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Image Is Everything for the EU

The European Commission is preparing a new PR strategy aimed at countering Euro-skeptics and putting a positive spin on all things European.

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Scratches on the key to Europe

A complete overhaul of the Commission's "information strategy" was set to be presented at the weekly meeting of the EU Commissioners in Strasbourg on Tuesday and then debated by members of the European Parliament and the Commission on Wednesday.

The proposal, outlined in a 50-page plan that was leaked to the media ahead of the meetings, calls for spending 267 million euros ($262 million) over the next four years to improve citizen understanding of the EU.

Campaign to promote legitimacy

The document -- prepared by the EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Antonio Vitorino, in cooperation with Commission President Romano Prodi -- calls for a campaign to promote "the legitimacy, image and role of the union."

"A true EU communication method cannot be limited to mere diffusion of information: it must give a sense to things and put the EU's actions and policies in perspective. ... Experience shows that information cannot remain neutral because of the constant distortion by the media, intermediaries and other multipliers of opinion," the plan stated.

The document, titled "An Information and Communication Strategy for the European Union," called for better coordination between three main EU institutions: the Council, Commission and Parliament.

The EU already has some 700 information centers throughout its 15 member states. But the report said that these have not been able to adequately influence public opinion.

Putting on a Friendly Face

The report said that leaders in the realms of business, women's rights, and education must be recruited to speak out in favor of a united Europe.

"The EU cruelly lacks a 'face' vis-a-vis the ordinary citizens," the report said.

The plan recommends starting a PR campaign in September by setting up focus groups in each member state and working with the public opinion research departments of each state as well. A little-known group know as the Inter-Institutional Information Group (GII) that meets twice a year with representation from the three main EU instiutions would play a central role in defining the new PR strategy.

Under the proposal, the new PR program would be operational in time for expected euro referendums in Britain and Sweden.

New-fangled Flag

The proposal comes on the heels of another EU effort to add shine to its image: by redesigning the Union's flag.

Star architect Rem Koolhaas from Holland was asked by Prodi and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt to suggest a new flag. The result is a bar code-like multicolored image was created by blending all the colors of the national flags of EU nations.

If adopted, the flag would replace the current one which features 12 stars on a blue background. The current flag was adoped in 1986, when each star was meant to represent a member state. As the EU has grown -- and with new members in sight -- the flag has become outdated.

Koolhaas, meanwhile, was also present at a recent round-table discussion that included 12 top European thinkers and executives including author Umberto Eco and Swatch inventor Nicolas Hayek. Among other recommendations coming out of this meeting were the creation of multi-lingual schools and partnerships between Brussels and European businesses.

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