Anyone poking fun at the European Commission has a serious competitor — the Commission itself.
Ursula von der Leyen’s job titles for members of her team — including commissioners for “An Economy That Works for People” and “Protecting the European Way of Life” — have been described as “slightly original and bizarre” (as well as proving controversial).
That hasn’t stopped the Directorate General for Satirical Memes and Sober Fun — DG MEME for short — developing quite a following on social media (13,000 on Facebook, 2,000 on Twitter), including Agriculture (and soon-to-be Trade) Commissioner Phil Hogan, former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta as well as MEPs, diplomats and Commission officials up to director general level.
“Sometimes you need a good portion of humor to survive the daily madness inside the EU institutions,” DG MEME’s director general told POLITICO over a pint of Luxembourgish beer. In classic Eurocrat fashion, he asked to remain anonymous because he earns his living in a real Commission department and fears that colleagues may no longer invite him to meetings in case he makes fun of them.
“We want to present the European institutions with a different way of communicating that reaches people … and have them talk about European politics,” said the man in his mid-thirties, who started the account in June last year.
Although DG MEME’s humor can be gentle, it hasn’t shied away from criticizing the hand that feeds it, including warning against an “apathetic communication strategy” ahead of the European election in May (it later started its own campaign to encourage voting).
“We cannot allow people like Marine Le Pen to dominate with their style of communication,” the anonymous DG MEME boss said. “Instead of always replying in a serious way, you have to also reply at an emotional level, make fun of them and show how ridiculous their points are.”
“The beauty of sarcasm is that you challenge the reader: Is this serious? What is the point behind? It makes people reflect about things,” he added.
DG MEME is operating in a crowded field of satirical social media accounts in the Brussels bubble (including Berlaymonster, American EU Dude, Martini Seltzermayr). As its name makes abundantly clear, it mostly uses memes to make its points.
Examples have included von der Leyen’s graphic designer-baiting org chart being turned into a dartboard, with darts in the segments for the Romanian, Hungarian and French nominees; using Margaritis Schinas’ occasional penchant for non-communication in his old role as chief Commission spokesperson to poke fun at his new job title; running a tweet by Valdis Dombrovskis through the “BlaBlaMeter” bullshit detection tool; and, for Valentine’s Day, creating an EU version of Cosmopolitan magazine.
However, working at DG MEME doesn’t only require a sense of humor and Photoshop skills.
“Fun is a very serious matter,” said chief Brexit memer Martina, who joined DG MEME earlier this year. “We have to make sure that the underlying facts are correct. We don’t want to spread fake news.”
Martina may be (half) anonymous now, but that will change when she takes part in the European Public Communication Conference (EuroPCom) on November 7 and 8, where she will be “memesplaining the potential of satire to senior communicators.”
The European Commission’s actual communication department has been taking notice.
“We really like them,” said Dana Manescu, head of social media at the Commission. “It’s constructive criticism. A sarcastic approach can help to communicate about EU politics. It’s fun, it’s good content, even though we probably couldn’t do the same.”
“They are welcome to join our social media team,” she added.