Back in the end of January the Commission admin decided that, along with the European Voice and various news sources, to try a three month trial of dumping Belgian newspaper "Tribune de Bruxelles" onto official's desks. The idea was that there would be a three month trial, followed by a consultation with staff. Five months later the paper is still being dumped and this is causing ructions. The first complaints were naturally linguistic, it is in French, and thus the Flemish were upset. Then people began to notice that the paper's previous 'constructive critical' line of EU doings had been replaced with slavish obeisance to all things European. After all access to the officials is one hell of a selling point to advertisers.
That is bad enough but in the last few weeks things have become even more serious.
The Tribune is without a shadow of doubt a paper which supports the MR. In the current edition, prominent on the front page is a delightful ad for Frederique Ries, currently an MEP and also standing for the MR in the elections. Rumours abound that DG Admin has been under pressure from Mr Michel's team to continue the experiment.
Comments on the Commission's internal debate forum are getting pretty heated,
"If free press exists in Belgium, it would be my guess that it is temporarily nonexistent at the rue des Francs / Frankenstraat 79 in Brussels (Address of the Tribune)".
"free distribution of this paper is just not desirable"
"Are you an EC official working in Brussels and entitled to participate in the upcoming (June 10th) Belgian elections - and are you still undecided who to vote for? Then DG ADMIN has a suggestion for you! Why not consider bestowing your favours on Ms. Frédérique Ries (MR), whose portrait and electoral slogan adorn the front page of the latest issue of the 'Tribune de Bruxelles' – the commercial weekly which
(four months after the distribution of the infamous first issue, and almost one month after the expiry of the so-called "trial period") continues to be delivered to your doorstep through the tacit but very active complicity of our Administration…
Thank you, DG ADMIN, for having behaved from the very start and for continuing to behave, in the matter of the 'Tribune', with shameless disregard for even the most elementary ethical standards".
"I totally agree with the arguments put forward by our colleagues... on the political bias shown by "La Tribune de Bruxelles". Contrary to what some CenD readers might think, such bias doesn't stop at splashing Frédérique Ries's photogenic features on its front cover: anybody who's cast even a cursory glance at the Tribune over the last few months, if not further back, will know that its sympathies are, publicly and unequivocally, with the MR, and that it is very critical, sometimes virulently so, of both the CdH and (especially) the PS.
...I do not think it is the job of the European Commission to interfere in the electoral process by distributing propaganda of whatever type or colour inside its buildings. The Commission must remain above the political squabbles of our host country...The Commission must not only stay neutral, but, most importantly, be seen to stay neutral, when it comes to Belgian political life, and to elections in particular. It dismays me to observe that our Administration is now prepared to jettison such a fundamental principle, apparently at the behest of one trade union (to which admittedly it owes a couple of favours). This affair, moreover, goes beyond questions of abstract principle: let's not forget that Belgians (i.e. people who might be tangibly affected by the propaganda) represent quite a large percentage of staff in the Commission. There is also the not exactly irrelevant matter of our present Belgian Commissioner's political affiliation. What if at least a section of Belgian public opinion, the media and rival parties started accusing the Commission of trying to help M. Michel's political side? Does the Administration really want to become involved in this type of controversy? Is the mutual back-scratching with R&D really worth the potential embarrassment?"
Well, does it? If Michel, (who it is thought has recently had a balloon inserted in his belly to cut his own emissions) is encouraging the Admin to dawdle then this is a scandal of serious proportions. It could of course be cock up rather than conspiracy, but like most cock ups in the EU, it cocks up in the preferred direction.