Recently as part of my work covering bureaucracies around the world, I came across a story that I almost dismissed after reading the opening paragraph — the near bankrupt Kano State Government in Nigeria was being given seven new vehicles for one of its Ministries courtesy of the European Union.
Initially, it seemed rather humdrum; nothing of any great interest — but then I began to wonder why it had failed to grab my attention and realised that it was just one of a number of similar items that come across my desk almost every week.
Business as usual for Brussels, but in this case crucial for the workings of the Kano Government and scores of other jurisdictions around the world that are extremely grateful the EU exists.
Just this week the European Commission launched a project to address the root causes of the refugee migration from Africa that will involve some 250 migrants from Burkina Faso, Mali and Gambia being given vocational training. Some at least will be able to take their new found skills back to their original countries where they have a better chance of decent employment.
It is not widely known that the EU is the second largest aid donor in the Pacific region after Australia. Recently, the President of Kiribati was in Brussels to sign a six-year assistance plan for the island nation, supported by the European Development Fund.
The EU is also backing Indonesia’s efforts to stop illegal logging with a program that will boost the exports of legally-produced timber into Europe. In the Caribbean and Latin America, the EU has a $100 million program to support sustainable development, including a transition to green energy production, strengthening institutions and helping the growth of small business.
And in Greenland — yes Greenland — Brussels is running a significant education and vocational training project for that Arctic territory’s young people.
It is examples like this — and there are many others — that make me ever so slightly irritated when people ask me what good the EU is to anybody.
But I would have to say the EU is its own worst enemy when it comes to its ability to blow its own trumpet. The kind of information I have just outlined is often buried on its websites under uninspiring headlines and in media releases couched in dense, bureaucratic language. It needs to hire a good PR firm.
This kind of lacklustre presentation plays into the hands of populist campaigns that rely heavily on appeals to the emotions, while disregarding hard facts. The United Kingdom may already be a lost cause, but Brussels needs to hit back hard against the rising tide of extreme right rhetoric and its claim to have easy answers to complex questions.
In the last six decades the EU has been an outstanding force for good, both in curbing the rabid nationalism which had devastated the continent in wars over and over again, and in its aid among less fortunate countries in the Third World.
It needs to tell that story, and tell it more aggressively. The gloves must come off.