School pupils could have to sit through lessons about the EU

But Commission scraps even more controversial ideas after last-minute rewrite

BRUSSELS, 1 February 2006 -- British youngsters could be given classes about the EU in school if plans put forward by the European Commission become reality, Sir Robert Atkins MEP, Conservative deputy leader in Brussels, said today after the release of the Commission’s ‘White Paper on a European Communication Policy’.

But even more controversial ideas in the paper circulated to journalists in advance – including a publicly-funded press agency run by the EU and a European Teachers’ College – were unceremoniously binned in a last-minute rewrite after other commissioners including President Jose Manuel Barroso voiced strong objections.

The paper – brainchild of Swedish information commissioner Margot Wallstrom – argues that awareness of the EU could be promoted through lessons about EU history and institutions becoming part of the school curriculum in member states.

This could mean youngsters learning about famous figures in the EU’s development – like Robert Schuman and Jacques Delors – and studying the intricacies of the Common Agricultural Policy.

But she was forced to tone down her ideas for a code of conduct setting out how journalists should “communicate Europe”.

And perhaps the most controversial proposal, for an EU press agency – dubbed the ‘Brussels Broadcasting Corporation – did not make the final version.

She also had to give way over plans for the teachers’ college. The Commission’s online Q&A on the white paper, which obviously had not been rewritten as quickly as the white paper itself, was still championing the idea this afternoon, saying teachers could “learn from one another and develop common tools for teaching European studies”.

The Commission has set up an online facility for public feedback.

Sir Robert said:

“This plan was supposed to bring the EU closer to its citizens but I fear it will only end up making the gap even wider.

“It sounds a bit like brainwashing to me. Our children should be learning to read and write at school, not studying the ins and outs of the Common Agricultural Policy.”

“People across Europe are communicating their message to the EU and it is a message of dissatisfaction. The Commission should perhaps concentrate less on communicating and more on listening.

“The idea of journalists agreeing to a code of conduct for reporting about the EU would have gone down especially badly in Britain.

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