Holy bureaucrat! It's Captain Euro!
The staff at Twelve Stars think they have cracked the European Union's image dilemma. Having put aside a fair amount of their own resources to tackle the issue, they not only know the problems, but believe they have the answers.
Over the past six years, Twelve Stars has thrown itself into understanding the EU. Consultancy president Nicolas De Santis describes his motives as a mixture of philanthropy and self-promotion. Certainly the group has strong European credentials: its Spanish president rebranded the European Parliament, its offices are populated with 20 nationalities, and even its name reflects its support of a united Europe.
De Santis claims to, "have met everyone there is to meet" in connection with Europe - civil servants, politicians, even the founding fathers of the continent's institutions.
His group's research into the EU's identity crisis has unearthed many of the same problems outlined in the Demos report's initial findings last week. With Interbrand Newell and Sorrell's financial backing, the think-tank is collating the report Making Europe Popular: The Search for European Identity. The report's author Mark Leonard describes a continent where citizens are not only ignorant of, but also indifferent to, the EU (DW 13 February).
Twelve Stars' quantitative and qualitative research has thrown up the same attitudes: De Santis has found that the EU is seen as "boring, over-complicated and political. It is totally intangible".
But this attitude fluctuates, he says, depending on factors such as individual economies. "Most countries use Europe as a scapegoat," says De Santis, and cites the exemplar British beef crisis.
Such fluctuations do not lend themselves to a symbol around which all EU citizens can consistently rally. The 12-star flag is here to stay, but as a symbol it does not communicate the messages of Europe, De Santis maintains.
The introduction of a new symbol or identity, as hinted at by Mark Leonard, would never be agreed to, according to De Santis. It is unfeasible that the 15 parliaments of 15 nations would be able to concur on any new identity.
The real trick is to communicate the message of Europe. Twelve Stars thinks it can do this through a website, using the mascot Captain Euro. "We are not asking for a consensus, we are providing a medium which people can access," says De Santis. This idea supports EU commissioner for transport Neil Kinnock's comment last week that "explanation" is what is needed.
The comic strip adventures of Captain Euro and his team, which includes a continental wolf, are aimed primarily at children. But Twelve Stars claims the concept appeals to adults too, and hopes it will explain the positive aspects of the EU to everyone. "The message has to be subliminal - entertainment rather than a lecture," says De Santis.
The main thrust of the stories is about protecting Europe's diversity, which is viewed as a strength if managed properly.
Captain Euro has been conceived as an authoritative figure who, in various story lines, combats the "enemy within" - the forces which want to divide Europe.
The plots, devised by script writers, are peopled with "goodies" who non-aggressively overcome a cast of "baddies", led by
Dr D Vider. Both sets of characters include members of Europe's ethnic minorities and the action takes place in real locations dealing with real issues.
The site is initially in English with a number of European words thrown in, and four or five other languages will be up and running by the end of the year.
The website will contain neither politics nor propaganda, two things the focus group was keen to avoid. For that reason it will not be linked to any institution. However, an unnamed European royal family and a rock group are endorsing the programme.
Twelve Stars hopes to develop the website as a forum where the issues and image of the EU can be debated. In this way it will be possible to monitor any change in perceptions, says De Santis.
More Twelve Star products, including the introduction of further brands, will follow. A CD-ROM, Captain Euro club and merchandising will also be introduced, to fund the project.
The site, at captain-euro.com, will launch in April. It remains to be seen whether the virtual captain will have a character appealing enough to rally the European troops.