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Konrad Werner: Neelie Kroes, she’s really cross

Who's your favourite EU commissioner? Konrad's is Neelie Kroes, because she wants us to roam free.

Image for Konrad Werner: Neelie Kroes, she's really cross
Photo by re:publica 2013 (Flickr CC)

Heads must roll at the EU’s public relations team. Whatever the plan currently being pursued by the Brussels PR department is, the “make it look like we’re faceless, merciless machines that spew paper and suck joy out through a small hole in the back of humanity’s neck” strategy isn’t working very well. Maybe the focus group was skewed in some way. Maybe it was a room full of sugar-jacked nine-year-olds, a demographic that has always been consistently in favour of evil blood-sucking robots and apocalyptic destruction.

Whatever method the PR bods used to hit on their current agenda, they should change tack now, for the wave of Europhobia sweeping the continent must be resisted. What they need to do is make the day-to-day work of EU commissioners more accessible. Maybe a set of Top Trumps would help – “My Olli Rehn has been to more selection hearings than your Günther Oettinger! Hand him over!” “Ah, but look, Connie Hedegaard has more feasible climate change policies than Siim Kallas.” Okay fine, it was just an idea – but the point is that the UKIP-type, anti-euro, nationalist “libertarian” bloc, which is winning the battle for the populist soul, has got it ass-backwards. The EU is not the evil empire; it’s the centre of the resistance.  

The shadowy Skynet corporations like Google and Facebook and Amazon and Vodaphone are on the other side, hunting us down with their multi-eyed sentinel drones, plotting ways to shackle us to the matrix, while people like Neelie Kroes, a 71-year-old Dutch lady who is also EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, is the Laurence Fishburne-type guru, giving us the blue pill (or is it the red pill? That’s not the point). Only it doesn’t look like a blue pill, it looks more like a heavy ring-binder containing a scrupulously thought-out antitrust legislation proposal that has to be translated into 27 languages. In a world of multinational companies we need multinational governments, for while the anti-euro lobby frets about poor immigrants sneaking across borders, there are bigger creatures out there who barely notice the borders as they stride across them. “You are a company that says you ‘do no evil’. And I think that you do do evil,” as one British MP put it.

Meanwhile, Neelie Fishburne, a guerrilla with a popgun, occasionally shoots a dart that makes the internet corporations at least tell us when they’re bleeding our money. But this week Kroes, flanked invisibly by Keanu Reeves and John Connor, possibly on motorbikes, hatched a more ambitious plan – to stop phone companies from extracting those arbitrary roaming charges out of your bank account whenever you dare cross a national border. (It was the EU, you remember, that forced those corporations to send you a text message telling you how much the roaming charges are in the first place.) The libertarians keep going on about freedom, but imagine a world without roaming charges. Wouldn’t that be freer? Wouldn’t you feel freer to roam?

I know that there are plenty of flaws in the EU – the parliament, for example, which is the only directly-elected bit of it – should have more power to legislate. But at least it’s A TINY BIT more democratic than being ruled by a multinational. While the anti-EU lobby yearns to curb the power of the governments we can at least partially elect, they urge those same governments to pass more power to the companies we can’t. At least, I never got a chance to vote for the CEO of Google, if he or she hasn’t already been replaced by some anonymous offshore server, floating serenely in the ocean.