A few thoughts from "Eurosceptic land" Part 3
European countries are no longer at war against each other as we all know, or so we are told, though it sometimes seems that only the weapons have changed.

European countries are no longer at war against each other as we all know, or so we are told, though it sometimes seems that only the weapons have changed. Words can be constantly re-sharpened and used to build and fuel propaganda campaigns.


When people hear the word propaganda they mainly think of authoritarian regimes. However, one would have to be very naive to think that modern democracies are exempt from bias. When one spreads a message to an intended audience to make them think and behave in a certain manner or to promote adoption of a specific viewpoint, one is spreading propaganda. As far as the Europhile/Eurosceptic debate goes, both sides tend to accuse each other of being guilty of propaganda.

Euromyths

The British Press is famously renowned for what have been dubbed 'Euromyths'. From the bendy bananas to the EU flag to be imposed onto national football teams' shirts, there have been plenty of such stories. They are usually very catchy and sell very well as they tap into pre-existing prejudices. The facts, as they are presented, are based on a bit of reality. But they are twisted and stretched to an absurd extend. Their very predictable outcome is to poke fun at the EU and its institutions, particularly to paint it as an out-of-control, out-of-touch and insane bureaucratic machine.

Selective perception

As always, when you want to engineer opinions, very strong filters are at play. Only the facts that fit the mainstream narrative are widely reported. There have been quite a few occasions where an alternative view about the EU could have been put forward, such as when the European warrant allowed, for instance, the arrest of a teacher who had ran away with his under-age pupil to France. These opportunities to rebalance the mainstream view about the pros and cons of the EU are rarely seized upon. Moreover, the EU winning the Nobel Peace Prize has been severely under-reported if not ignored within the UK.

Divide and conquer

It would be easy to dismiss the Eurosceptics as a lowbrow, unintelligent kind. But that would be a grave error. We should never underestimate the anti-EU propaganda. Another worrying aspect of the strategy is to try divide and conquer. When the 'enemy' is too big, start by breaking it into smaller pieces, and try to set them against each other. To that effect, lately most of the British media and politicians have started to systematically present Germany in a positive light whilst demonising France.  Another version of that strategy, fuelled by the Eurocrisis, is to set the North against the South: To try to convince the Swedes and the Dutch that the Italians and the Greeks are not worthy.

Are both sides guilty of propaganda?

Obviously whenever you bring these subjects up with a Eurosceptic, they never fail to answer that the pro-EU types are themselves adept at propaganda. Have the EU not appointed a head of communication? Don't they specifically pay officers to monitor the British press and send protesting letters to them?

Any initiative aimed at unifying the area will be seized upon and described as an artificial way to distort people's real identity and priorities. A project such as the House of European History has been criticised and mocked on the grounds that there is no such thing as European History. The European Citizen Initiative, though about empowering the people through direct participation, has been reported as a lame attempt to superimpose a non-existing European identity over real national ones.

Rational and critical thinking

We are sometimes left with the feeling that a brick wall has been built between Europhiles and Eurosceptics, that both side shout at each others without listening or trying to compromise. How should a rational person try to take a balanced and informed stance on the matter?

To me, the main criterion people should look at is how negatively or positively charged the narrative is, how divisive or integrative it is.

Now, the main difference of outlook between the two sides in my view is that, on the one hand you have some people who use lots of name-calling to describe the other side (the EU being described as a dictatorship, the Nazi label being dropped in far too many times!). On the other side of the fence, you have some people whose clear objective is to integrate. One divisive speech set against an integrative one. If I had to choose, I know which one I'd pick, though one would hope it would be possible to find a third way...


For more on this topic, read the first two installments from Sofi Couvot:

One or two things from Eurosceptic land - Part 1

One or two things from Eurosceptic land (aka Britain) - Part 2