Dave Keating, an American journalist living in London but working in Brussels has a long post on his ‘Gulf Stream Blues’ blog about the sorry state of reporting – and understanding of – EU issues in the UK.
Commenting on the extensive UK coverage of the BNP MEPs taking their seats:
It was yet another illustration of how much the British media don’t understand how the EU works. Faced with the challenge of having to explain the complexities in the formation of a new parliament, they preferred to go with the easy “British fascist takes a seat” story.
And then on the coverage of the ‘will Blair be president of the EU’ story:
Their inclination for the easy story was again born out later in the week when Gordon Brown is nominating Tony Blair to be the first “president of Europe” (should such a position be created by the passing of the Lisbon Treaty) further demonstrated the astonishing ignorance of the British on all things European. Last night on Question Time, an audience member asked the guests whether Tony Blair would make a good European president. The panel, composed of senior politicians and journalists, proceeded to descend into a string of bizarre statements that betrayed the fact that they actually didn’t know what the new president position is. For that matter, they didn’t seem to know much of anything about the EU at all
Unfortunately this is all too true – as someone who works on both UK and EU level, it is shocking how little people in the UK know about the EU. This is even true of people at quite senior levels in UK politics-related jobs, who will say things like ‘but the parliament doesn’t actually have any power, does it?”… which was true 15 years ago, but isn’t now.
He believes (and I agree) that a key problem is how people learn about the EU. The media is a common source of information across Europe:
The British media do a notoriously horrible job reporting on Europe. The EU is hardly ever mentioned in British news outlets, and when it is, the reports on it are rife with inaccuracy.
Then there is the question of education, where he uses some anecdotal information to suggest that education about the EU in UK schools is (still) virtually non-existent, in contrast to schools on the continent:
So I asked a friend of mine who teaches in a secondary school here if EU civics is now being taught in school. I was shocked by his response. “Nope, nothing,” he answered matter-of-factly. “Not even in a civics class? Or a government course?” I asked. “I’ve definitely never heard of it being taught,” he answered.
This situation seems rather incredible to me. ..It’s a huge disservice to the students who will have to live in a framework where those laws made at the federal level will have a huge impact on their lives, and they will have no idea how they’re made.
I think there is also another important factor – the EU institutions, particularly the parliament, are evolving quite rapidly, so even if you were taught at school about the EU (or the ‘Common Market’), it is likely that what you where told is now out of date.
For the Parliament’s role, the key change in the last 15 years has been the creation and then extension of the ‘Codecision Procedure‘, which allows the Parliament to co-legislate with EU Governments – i.e. the two sides must reach a compromise to finish a law. I have a brief description of this process on the ‘How are EU laws created‘ page.