Sunday’s Greek referendum is now widely being seen as a verdict on the European project, but EU leaders in Brussels say they are doing nothing special to try to influence the outcome.
Apart from a couple of forceful statements from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Parliament President Martin Schulz shortly after the vote was announced, officials say there is no campaign or communications effort organized from EU level.
A post of Juncker’s speech on the Commission’s website, a #bettertogether hashtag launched by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe political group and rallies in Athens and Brussels held by Greek MEPs are the extent of the EU’s strategy — if there is a strategy at all.
There are roadblocks to any overt EU-level campaign to influence Greek voters. Commission officials say the institution is not allowed to use its €250 million per year communications budget to influence domestic political decisions. And pressure from Brussels, which has been portrayed as one of the key villains in the crisis by the Athens government, could be counter-productive.
When asked how the Commission plans to convince the Greeks to vote Yes on their recommendations for reform, Juncker’s spokesperson pointed to the president’s speech from Monday, in which he declared he would “never let the Greek people go down” and accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of “betrayal” for calling the referendum.
“His whole transcript is for the world to see. We’re not in a campaign,” said Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas. “The Commission does not have a communication policy in this area. Our institution has a clear position on this issue. It was presented by President Juncker very clearly.”
At a meeting later on Monday of the “G5”, a group of leaders from the European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats in the Parliament and Commission who confer on how to set the EU agenda, it was agreed that top officials should “openly speak in favor of Yes,” according to a Parliament source. But nothing more was planned.
Officials in the Commission delegation based in Greece also said they are doing “absolutely nothing” to promote the Yes campaign, though a spokesman said he had uploaded Juncker’s speech to the delegation website and tweeted commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos’ remarks in support of the referendum to a Greek paper.
“We’re disseminating information in a limited way,” said spokesperson Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordejuela. “We’re not going on TV or radio station or so on. We’re using the implements we normally have, the Twitter account and website, that’s all.”