The European Union is spending £3.8 billion a year on "propaganda" to win over its sceptical citizens, it is claimed.
As well as publishing a plethora of pamphlets and employing an army of public relations staff, the EU has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on teaching aids, school trips and even cartoons.
According to Lee Rotherham, the author of a new book which examines the EU's spending on its image, such initiatives are an "outrageous and cynical attempt to brainwash the young". The Europa Diary, a gift from the EU to schoolchildren, is one example cited by Mr Rotherham in Hearts & Minds: the Tax-funded PR Campaign to Make us Love Brussels.
The diary has been sent to 1.2 million pupils in more than 9,000 schools across Europe. Its calendar includes pages that describe the European Parliament as "the people's voice" and claims that the EU has "improved the quality of people's everyday lives".A version of the diary sent to Dutch schools describes the European Parliament as the "most important multi-national organ in the world".
Let's Explore Europe Together, an online teaching aid aimed at nine to 12-year-olds, describes the EU as a "really good plan that had never been tried before".
The European Parliament has also funded a cartoon called Operation Red Dragon, featuring a daring, fictitious MEP, Elisa Correr, who becomes "embroiled in a risky and fascinating adventure while in pursuit of her parliamentary activities".
She dodges assassins, hunts down a general who broke an arms embargo, and still has time to debate copyright law in Brussels. The text admits: "European Parliamentarians do not generally lead such dangerous lives ... nevertheless you can learn about the work of an MEP and other European institutions from the story."Indeed. After all, filling out an expenses form is hardly a walk in the park. You could get a paper cut!
On a personal note, some years ago I remember reading in a local newspaper of a visit by the execrable Keith Vaz to a local school, in his then capacity as Minister for Europe. The school buildings were festooned for the occasion with EU flags, and on his arrival, Vaz distributed chocolate Euros to the children. Recalling that, I was not at all surprised to read of this latest example of state-sponsored brainwashing in our schools.
In Italy, reports Mr Rotherham, children have been confronted by Camillo e l'Euro in Europa, a cartoon that champions the single currency.
Mr Rotherham said: "Much of this is outrageous propaganda cynically trying to brainwash the young into thinking the EU is an essential part of their lives.
"This stuff is relentlessly positive about the EU's work, with only the tiniest, if any, mention of the counter-arguments or any dissenting voices. Brussels realises it is losing people's hearts and minds and so it is spending more and more of our money on marketing material and hordes of press officers to champion its existence."
Europe's Best Successes, a 51-page pamphlet to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the EU, features lines such as "if you are lucky enough to be a citizen of the EU", and "young people have really benefited from the development of a borderless Europe".
Mr Rotherham also details extensive spending on umbrellas, mouse mats, pencils and other items branded with the EU logo - part of a £2.4 billion budget for European Commission "projects". He also reveals big grants to think-tanks and EU-funded trips to the European Parliament.
Using accounts from across the EU's five main institutions - the European Parliament, Council of Ministers, European Court of Justice, the EU Council and the European Court of Auditors - Mr Rotherham calculates that the total spent on "propaganda" last year across all member states was £3.8 billion out of an overall budget of about £84 billion. Britain contributes about £6.3 billion a year to the EU, more than any other member state.
Because that is what this is: brainwashing. I don't have a problem with children learning about the EU - indeed, I believe that it is positively essential that they do - but information with which they are provided must be fair and balanced, which is patently not the case at the moment. As I have documented here before (in respect of the homosexual penguins, for example), this kind of state-sponsored left-wing indoctrination is increasingly the norm in our schools. Rather than being taught to think critically, or being given the opportunity to hear and evaluate both sides of an argument, we increasingly see children being presented with only one-side of a hotly-contested issue, as if that side represented the absolute and undisputed truth. Commonly, this side and its advocates are idealised, while those who on the other side are vilified, and presented as almost pantomimic villains.
The particularly worrying thing about such propaganda is that it might very well work. We've all heard the phrase "get 'em while they're young". Well, that is exactly what the EU (and the global warming obsessives, and the promoters of "Black History Month", and all the other elements who seem unable or unwilling to distinguish education from indoctrination) are doing. There is a good chance that if they can get these children in their formative years, and tell them over and over and over again that the EU is a good, a marvellous, a wondrous, thing, that enriches our lives as much as mass immigration (a statement that is actually true), then by the time those children are adults they, or at least a large number of them, will accept it as an unchallengeable article of faith.