Analysis: Euro poll decision sees PR efforts stepped up

As the Government prepares to reveal its decision on whether Britain has met the criteria to join the euro, the pro and anti groups' PR campaigns are reaching fever pitch.

This weekend, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will meet their self-imposed deadline on deciding whether Britain has met the five tests for potential euro membership. It seems likely that Britain's prevarication on the issue will continue.

Brown is expected to announce that not all the tests for potential membership of the euro - which was adopted by 12 of the 15 European Union member states in January 2002 - have been met.

Although some believe the Government will reignite its attempts to boost public support for the currency come this autumn - with a referendum possible soon after the next general election - predicting the date remains guesswork.

PR work surrounding the issue will, however, continue apace. The highest-profile organisation lobbying in favour of joining is Britain in Europe; the main opposition is the No Campaign, which was formed from organisations such as Business for Sterling and New Europe. There are also other organisations, such as the Bruges Group, which have been actively campaigning against the euro.

Campaign manager at the No Campaign James Frayne is frank in admitting his team 'can't influence what Blair and Brown will say', but is among those who believe the Government 'will begin a campaign to shift the polls in the late summer', adding: 'The spin on Brown's speech will be much more pro (euro membership than past announcements).

Britain in Europe head of campaign information Adrian McMenamin likewise admits that 'gone is the point when Cabinet members' minds can be changed'.

With respect to the world outside of Whitehall, both organisations have broadly similar PR tactics, relying on proactive media relations, rapid rebuttal, pamphlets and weekly email bulletins. Plus the occasional stunt, such as BiE's last month, when it visited Downing Street brandishing a banner with the slogan 'Has Tony got the bottle to call a euro referendum?'.

Frayne says much of his team's media relations work involves distilling '400-page OECD documents into two paragraphs' for easy consumption for 'favourable journalists'. Think-tank documents, plus French and German newspapers, are also scanned for anti-euro articles.

Frayne adds: 'The euro is basically a newsprint story. Broadcast is a problem, as the euro involves more complicated issues than they (broadcasters) usually go into, and we struggle to give them interesting pictures.'

Both BiE and the No Campaign have regional networks of activists that are heavily engaged in PR; for example, soliciting local businessmen to write to local papers.

McMenamin also cites consumer PR, such as a poll that compared prices in the Eurozone with Britain and was picked up by the Daily Mail: 'If we did a political story we'd get no show - but they took that.'

Another tabloid whose pages have recently been packed with stories urging a No vote is The Sun.

Deputy political editor George Pascoe-Watson says: 'I am sure Britain in Europe and the No Campaign are both professional and proficient organisations, but it seems to me that they only preach to the converted.'

Campaigning by the Government itself in respect of euro membership has proved somewhat controversial. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act set a £5m cap on spending by official 'yes' and 'no' campaigns in the months leading up to a referendum. The Government, however, is free to spend what it likes, and is only banned from actively promoting the euro 28 days before the vote.

Last November the No Campaign announced that it planned a legal challenge to the Act, and has raised £100,000 through its 'fair fight fund' to pay for potential lawyers' fees.

In addition to BiE and the No Campaign, a mass of other individuals and firms will seek to campaign for or against euro membership should a referendum be called. Those wishing to spend more than £10,000 on campaigning are obliged to register with the Electoral Commission, whose referendums planning team project manager Douglas Stewart says he has received 'around 100' enquiries in respect of registering to launch potential euro campaigns.

All these campaigners will analyse at length every permutation and nuance of forthcoming Blair and Brown statements on the euro.

But the full-on PR battle to swing wavering Britons' votes on euro membership will wait until Downing Street presents campaigners with that long-awaited referendum date.

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