Media Cold War

BERLIN/BRUSSELS/TALLINN (Own report) - With a special "team" the EU is seeking to create a pro-western media audience in the East European countries and the Caucasus - including Russia - as was confirmed by the German government in its response to a parliamentary interpellation. The EU's "East StratCom Team" seeks to establish networks with journalists in the countries of the EU's "Eastern Partnerships," and in Russia. It is also developing "communication campaigns" systematically aimed at the populations of these countries. "Young people" and academics are among the specially targeted audiences. Overall, the EU team is focusing on the urban middle classes, which, in large sectors of Eastern Europe are pro-western oriented and had significantly supported Ukraine's Maidan protests. Asked about the orientation of these activities, officially labeled as "support for media freedom," the German government has explained that the purpose is to "communicate" one's own position to the public, like the PR-work of governments, parties, and associations. The government has also confirmed that the EU team will examine the East European activities of Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, for possible "synergy effects."

Strategic Communication

The "EU team" for "strategic communication directed toward the countries of the Eastern Partnership and Russia" (EU's "East StratCom Team") was launched on the initiative of the EU foreign ministers (January 29, 2015), the German government has confirmed in its response to a parliamentary interpellation by the Left Party in the German Bundestag. On March 19, the European Council had officially commissioned EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, to prepare an "Action Plan on Strategic Communication" to counter Moscow. In early April, the European External Action Service (EEAS), led by Mogherini, began to establish the team and elaborate an "Action Plan," which was presented by Mogherini on June 22. The document describes the work of the team, which was officially launched on September 1. It is formally integrated in EEAS' "Strategic Communication Division" and has about ten functionaries, who had previously worked in other EU institutions or for EU member states. The German government is emphasizing its "working contacts to all members" of the EU's "East StratCom Team."[1]

Classical PR

As described in the "Action Plan on Strategic Communication" the EU's "East StratCom Team" will not only be activated in relationship to the EU's "Eastern partners" [2] but also "beyond," which, according to the German government, is referring to Russia. The "Action Plan" calls for the team to draw up dossiers on themes in which the EU is being unfavorably depicted from the outside, or in which Brussels is victim of "disinformation campaigns."[3] The German government has confirmed that this is aimed at "transmitting to the public" the substantial position of the EU, "like the public relations of governments, parties, associations etc."[4] - therefore, classical PR. The EU's "East StratCom Team" will place their PR products at the disposal of the EU's political leadership, press services, EU delegations, and EU Member States, according to the "Action Plan." This means that Brussels will be given a strictly coordinated public image.

Communication Campaigns

In addition, the EU's "East StratCom Team" is to develop "communication campaigns," targeting "key audiences" focused on specific issues deemed "of relevance" to those audiences, including "local issues." The German government specifies "the local population" as an important targeted audience. The EU's "Action Plan" specifies other targeted audiences: "young people," "members of academia" (including scholarship holders of the "Erasmus plus" program) and "civil society." Therefore, the focus is on urban middleclass milieus, who, in large parts of Eastern Europe, nourish hopes of advancing through cooperation with the West. Ukraine's urban middleclass was the backbone of the Maidan protests.[5]

Media Networks

Furthermore, the EU's "East StratCom Team" is to establish networks with disseminators in Eastern Europe, to "maximize the impact and effectiveness of its communications activities."[6] "Journalists and media representatives" are named as central components of these networks, whose objective, according to the "Action Plan," is "to better communicate EU policy." Journalists from the region will receive targeted training "to better enable them to report on issues of relevance to local populations." In addition, they will become part of a network of journalists from other East European countries. The "Action Plan" includes "maintaining contacts also to civil society actors." The EU delegations in the targeted countries should support the coordination of these efforts. These networks are explicitly aimed at carrying out political activities. They are intended to "act as advocates for local reform efforts," according to the "Action Plan." Financial support, as the German government explains, will not come from the EU team, but rather be provided "by various financial instruments of the European Commission as well as by EU member states."

Cooperation with NATO

NATO is also one of the EU's "East StratCom team's" cooperation partners. The German government admits that the Task Force is working with the Center of Excellence for Strategic Communication (CoE StratCom) headquartered in Latvia's capital, Riga. Though "until now, there has been no official cooperation," explains Markus Ederer, State Secretary in the German Foreign Ministry, "however, contact is maintained for technical purposes and for an exchange of information." The EU's "East StratCom team" sends "weekly reports on Russian information activities to the CoE StratCom."[7]

More Important than Tanks

According to the German government, the EU's "East StratCom Team" is exploring possibilities of cooperation with the state-financed Deutsche Welle. The team has already "developed a panorama" of the Deutsche Welle's activities in Eastern Europe - with the intention of "identifying possible synergic effects and thereby contributing to more coherence," explained State Secretary, Ederer. The Deutsche Welle, has appreciably expanded its activities in the Baltic countries - targeting the Russian-speaking minorities with their broadcasts. These minorities are massively discriminated against, particularly in Estonia and Latvia. Because of their close personal ties to Russia, they are suspected of potential disloyalty. ( reported.[8]) In May, for example, the Deutsche Welle entered a cooperation agreement with Estonia's ERR public radio station, in which the Deutsche Welle would provide its Russian-language broadcasts and advanced training to ERR journalists. September 28, together with ETV+, ERR launched Estonia's first Russian-language television channel. It is reported that, in its efforts to counter the influence of Russian Media on Estonia's Russian-speaking minorities, ETV+ is not only benefiting from the support of the Deutsche Welle, but also that of NATO. According to a report broadcast by the German public ARD TV channel, NATO is financing the technical furnishings of its regional studios. There is a good reason for ERR's Assistant Director, Ainar Ruussaar, declaring that "today, journalism can be more important than a tank."[9]

Please find excerpts from the "Action Plan on Strategic Communication" here.

[1] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Dr. Alexander Neu, Andrej Hunko, Wolfgang Gehrcke, Inge Höger, Niema Movassat u.a. und der Fraktion Die Linke. Berlin, 22.10.2015.
[2] Die "Östliche Partnerschaft" der EU umfasst Belarus, die Ukraine, Moldawien, Georgien, Armenien und Aserbaidschan.
[3] Action Plan on Strategic Communication. Ref. Ares(2015)2608242 - 22/06/2015. Excerpts can be found here.
[4] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Dr. Alexander Neu, Andrej Hunko, Wolfgang Gehrcke, Inge Höger, Niema Movassat u.a. und der Fraktion Die Linke. Berlin, 22.10.2015.
[5] See Umsturz per Krise.
[6] Action Plan on Strategic Communication. Ref. Ares(2015)2608242 - 22/06/2015.
[7] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Dr. Alexander Neu, Andrej Hunko, Wolfgang Gehrcke, Inge Höger, Niema Movassat u.a. und der Fraktion Die Linke. Berlin, 22.10.2015.
[8] See Strategische Kommunikation.
[9] "Wichtiger als Panzer". 26.10.2015.