The Brits are in a tizzy over an EU childrens book. But their own Parliament has produced four of them.
At the last EU summit, it was olive oil.
At this summit, the burning issue that UK prime minister David Cameron
wanted to discuss at his post-summit press conference was even more
insidious – an EU-funded colouring book.
The multilingual children's exercise book produced by the European Parliament, first reported by the Telegraph earlier this week, is called ‘Mr and Mrs MEP and their helpers'.
It contains exercises centered around a day in the life of two MEPs.
Cameron distributed 30 copies of the children's book to the other EU
leaders at the summit, saying something had to be done to reign in this
reckless EU spending.
"[The other leaders] were shocked,” he told journalists after the summit. “First of all they thought it was a hoax done by the Telegraph
and I had to convince them that it was a genuine, scandalous waste of
money, and pretty sexist at that as well, because Mrs MEP stops at six o
clock to go shopping and Mr MEP goes on until 6:40."
The colouring book is, admittedly, pretty awful. Its layout more
closely resembles an IKEA manual than children's exercises, and its
depiction of Parliamentary life makes it easy fodder for mockery.
Apparently, according to the colour-in pictures, it takes four people
to help an MEP post a letter. The MEPs are greeted with taxpayer funded
limousines as they arrive at Strasbourg airport and appear to spend
their day dining and shopping. Mr MEP is ushered to his seat in a
committee meeting by a bowing attendant. 15,000 copies of the book were
produced to be distributed at the Parlaiment's 'Open Days', which open
the building to the public once annually, over the past three years. It
was designed by the Parliament's department in charge of administrative
Cameron's stunt at the summit has flooded the web sites of British media, which have declared the colouring book “pro-Europe propaganda” .
But aside from the book's poor production value and laughable
messaging, it's hard to understand what Mr Cameron and his media cohorts
are so worked up about. Is it the cost of producing the colouring book?
With just 15,000 copies, the book couldn't have cost more than a
thousand euros. Is it the fact that the book was produced at all? Mr
Cameron himself presides over a British Parliament which has produced four such childrens books promoting
UK government. No one in the British media thought to criticise these,
though they are ripe fodder in light of the MPs expenses scandal.
The British 'propaganda' books appear to have cost more that the
European Parliament's book, judging by the superior production value.
This isn't about a waste of resources – national parliaments produce
these kinds of educational materials all the time. This is about the
fact that many in the UK see the EU itself is seen as illegitimate, so
therefor any sort of educational materials it produces are going to be
seen as propaganda. Such a book produced by a national Parliament would
elicit no such condemnation.
Surely the disbelief and laughter the book provoked from the other EU
leaders at the summit was due to the book's very poor production value
and easily mocked themes. It is clearly embarrassing to the Parliament.
But is it enough of an issue to be raised to the agenda of a summit of
EU leaders? Is this really an example of wasteful EU spending, or is
it a cheap piece of red meat for Cameron to deliver to his domestic
This came, of course, at the same summit at which Cameron was accused of ginning up a fake controversy over the British rebate simply to have a "Dave versus Europe" victory story for when he returned home.
It's hard to imagine a leader of any other EU member state
distributing a colouring book at an EU summit. Perhaps those leaders
just lack the sardonic British sense of humour. But from an outsiders
perspective, it all looks a bit sad. The most powerful people in Europe,
going after a little poorly-made colouring book put together for Open
Days by some civil servant. It's a cheap shot.
These sorts of non sequiturs from the British have become par for the
course at EU summits these days. But maybe such temptations for
triviality aren't just limited to the British any more. When asked by a
(British) journalist about the book after the meeting, Angela Merkel
seemed ready to hop on the EU-bashing bandwagon. "The question remains
whether it is genuine from the midst of the European Parliament or if it
is a parody that ridicules it," she said. "We'll have to take a closer
look at it."