Shut Euro 'propaganda outlets', critics demand

February 6, 2004

Eurosceptic politicians are demanding the closure of "propagandist" pro-European centres at UK universities as soon as their European Union funding runs out.

The UK Independence Party and other critics say universities and taxpayers should not have to support the UK's 15 Jean Monnet centres, which they describe as "propaganda outlets".

The centres, set up as part of an international network of 86 centres charged with stimulating debate on the European construction process at local and regional level, were given funding from the European Commission for three years.

This was backed by a commitment from host universities to maintain teaching activities created through the project for a further four years. But many centres are now approaching the point when they must be self-financing.

The centres have long been criticised by the UKIP, which sees them as an instrument for closer European integration.

Universities UK last year commissioned an internal report - still unpublished - after Graham Booth, the UKIP's MEP for the South West, raised questions about the centres.

Fellow UKIP MEP Jeffrey Titford said: "I sincerely hope the centres will rapidly close when their Brussels funding runs out. They have served as very thinly disguised propaganda outlets for the European Commission. They have been involved in a massive selling exercise of the highly contestable alleged benefits of European integration.

"When the nation's outright opposition to further integration with the EU is being signalled in poll after poll, these centres are an affront. It would be outrageous if any further monies were taken from taxpayers or from hard-pressed university budgets to fund them in the future."

Jo Shaw, professor of European law at the University of Manchester and chair of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies, said the centres had been important.

But she added: "Universities are generally rather reluctant to provide the type of continuation funding that would be important to consolidate the gains the centres have triggered.

"Looked at from the point of view of a learned society, we don't see any particular reason to be worried or a drop in enthusiasm for the subject."

"Membership is increasing, especially among the next generation of scholars, and submission rates to our journal are rising - factors that tend to indicate research vitality," she said.

But Juliet Lodge, director of the centre at the University of Leeds and professor of European politics, fears for undergraduate and postgraduate study when the programme's initial funding runs out.

"If Britain wants to play an influential role in Europe, it is foolhardy to ignore the centres or to allow academic prissiness to undermine the role they could play in increasing Britain's prosperity," she said.

  • Universities UK has launched a dedicated European Unit to brief universities on the Bologna process. It will also offer guidance on the growing body of EU legislation affecting the sector.

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