BRUSSELS--A consortium of communications firms has been enlisted to make the case for EU enlargement, as Croatia prepares for its accession to the regional bloc.

The Holmes Report understands that Grayling, as part of a consortium led by Brussels agency ESN, is to lead the public relations component of the multi-million euro programme, amid growing ‘Euroscepticism’.

Grayling’s task is two-fold. First to help smooth over criticism of Croatia’s 2013 accession and, second, to support the EU’s broader enlargement goals, which include adding numerous countries, particularly from the Balkan region.

Croatia’s EU entry has been dogged by criticism of its competition laws, judiciary and human rights record. The country is set to become the 28th EU member state next summer, but was warned in a recent EU report that it must “do its homework.”

Other potential candidate countries include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Turkey and Iceland. In addition to making the case for these countries among EU member states, Grayling is also charged with promoting the benefits of EU membership amid continued economic malaise.

According to tender documents released last year, the EU is aiming to “counteract possible myths and misconceptions” about its enlargement policy. The overall campaign is worth as much as 20m over four years, and calls on firms to “demonstrate the value of the enlargement process taking on board concerns and preoccupations of EU citizens…in light of recent developments.”

While EU enlargement has not proved controversial in earlier years, the Eurozone crisis has increased concerns about pressure on EU budgets from newer member states. In addition, some critics believe enlargement dilutes the EU’s founding vision.

In light of issues such as these, the tender states that “the main challenge is to demonstrate that the accession of new members will be a source of enrichment for the EU.” The programme is overseen by the European Commission’s Directorate-General (DG) for Enlargement, which did not respond to request for comment. 

Target audiences include “the general public”, along with opinion leaders such as media, the youth, regional authorities and the business community.