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Culture

EU Want To Get the Facts (Not Carrots) Straight

Eurocrats in Brussels are fed up with the many myths peddled by the media about the European Union. A European Commission website sets out to put the record straight.

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A leading British newspaper wrongly reported that the EU wanted regulate carrot size.

Last year, British tabloid The Daily Mail informed its readers that the EU was planning to ban Corgis. "Certain breeds of the Queen's favorite dog could be outlawed under a controversial EU convention being considered by ministers," it revealed.

The shock revelation which outraged animal lovers across the country and fuelled anti-European sentiment in fact had nothing to do with the EU. The story originated with a committee of animal protection experts which drew up a European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals designed to improve the welfare of household pets.

Whatever. Readers were all too willing to believe the EU was up to its usual nonsense.

This sort of scare-mongering plays right into the hands of euroskeptics -- as Brussels is all too aware. The European Commission now features on its website a compilation of popular misconceptions ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, giving the inside story, laying out the facts and debunking the myths.

Media-fuelled hostility

A lot of europhiles feel the press coverage contributes to widespread bewilderment and hostility towards Europe, feeding a popular attitude that the EU is a dangerous behemoth deliberately blinding its citizens with layers of impenetrable bureaucracy and ludicrous laws.

Admittedly, Brussels is an easy target. A tangle of competing institutions and different agendas, EU bodies are notorious for excessive red tape, corruption scandals and mystifying rules and regulations. It all contributes to a culture of confusion that leaves the public willing to believe just about anything.

According to Michael Mann from the European Commission press office, the British media is a main offender, with the tabloids all trying to outdo one another with sensational stories.

Mann is now busy collecting myths and countering them with facts. In his opinion, the problem is that the level of debate about Europe isn't as high as it should be.

A reflection of national reservations

The misunderstandings and prejudices come in all shapes and sizes. Maintaining that EU officials are grossly overpaid is one thing -- but the idea that male members of staff are reimbursed for the medical costs of Viagra pills is slightly less well-founded.

Horror stories from Brussels are part of the media's daily diet, but reveal an astonishing gullibility on the part of many Europeans. On the euro-myth silly scale, old favorites such as greengrocers having to conform to rules covering size, length, color and texture of fruit and vegetables are less believable than proposals for a new European flag, but the sheer quantity of misapprehensions goes to show how little the public understands the workings of the European Union.

Viola Eggert from the European Commission's Berlin office attributes the problem to the Commission's zeal for regulations, saying many myths about the EU popular in Germany "are based on over-regulation and the idea that the EU tells its citizens what they're allowed to do, and has too big an influence on their lives."

So although gullibility may be to blame for many of the myths, the volume of misinformation appears to reflect strong national reservations about the sort of things the European Commission would like to do if left to its own devices.

Anti-EU groups are all too willing to twist the facts about Brussels' law-making, but the EU would do well to conclude it should, in future, explain itself better. After all, Brussels does have one of the most extensive press corps in the world.

But as Michael Mann points out, Brussels can only do so much -- and the rest is up to national governments. "They have to start serious discussions with the public about what Europe is and why it's a good thing," he said.

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