 European election, according to an internal strategy note obtained by POLITICO.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the EU is at stake,” the note says, adding that the “campaign should not just aim to bring voters to the polls, but also convince them to support the European project. ”
The draft strategy, expected to be signed off Monday by the Parliament’s Bureau, made up of senior MEPs, raises questions about EU institutions lobbying in support of a particular political outcome — in particular, that the European project is an inherently good thing — rather than simply supporting the democratic electoral process and remaining neutral in the contest among parties and candidates.
The strategy’s author, Parliament Secretary-General Klaus Welle, argues the approach is necessary, reflecting Parliament’s concerns that turnout — 43 percent at the last election in 2014 — will be low, potentially favoring Euroskeptic parties.
“The European Parliament should take a clear and unambiguous stance in favor of the European Union,” the note reads.
MEP Peter Lundgren of the far-right, Euroskeptic Swedish Democrats reacted angrily to the proposal.
The Parliament’s note also outlines plans to “maximize cost-free media coverage” by persuading journalists to report on stories in a favorable light.
“The EU federalists are desperate after losing the argument and recent elections in Austria and the Czech Republic. The European Parliament will now use taxpayers’ money to build a propaganda machine to silence critical voices,” he said. “Every genuine democrat should be appalled and stridently oppose the casting off of even a pretense of institutional neutrality.”
A spokeswoman for the Parliament declined to comment ahead of Monday’s sign off, although she confirmed that the Parliament organizes such strategies ahead of each election.
“You can expect a lot of pushback from the far right,” said Hungarian center-right MEP György Schöpflin, who had not seen the note, noting that Parliament had in recent years taken a “quite strongly pro-EU” stance at a time support for further integration has subsided.
“It’s an insoluble debate,” he said, referring to the situation in which Euroskeptic politicians are elected to an institution whose legitimacy they often reject. About 150 of 751 current MEPs come from Euroskeptic parties.
That the Parliament needs to take such a stance towards the election reflects the unusual position the institution finds itself in, where many voters simply don’t know that it exists, or blame it for things that it isn’t responsible for.
“The Parliament is in a peculiar position,” said Ian Bond, a director at the Center for European Reform, a London-based think tank. Putting in place such a strategy “isn’t something a national parliament would do, but then again a national parliament wouldn’t need to do it,” he added.
A key component of the strategy is to focus on people who “look favorably” on the EU but don’t vote in European elections, including “opinion-makers” (identified as “employed professionals” and “management”), young voters and students.
“The Parliament should be doing more outreach to people who are not in those sorts of groups; it’s slightly preaching to the choir,” said Bond, describing the approach as “a bit ham-fisted.”
The document identifies two possible messaging strategies — “Choose your future” and “For a Europe that protects and empowers” — that should be “strong, yet clear, simple and continuously reinforced over a prolonged period of time.”
It also singles out the the slogans of Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron and Jeremy Corbyn as inspiration, in particular “Make America Great Again,” “La France en marche!” and “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s f–king go” — although it appears the third slogan refers to a tweet sent from Corbyn’s account in 2016 during a hack.
The note also outlines plans to “maximize cost-free media coverage” by persuading journalists to report on stories in a favorable light.
“Media do not need ready-made material but they do require good stories and guidance … Media are key allies in building a positive narrative about the EU,” the note reads.