FOCUS: EURO LOBBYING - Money talks. The in-house PR teams at the pro and anti-euro pressure groups are finding that they are busier than ever. Ian Youngman reports

Although the debate over the single European currency has been raging for some time, it has been brought sharply into focus recently by three events. In September, a referendum in Denmark was won by the anti-euro lobby, with the financial help of a UK business tycoon (see panel, p17).

Although the debate over the single European currency has been raging for some time, it has been brought sharply into focus recently by three events. In September, a referendum in Denmark was won by the anti-euro lobby, with the financial help of a UK business tycoon (see panel, p17).

Shortly afterwards, Tony Blair made an apparent U-turn in his previously strong support of the currency. Then a couple of weeks ago, the euro fell to an all-time low against the dollar and the yen.

Much of the anti-euro sentiment in those countries which have still to make a decision about joining the single currency has been fuelled by an array of pressure groups seeking to influence the public, and lobby business and political leaders.

Of the 15 current EU members, 11 countries have accepted the euro: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and The Netherlands. The other four remaining outside it are Denmark, Greece, Sweden and the UK.

Denmark had a referendum on joining earlier this year, and decided to stay out. Greece will join on 1 January 2001. The UK and Swedish governments' decisions are still up in the air, with no firm date for a referendum.

The key arguments for Sweden and the UK joining is that if they do not, jobs will be lost, there will be higher interest and mortgage rates, it will endanger trade, and it will lead to a loss of international inward investment.

Those against the euro claim countries will be better off outside it, and that if they join, unemployment will rise, that the risk is too high, and it will lead to a loss of self governance.

Politically neutral Sweden has always been eurosceptic, only narrowly voting to join the EU in 1994. The Swedish government is tentatively suggesting that it will hold a referendum within the next four years. The political parties are split, with the Conservatives pro, and Labour and the Greens anti.

The main lobby groups in Sweden are anti-euro, and also anti-European, particularly No To EU, but at the moment there is a very close call between the pro-and anti-euro lobbies winning over public opinion.

Across Europe there are a wide range of political and pressure groups which are against the euro, and these are not confined to countries where the euro has not been accepted. The majority of these groups are also anti-EU, and are working together in a fairly organised way for the same ends.

The Anti-Maastricht Alliance, for example, is UK-based but is an umbrella for 30 groups across Europe. It is linked to The European Anti- Maastricht Alliance, which itself is linked to 31 groups in 11 countries. Both groups include members from potential EU countries and both are anti-EU.

These groups are carrying out plenty of PR and advertising, at local and national level.

Their armoury generally includes activity such as marches, lobbying of MPs and business leaders, the creation of web sites to get their views across (The European Anti-Maastricht Alliance's site is www.team-alliance.org), and e-commerce adverts.

Most of this activity is being carried in-house, as many groups simply do not have the funds to pay for PR consultancies, while others feel that an agency cannot replace the impact of a truly committed supporter able to respond instantly and deal with controversial arguments.

Business for Sterling communications manager Andrew Haldenby says: 'Few if any of the lobby groups across Europe use PR or lobbying agencies.

But organisations like us do have senior people with PR and communications expertise.

'The advantage of doing it in-house is that you maintain the message. We've found that PR firms can be unhappy about promoting overtly political views, and while we have gone to great lengths to divorce the economic arguments from the political sentiment, many groups on both sides are overtly political.'

Business for Sterling has used web sites, e-commercials, national press advertising and PR in its lobbying activity. One recent success was placing an article by Sir Tim Rice in the Sun.

'Unlike other groups, we are a national campaign group targeting not only the public but opinion formers in business and government. We think we have succeeded in moving the debate away from a political to an economic one, although some opponents still try to wrongly paint us as anti-European extremists,' says Haldenby.

On the pro-euro side, Danny Alexander, head of communications for Britain in Europe, says: 'The aim of groups like ours across Europe is to explain the benefits of the euro and counter the propaganda from the anti-euro groups. Cross-party support is vital to getting our message across.

'In the UK, the support of local politicians has been crucial to the successful launching of our regional groups. Building a campaign in the regions is crucially important to the long-term health of the campaign.'

However, whatever the intentions and hard work of the pressure groups on either side, some in the lobbying industry believe that they are not having as big an impact as it might appear.

Maurice Fraser, APCO senior consultant and lecturer in European politics at the London School of Economics, says: 'The campaigns for and against are not driving the debate on the euro but responding to circumstances and events beyond their control.

'The anti-euro groups are vociferous and committed while the pro group needs to be more aggressive. The anti campaign is large and effective and has more fire than the pro-euro campaign.'

He adds: 'The pro group sees that to force the issue to a referendum is both unrealistic and counterproductive, as public opinion would probably vote no, which would set the campaign back for many years.'

On the other hand, Fraser says the pro lobby fails to appreciate that most people are able to disentangle the anti-euro and pro-europe feelings.

Both sides see the need to move the debate from the political to the economic one, not just in theory but emphasising the real effect on companies and individuals.

The anti campaign is effective on this, but the pro one has yet to fully show how not joining the euro will lose jobs, and lead to higher interest rates.

With Sweden and the UK still uncommitted either way, there's everything to play for. But even the most high-profile anti and pro groups need to step up their lobbying activity if they are going to really make a difference.



FOR AND AGAINST THE EURO - THE UK DEBATE

In the UK, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are broadly pro joining the euro, while the Conservatives are against. Within both Labour and Conservative parties are minority splinter groups opposing the main view.

The pro-euro pressure groups in the UK fall mostly under the umbrella of Britain in Europe. The anti-euro groups are an uncomfortable mix of some groups who are anti-euro but pro-EU, and a larger number of anti-euro and anti-EU too; the latter ranging from the respectable to the lunatic fringe.

Britain in Europe is a historic coalition that brings together leaders from all political parties, business, trade unions, and the voluntary sector. It aims to promote public understanding of the importance to Britain of playing a leading role in the European Union, and of the benefits of joining a successful single currency.

The campaign is founded on the principle that Britain's national interest is best served as a strong and influential member of the European Union.

In September, 'No' was created as a campaign for the two anti-euro but pro-EU groups. Business for Sterling is a non-party political campaigning organisation stressing the pitfalls for business of joining, while New Europe was founded in 1999 by Lord Owen and is driven by concerns about the democratic risks.

New Europe campaign manager John Grimley says he has concentrated on a media campaign in London and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish media. At grassroots level the group's members lobby MPs personally and write letters to editors.

The other heavyweight anti group is the Democracy Movement, a grassroots anti-EU group, founded in 1998 as a successor to the defunct Referendum Party.

Leading the many smaller anti-euro and anti-EU groups are The Campaign for Independent Britain, which wants freedom from EC law, the European Foundation, which wants to renegotiate with Brussels, and the UK Independence Party, which demands total and immediate exit from the EU.

In all there are some 40 anti-euro groups. While Britain in Europe, the No campaign and the Democracy Movement all have staff and funds for national campaigning and lobbying, the rest are mainly grass roots organisations relying on local member activity.

Blair's supposed U-turn away from open support of the euro is seen as a tactical move to minimise the risk of upsetting the anti-euro camps in the run up to the next general election.

If Labour wins the election, a referendum is expected within months.

You would expect the pro and anti groups to want a referendum. Some do, but the business groups do not. The pro-euro camp feels the economic circumstances for a referendum are not right, and fear disaster if the vote goes against them. The anti-euro camp have concerns for the economy and realise that the vast resources of the Government and the Labour party would seek to persuade voters to accept the euro.

Ian Lindsley, head of BKSK, the government relations division of Burson-Marsteller says: 'I think that the Business for Sterling campaign has been better funded which has made a difference in PR terms but probably not lobbying terms. Neither this nor the Britain in Europe campaigns have captured the public's imagination. Neither campaign in the UK has really received heavyweight support or leadership from politicians, who want to keep their options open.

'PR and lobbying do have a role in promoting the euro but are not being deployed very effectively at the moment.'



A CATEGORICAL 'NO' - THE DANISH DECISION

Denmark joined the EU in 1973 along with the UK. But public pressure has forced politicians to fight for opt outs from key areas of EU policy.

A 1992 referendum even voted against the Maastricht treaty, primarily because of the concerns about joining monetary union. Only by opting out of the euro did the population approve the treaty.

In September the Danish government held a referendum which narrowly decided against joining the euro. The Government and economists favoured membership as did much of the business community. They were defeated by a high turnout of 87.5 per cent, backed by a strong anti-euro feeling across the country This was despite the arguments for joining being strong; the krone is already linked to the deutschemark, Denmark has extensive trade links within the EU, and it would have benefitted through membership of the euro by being in a larger economic zone.

So with all these arguments and the Government and business in favour, why did they lose? The key was the ability of the anti-euro movement to mobilise public opinion behind a sense of national identity. They also played on fears that the supportive welfare state would be jeopardised, and that Denmark would become a tiny cog in a vast eurostate.

Among the prominent anti-euro and mostly anti-European groups who campaigned in Denmark were the June Movement, the People's Movement against the EU, and the Red-Green Alliance. The anti-euro lobby used a highly visible range of PR tactics including advertising and marches.

Having won the anti-euro fight, the liberals - if they win the next election - now want to push for a referendum within the next five years on whether or not to take Denmark out of the EU.

UK businessman Paul Sykes secretly bankrolled the Danish anti-euro campaign with a pounds 500,000 donation. This paid for a series of controversial full-page adverts in the national press.

The UK reaction to the result of the Danish referendum and the potential impact on events in the UK has been mixed.

At first sight it gives a huge boost to the anti-euro lobby. But the vote in Denmark was as much anti-EU as anti-euro, while in the UK the anti-euro groups are more mainstream and pro-EU.

APCO senior consultant and lecturer in European politics at the London School of Economics Maurice Fraser comments: 'Denmark and the UK are far from identical. The successful anti-brigade in Denmark included a motley crew of organised anti-establishment opinions on the bandwagon while, in the UK, the anti euro groups are almost exclusively the establishment, not anti-establishment.'



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