Public Sector: EU fights apathy with information centres

The European Union is aiming to boost public awareness of its activity with an information service for member states.

A network of centres - branded Europe Direct - opened on 1 May and will provide free telephone, internet and face-to-face counsel on EU law, programmes and policies, as well as treaty texts, including the European Constitution.

Some countries' centres will also provide a dedicated TV channel for EU news from Europe by satellite.

The move is designed to stimulate debate about the EU and its policies, and to allow the EU to tailor information to individual country needs, according to a spokeswoman.

It aims to tackle public apathy on European issues, demonstrated by the low turnout in last year's European elections.

The UK has opted out of hosting any centres but the phone and internet service is supplied from the hub centre in Brussels by 30 multi-lingual staff.

Europe Direct has 400 centres across 24 states. Services are offered in each country's native language and managed by chambers of commerce, local authorities, businesses and NGOs.

The centres are located in capital cities and in the regions and are a joint initiative between the European Commission and national governments.

Germany hosts the most centres with 47, followed by Spain with 43 and Italy and France, both with 39.

Poland, Finland and Sweden all have 23 centres while Hungary has 20.

Typical users of Europe Direct include students researching essays, entrepreneurs looking for funding, professionals seeking advice on EU directives and pensioners wanting advice on emigrating to an EU country other than their own.

The scheme is estimated to cost the EU EUR10m per year (£6.8m).

The European Parliament called in broadcast specialist agency Quadrant in March to lift interest in EU politics among Britons (PRWeek, 18 March).

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has hired Geronimo PR to inform the UK public on the forthcoming constitution and is managing a campaign promoting Britain's presidency of the EU, which starts on 1 July.

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