EU information campaign underway

...this is the opening jingle of a weekly programme on Czech Television which discusses a variety of issues in connection with the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union. The public TV station currently broadcasts a number of programmes dedicated to the same topic. TV spots and discussion programmes are only a part of a much broader campaign, financed by the Foreign Ministry. Jana Adamcova is the head of the ministry's Department for Communication Strategy.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has 200 million crowns for the information campaign, but that is for the whole year. The campaign has two parts. The first part is the internal communication strategy, it means informing people living here in the Czech Republic, it means Czech citizens. The second part is the external communication strategy which means presentation of the Czech Republic as a prepared candidate country in the current EU member states. Let's say 80 or 90 percent goes into the internal communication strategy, almost a half of it will be the costs of a media campaign. The second half will be divided into regional activities. We have 18 regional European information centres - two in almost every region. We want to build new information centres in smaller towns and villages and some money will also be invested in information brochures and publications and in cooperation with important subjects such as trade unions, professional chambers, associations and so on."

An important group of organisations which take part in the campaign are non-governmental and non-profit organisations, which are able to target different segments of society.

"NGOs will get around 6 million crowns in a project called 'With citizens of the Czech Republic about the Czech Republic'. We chose, I think, 29 organisations which are focused on people who normally get information only from television or radio. So really we wanted to focus on people who are hard to speak to, for example handicapped people, old people, partly women at home with kids and so on. So these were the priorities for the NGO sector this year."

For those people who have specific questions to which they cannot find answers elsewhere the Foreign Ministry opened a special info-line in October 2001. The toll free number is 800 200 200. I myself gave it a try.

Hello, I'm calling from Radio Prague and I would like to know a few things about your line if you could spare five minutes?

"Well, go ahead."

I would like to know approximately how many people call you in a day?

"It depends very much but as far as the statistics and other information regarding the functioning of our info-line are concerned, you'll have to address either directly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Communication Strategy or one of my bosses, probably, because we are not allowed to tell you more - to tell anybody. And, by the way, I do not know exactly. I do not have the statistics at my disposal."

But maybe you could tell me what are the most frequent questions people ask.

"Well, recently the most frequent questions have been those concerning the date of the referendum and the date of the enlargement of the European Union and a lot of the questions concern the social impact and the economic prospects after we join the EU."

Do you also receive phone-calls from foreigners or is it only Czech who call you?

"Mostly Czechs. It is really very seldom."

Well, thank you very much, you've been very helpful.

The line is open on weekdays from 9 to 5. And by the way, the complete statistics are easily found on the Foreign Ministry's website:

Opponents of the European Union in the country also asked for a proportion of the government's money in order to finance their own counter-campaign. Recently I spoke to one them, David Machacek - the chairman of an organisation called the Patriotic Front.

"Our objections to the European Union concern the loss of sovereignty, which for us, nationalists, is unacceptable. There is also the fact that it would be the European Commissioners - who are not subject to any democratic control - who would decide about our country. Also unacceptable is the fact that the European Parliament only approves laws, that it does not propose and create them. We also object to the command economy, which is something we got rid of with the fall of communism. So we don't see anything acceptable in it."

The eurosceptics' organisations submitted a 25-million-crown project to the Foreign Ministry but did not succeed. They say the official campaign is one-sided. Now they want to organise public fund-raising for their own anti-EU campaign. Jana Adamcova, the head of the Foreign Ministry's Department for Communication Strategy.

"The projects that they sent were not of good quality, that is the only reason. We had no criteria in the NGO tender, which would ask 'are you for or are you against the European Union'. The only criterion was 'are you able to speak to people who are, for example, handicapped or old, and so on. Therefore we could not finance the projects of eurosceptics who wanted so much money and wrote such bad projects."

Finally I wanted to know whether the ministry was interested in how the campaign was working, what impact it had on the public.

"We are in close cooperation with STEM and TNS-Sofres, both of them are respected agencies, and we have weekly polls on how people are and feel informed, what is their position on the EU, what problems they feel concerning entering the EU, and so on. So on a weekly basis, we have regular reports on what people think about our campaign and what people think about going to vote in the referendum."

The referendum on the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union will take place in mid-June. A substantial part of the campaign is meant to address the wider public before that date. But as Jana Adamcova of the Foreign Ministry says, it will not be the end.

"The first goal is to give people information. We also use our logo "Yes" in connection with the sentence: "Please be interested in the EU." So therefore 90 percent of the money will be invested in information projects for the whole year."