Richard North, 12/09/2004  

Did you know that the European Parliament has a publicity chief? No? Well, it does. In fact, it has a new publicity chief, who is, by a strange coicidence, also a Portuguese politician, having been a secretary of state for local government for seven years and an MP for another four in Portugal. His name is José Liberato and his European credentials are good. He helped to negotiate Portugal’s entry into the then EEC, now EU and, as we know, Portugal is still one of the net recipients of funds. (Not that that makes them all that happy. What they win on regional and structural funds, they lose on Spain muscling in on their markets.)

Señhor Liberato has worked his way in Brussels as well. Under the previous publicity chief, David Harley, he was director of external relations. The European Parliament has external relations? Has it declared UDI? Do all parliaments have their own external relations? Does he negotiate those endless fact finding missions or does that come under another highly expensive agency? So many questions, so few answers.

The press and media department of the European Parliament has an annual budget of €18 million (c£12 million) and a staff of 150. Despite this, according to Señhor Liberato there has not been a good enough communication with the media of the member states at national, regional or local level. It is clear from the following comment that he does not think at all highly of Mr Harley’s stewardship:
“I do not wish to criticize my predecessors in any way but, in the past, this is something which has perhaps been neglected.”
“This”, one assumes is relationship with the media. If it has been neglected, what did the 150 strong press and media section do with the €180 million? Señhor Liberato is thinking of posting a press attache in every member state to raise the profile of the European Parliament. The coverage of its work, in his opinion, needs to be lifted.

A recent Eurobarometer poll showed that although EU institutions were distrusted by a large proportion of the Union’s population, an even larger proportion had even less time for national political institutions. Does it not occur to José Liberato that if people learn more about the pointless resolutions, endless fact-finding missions and the insouciance with which MEPs vote hundreds of new legislative measures in the space of a couple of hours, its popularity, already rather low if voting figures are anything to go by, will sink to near zero?

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