Tag: journalism (page 1 of 3)

How to make the EU more confusing

Here is a quick guide on how to make the EU more confusing:

Step 1:  Name Take two institutions with entirely different roles and give them deceivingly similar names. “Council” sounds vague enough, and who would guess that “European Council” and “Council of the EU”, or simply “Council” (as the Treaties helpfully name it) or “EU Council” (a Twitter compromise) can refer to different institutions? This is a smart move also because the term “Council” is easily linked to other organisations, that have nothing to do with the EU, most significantly the “Council of Europe”. There you go: the perfect premise of confusion.

Step 2: Architecture  In the chaotic architectural landscape of the EU quarter in Brussels, choose to place both institutions in the same building (give them the same General Secretariat and Legal Service, as a bonus). Then build a new one and – surprise, surprise – let both of them use it.

Step 3: Institutional identity. Because the EU is so complex already, aim to reduce this complexity. Explain the roles of each of the two institutions and give them an individual identity? Wrong guess. Design a common logo and build a website that serves both of them: like this, things will look simple. No one really cares that one institution has a crucial legislative role while the other is basically a summit of political leaders that takes place a few times a year. All it matters is that they are now a “family”. A family of 28 governments “making decisions”, to quote their (common) social media outlets. Again, it’s a small detail that some of these decisions are actually EU legislation while others are political statements. Better not to confuse citizens with such minor details.

Step 4: Communication strategy. Now you have a tough choice to make: talk about the busy daily legislative work of one of the Council configurations, that might be boring and definitely not sexy enough to make headlines, but with an important impact on EU citizens’ lives, or be in the spotlight a few times a year while covering the “#euco”. In the end, it does not matter too much, by now you managed to confuse everyone from academics to journalists and lobbyists –  in Brussels and elsewhere. And we are not even talking about “normal citizens” anymore. Well done! (And we have not even mentioned the ‘Eurogroup’ or the ‘Foreign Affairs Council’…)

While it might sound like satire, this is unfortunately a reality that I, as a researcher and lecturer on EU affairs, am finding more and more frustrating. Explaining to students the difference between the European Council and the Council of the EU feels like an academic battle between facts (i.e. the roles of each institution mentioned in the Treaties: art 15 TEU for the European Council and article 16 TEU for the Council of the EU) and a now unified and superficial institutional communication. Trying to correct wrong statements (coming sometimes – too often!- from within the EU bubble) feels like a pedantic exercise, since being rigorous is just perceived as giving too much attention to minor details. But this is also a question of accountability. Who makes decisions? Who is to blame? The ‘family approach’ with a focus on the European Council does not help citizens to understand EU decision making – it only reinforces the perceived distance between leaders coming to Brussels (always in black limousines) and, well, the rest of us. The role of the rotating Presidency and the meetings of the Working Groups or COREPER are easily fading away when placed in the same “bucket” with the shiny Prime Ministers that make an appearance in Brussels every few months for a day or two. It’s not hard to see who is the winner of this communication strategy and the total confusion it generates. The European Council has been gaining both political significance and visibility since the Lisbon Treaty (and the introduction of the permanent President) and the so-called “Euro crisis”. The “family approach” just reinforces the de-facto power grab of the European Council within the EU institutional setup. The aim of this communication approach seems obvious: relagating the Council of the EU to a mere preparatory body of the European Council.

Project idea: Watching Trialogues

Trialogues have become one of the most used decision-making tools in the EU system. On the one hand they create a convenient shortcut for EU institutions to speed up lengthy decision-making procedures – on the other hand they are non-transparent, undemocratic, secret – and  create a system without a sense of accountability. The biggest problem that we – the citizens – have is that we simply don’t  know much about trialogues, as this excellent piece in the EUobserver explains:

Search for any mention of trialogues in the EU treaties and you will draw a blank. This is because despite being an accepted part of the lawmaking landscape, in legal terms trialogues don’t exist. All trialogue meetings are informal and the timing of the meetings are not known to most MEPs, let alone the ordinary public. There are no formal minutes taken. Some are over within a few minutes. Others can go on all day and well into the night.

In the coming years we may see some institutional changes in the system as VP Frans Timmermans has identified the practice of ‘trialogues’ as a problem that should be tackled. (btw:  if David Cameron was *really* interested in genuine ‘EU reform’ this would be an issue to begin with…)

The trialogue issue is about transparency and accountability. As a citizen I simply want to know who is responsible for a deal,  who suggested what compromise text  – and I want to know why certain things disappear from a legislative proposal. Yes, this is something  journalists should do – but it is also an institutional problem as we basically have no public record of trialogues, we don’t know anything about it:  What is on the agenda of those meetings? When do they happen? Where do they happen? Who participates? What was agreed?

So, to put some pressure on EU institutions to change the practice of trialogues, here is a quick project idea – combining journalism, activism as well as the willingness among insiders to share/leak some of the data. What do we need?

We need ‘Trialogue Watch’!

The aim would be to set-up a website/blog that tracks trialogues and which would provide a simple crowdsourced data set about those meetings:  date of the meeting, invited participants, topic / agenda of the meeting…

In a second step this could be linked with the respective legislative proposal and a summary of the outcome of each meeting. This would require a regular stream of leaks – and a number of journalists whose job it would be to chase participants and write up quick blog posts about each meeting. (Well, here is a problem: “on average, around 25 separate trialogue meetings take place each week“)

How to do it:  We would need a website that allows anonymous submissions of basic trialogue data (see above). For the website we would need some coders and someone who would like to host and do some website admin. Then we would need to get the data from somehwere – and this will be the problem. So yes, I am looking at you: MPs and MP assistants who think it should be in the  interest of the EU to publish basic data about trialogues (preferably also minutes of meetings) But I am also thinking of journalists who hear about a trialogue from some contacts within the EU institutions. The aim is to have some sort of calendar which tracks trialogue meetings and gives us names, topics and dates. This would allow the public to get at least a basic idea of what’s going on and who is responsible for the decisions.

The real aim?

The aim behind the project is to show EU institutions how and why they should reform the system. It could be an experiment to put pressure on EU institution with two simple messages: Look at what can  be done without you – and yes, there are people out there who care about it – so do get your act togehter.

There are several options for the EU: trialogues could simply be abolished, the EU could ‘institutionalise’ trialogues as a normal decision-making tool or they could at least  increase transparency.

So if EU institutions copy our little ‘trialogue watch’ and start offering basic data on these meetings our job would be done! (and we could move on to evaluate the content of the deals reached via trialogues!)

So – who’s in?

PS: Feel free and contact me if you are interested in getting involved (or if you know of a similar project elsewhere!) I am not sure I would have time to really work on this project but I am happy to organise a first meeting or facilitate some sort of online exchange.

6 ideas for innovative EU journalism

Simple questions often make you think. Example: What is missing in EU journalism? What sort of innovative journalistic products do we need that would  innovate and improve reporting about the EU? Forget business models and organisational restraints for a moment – here are 6 ideas that would change the way we report the EU:

1. Cross-border and collaborative journalism

This is a no-brainer. The EU is about cross border issues. Reporting EU issues needs to go cross-border. However, this is not only about decision making processes (stories that take into account politics in Berlin and Paris are part of the reporting mix already); it is also about the effects of EU laws in different countries. For example: How did France and Italy transpose a certain directive – as opposed to Germany? What sort of effects can be observed? Is it working? And if not, why is it not working? This can get pretty complex so you would need teams of journalists from different countries that look into specific issues possibly teaming up with regulatory experts. Of course there are some promising examples of collaborative, cross-border journalism in Europe (see here or here)  – but this can only be the beginning. Cross-border journalism is also about networking and finding ways to cooperate with journalists from across Europe in order to develop joint story ideas. Not everything needs to be as explosive and high profile as  Lux Leaks or Swiss Leaks –  smaller projects involving only 2 journalists from two countries may already be enough for a good cross-border story!

2. Explanatory journalism

I think journalists need to realise that they are dealing with a readership that suffers from a severe EU knowledge deficit. Lots of people are interested in EU topics – but most of thm don’t have that much background knowledge when it comes EU decision making.  A few years ago, Jay Rosen had a very interesting idea that is worth revisiting. The idea was simple: Readers ask journalists to explain complex issues. He thought about the sort of answers  one  cannot easily find on google, wikipedia or reddit.  Especially in a EU context this idea could  work: EU procedures are often complex, EU-related wikipedia articles are not always up-to date, EU websites are often confusing and full of EU jargon  – but many articles about the EU take a lot of things for granted. So why not invest time in formats that simply explain EU issues? Forget the long analysis pieces, 600 words may be enough to explain something.  This could be a nice daily column in any newspaper, a good TV/ radio format or a useful online resource. It could also be used as a tool to facilitate a conversation between readers and journalists about what kind of EU issues need to be explained.

3. Podcasts

Producing a podcast is not rocket science. Podcasts are relatively easy to produce, the equipment needed is cheap and publishing it via itunes or other subscription services is simple and effective. Brussels  seems to be a largely podcast-free zone. Many people like podcasts because  it is something you don’t need to read. You can listen to it on the way to work or during a stroll through the park in your lunch break. However,  a great podcast needs a bit of planning, good contacts – and a good moderator. Here are a few ideas what sort of podcasts could make sense in a EU environment:

  • BXL version of Slate’s Political Gabfest or another podcast with an interesting mix of interviews and debates. Needs a good moderator and a good concept.
  • “EU Today” ( quick overview of the daily EU agenda: 10 minutes, published at 8am)
  • “The week in trade/agriculture/digital/foreign policy”: think tanks and associations could start producing weekly podcasts with interviews or summaries of what has happened in their respective policy area.
  • Interview podcasts can be produced by anyone: journalists, think tanks, PA agencies. There are so many events in Brussels everyday: grab one of those speakers and do a 10 minutes interview. Publish it. Done. As I said, it’s not rocket science!
  • ‘Explain me this’ – a podcast that answers one question about EU affairs (see above)

4. Policy journalism

EU decision making takes a bit of time. The same applies for good EU journalism. Especially when it is about legislative developments. Journalism that focuses on policy processes needs to develop a ‘memory’ which is often lost in the 24h news cycles. How to do this?  A simple addition to any online publication would be some sort timeline that puts an article into context: What policy area? Where exactly is the file in the legislative procedure? Who are the main actors? What has happened so far regarding this initiative? What will happen over the next few months? And don’t forget to link to original proposals, legislative texts and position papers (this is something that should be a standard by now – especially in online journalism…)

Another simple example how journalists could provide more context is to describe different positions. Who is lobbying? What do those lobbyists want? What does the NGO community want? Thumbs of Europe are doing a similar thing: short overviews of the main positions of relevant sectoral interests. This could easily be used in policy oriented journalism.

Opinion polls often show that people feel that ‘Brussels’ is far away. The question is whether a different sort of journalism could change this. Articles that explain the policy process (on a daily basis – not only once in a blue moon!), timelines that put things in perspective, clear descriptions of different interests, creating ‘policy memory’ among readers are a few simple tools that could make a difference. On a related note: ‘Giving context’ does not necessarily mean ‘adding an opinion’. Just report what’s going on – and let the reader decide what to think of it.

5. Legislative footprints: Amendments, lobbyists, diplomats

Investigative EU journalism needs resources, cross-border approaches and innovative ideas. The aim should be to find the ‘legislative footprint’ in EU law: who is influencing what and when? One example could be ‘monitoring MEP amendments’. This might sound cumbersome for journalists but after all, this is one the main jobs of MEPs. The process is relatively open – so why are we not paying closer attention? For example, look at reports like this. A local journalist could start tracking the activity of a local MEP. An investigative journalist could compare amendments with position papers by lobbyists or NGOs. It seems that only special interest blogs look at these sort of things and come up with posts like this. Finding  amendments however takes time – you need to dig into pdfs in the ‘work in progress’ section of the EP website, look for specific legislative initiatives/MEPs or know some helpful assistant in the EP. Developing a nice interface that allows searches across MEP names, legislative proposals, committees etc might be an interesting project for another hackathon. For the time being, you can also use VoteWatch or Parltrack which monitors the activity of MEPs – including amendments and voting records. Of course the problem here is the Council, the process how member states influence EU law is still not transparent enough. We actually need Lobbyplag type projects for all major policy initiatives – only then governments will stop saying one thing in Brussels and something else back home.

6. Data journalism

Data journalism is more than infographics. It’s a way to discover stories in unlikely places, and tell new stories. (need inspiration? Click here, here, here, herehere) Innovative EU journalism may be well advised to team up with EU hackathons  or develop more links with the tech community. There seem to be plenty of opportunities – from scraping off data from one of the biggest websites in the world (europa.eu) to using Eurostat data to its full extent. One of the biggest challenge will be to combine datasets from different countries. One of the questions may be how to connect opendata movements across Europe to develop data that can be accessed by journalists – and is useful for political journalism.

Bonus idea I: EU journalism ≠ foreign policy reporting

Newspapers / broadcasters in Europe should stop reporting *all* EU issues as ‘foreign policy’ (or to put it differently: war in Ukraine  = foreign policy, copyright reform = not foreign policy) The single market is not foreign policy. Brussels is also not ‘the other’, maybe it is more like a political suburb of your national capital. (ok, possibly not the greatest analogy)   Anyway, the point is that EU politics should be treated like normal domestic politics. This has nothing to do with ideology but with a different reporting mindset that will allow journalist to look for stories – and not only cover press conferences after summits. Most of what happens in Brussels is not *that* different from national politics when it comes to power, interests and processes. Yes, there are procedural differences – but at the end of the day it is normal politics.

Bonus idea II: Opinion vs Reporting

One of the basic principles of journalism is the strict separation between opinion and reporting. However, this line has been blurred and online journalism is part of the problem. Click bait strategies, the idea that ‘providing context’ means ‘giving an opinion’ and the use of misleading language has resulted in a situation in which  political journalism is more about confirming opinions than factual reporting.  We may also need to revisit our assessment of what exactly is newsworthy in EU politics: good journalism is also about accountability, we need to develop a political memory for EU decision making and give readers the chance to make up their mind about certain issues. It’s ‘back to basics’ for EU journalism: providing a regular, factual service to readers may be more important than opinionated commentary. It is questionable whether the future of political journalism really lies in the desperate attempt to find sexy headlines and in the belief that a more ‘tabloidy’ approach to news would be a good way to reconnect people with politics.

What is your favourite EU affairs newsletter?

It’s Friday afternoon – and for many of  us this is also the time of the week to tidy up the inbox. But wait a minute, are there actually newsletters you enjoy reading? If yes why?  I know email newsletters are so 1990s and we are all using twitter and RSS feeds. But we still (sort of) rely on some of the old school newsletters (I do for some press reviews in the morning – and I tend to keep track of a few selected organisations for various reasons). There is even talk about “the return of the newsletter“. And having found some beautifully curated newsletters lately (nope, not in the political arena), I was wondering what the ‘Brussels Bubble’ is reading.  Are there any  well written/interesting/ well curated daily/weekly/monthly newsletters on EU affairs that are worth reading?

You know the sort of press reviews you tend glance over in the morning or the weekly policy analysis digest that is really important for your sector – or is there an interesting curated newsletter that just comes with the right mix of EU topics?  Which organisation/institution/think tank/news service/consultancy sends out the best newsletter? Do you prefer a paid service – if yes which one (if I may ask)?  Or do you rely on the internal comms services of your institution?

It would be great to crowdsource a list of “must-read EU affairs newsletters” in the comments of this blog post.  Or  – if nothing springs to mind – what sort of EU related newsletter would you like to subscribe to?

So feel to share your favourite newsletters – or newsletter ideas below!

(PS: You can post your comment anonymously)

PSS: I also came across this Quartz Global Executive Study which sort of confirms the importance of email newsletters – at least for “Executives”. They (still) use newsletters as their primary news source, the inbox is a news homepage. For these “Executives” email is also the main social network. So time to rethink the newsletter concept?

Quartz_Global_Executives_Study_-_2015-02-06_10.41.41 Quartz_Global_Executives_Study_-_2015-02-06_09.17.19

Politico EU – Weckruf aus Washington?

Die Übernahme der European Voice zeigt: Politico und Springer haben Großes vor. Der Europajournalismus wird sich verändern. Doch Brüssel ist nicht Washington. Unterliegt Politico Europe am Ende einem Denkfehler?  Weiterlesen auf carta.

Do we really need EU reform? Or just different policies?

The most annoying feature of the EU debate these days is the claim that we need “EU reform” – and this widespread belief that a well developed reform agenda actually exists is some hidden drawer. (This post is not about the question whether there is a need for reform but it deals with the rhetorical phenomenon called ‘reform’ which is becoming a useless catch-all phrase)

Unfortunately very few ask the right questions  (journalists in particular don’t seem to be interested in the fine print) and wonder what “EU reform” actually means. Does it mean we need a new ‘reform treaty’ or do we simply want to change existing policies? Is it about the Eurozone or the EU? It is also telling that most commentators and politicians who enjoy talking about “EU reform” or the EU’s “identity crisis” fail to say what exactly needs to be changed. The underlying “analysis” often boils down to something like “everyone knows it is not working at the moment so I don’t need to explain it”. And instead of giving concrete examples of what is not working and how it can be fixed, all we hear – at least in the UK – is a series of superficial statements (something about national power, immigration and repatriation).

The reform debate is also a rhetorical trap. It is impossible to say “I am against reform” as this would imply that everything is just fine, so many just go along  hoping that they can support one aspect of “EU reform”. Even if you agree with one specific reform idea, it is almost impossible to argue “I am against EU reform but I would like to change X”.

David Cameron’s ‘reform’ rhetoric is exactly designed to have this effect. We don’t really know what he means, nobody challenges him, his analysis is guided by the referendum pledge and based on what his backbenchers want to hear:  ‘strengthening  national parliaments’, ‘stop immigration’ and remove ‘ever closer union‘.  He cleverly mixes policy and structural issues and does not make a difference between Europe, the EU and the national level. Simply put, Cameron’s EU reform is not about the EU. However, the danger is that slowly but surely the British version of ”EU reform” is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.

But let’s have a look at three core claims that are often used to make the case for “EU reform”:

1. “We need to reform the EU because the EU is not working”

Usually this statement never includes any details about what *exactly* is not working – but nobody seems to care.  Rhetorically, the claim is often linked to declining trust in EU institutions, the missing European demos and an apparent malfunction in the system. I don’t want to argue that these things don’t exist, but I think we can only approach those rather complex issues by talking about concrete ideas – and not by using a term that is neither defined nor filled with any content.

Another dimension of the claim (especially in the UK) is the idea that the EU is a ‘one size fits all’ organisation that somehow bullies member states into projects they neither support nor want. But looking at institutional realities this is simply not true. We have enhanced cooperation and a series of agreements and treaties that do not include all EU member states. The Fiscal Compact, the ESM and the EFSF, the Schengen zone and the Euro. Of course one could argue that these constructions are not perfect and a lot of things can be improved – but it is simply not correct to argue that the EU should be more flexible to accommodate the wishes of certain member states. We effectively  already have a two – or even three – speed Europe!

Last but not least, there is  an issue of policy and policy competence when we talk about the “EU that is not working”. We often hear arguments about “growth” and the missing “competitiveness” of Europe. But what exactly would be the role of the EU in this?  Do we need to change policy? Would that mean better rules to make the single market work better?  If yes, in which sector? And does this change actually concern the European level – or can we achieve improvements by changing how we deal with EU issues on the national level? These are important questions – but if we continue  to hide those issues behind “EU reform” we lose the ability to discuss different policy ideas.

2. “We need a bigger say for national parliaments/governments”

I would like to see evidence why the current system is not sufficiently developed. National governments can effectively veto every EU law.  The Lisbon Treaty strengthened the European Council by making it a fully fledged institution with  a full time president. During the euro crisis there was a clear power shift towards the member states.  So what exactly was it that you want to “reform” – and would it help to change anything?

Another debate is the role of national Parliaments.  (and there is an important debate whether strengthening national parliaments would automatically improve EU legitimacy) But also in this case it is worth looking at what we already have. Yes, it’s the yellow card procedure – but it is hardly been used. So instead of talking about introducing a new ‘red card’ procedure maybe we should think of how to fix the current system first. If hundreds of yellow cards had been issued (with minimal effect on EU institutions) it might be easier to argue for a new system. Interestingly, the only successful yellow card procedure in 2012 (latest report available) actually resulted in the withdrawal of the EC proposal. I am also intrigued by the absence of national parliamentarians in this debate: What do they think about the potential additional workload? Do they think they need to replicate the work of MEPs? Are we talking about  the role of national Parliaments in EMU issues or the role of national Parliaments in scrutinising EU policy? And above all, why do we, the citizens, vote for MEPs that are supposed to work on EU legislation – if this is now an issue for national parliaments?  The logic is simple: Many who  advocate a “strengthening of national parliaments” are effectively arguing against the idea of having a European Parliament. (and again, this essentially boils down the argument of low turnout, missing  EU demos, etc). Prime ministers and heads of governments also seem to enjoy talking about this issue (probably because they think they can use their parliamentary EU committee as an additional veto mechanism).  Funnily enough they never talk about  the Danish model where MPs give ministers a clear mandate for negotiations in the Council..

The point I am trying to make is this: By simply talking about “EU reform” we miss some of the essential questions about the future of EU democracy. And don’t be fooled, it is a framing issue:  A debate on “EU democracy” will be different  to a debate  that focuses on “EU reform” as it allows us to discuss different ideas – instead of having to argue about whether we need reform.

3. “The European Parliament Elections showed that people want reform”

This is also an interesting claim. The European Parliament elections are (unfortunately) second order elections. It is an opportunity for people to  vote against their government. It is often used as an opportunity to cast a protest vote. Most analysts would agree with that statement – but when it comes to this abstract “EU reform” the same people would argue that “the people” wanted this or that to be changed on the EU level. This is disingenuous and simply inconsistent.

In most countries the majority of people voted on national issues – so how can you claim that they want “reform”? Most parties that campaigned did not  propose any wide-ranging reforms of the EU (and if they did the ideas were very different and can’t be summarised with one word) – so how can you claim that people want your kind of “reform”? The claims that the European Parliament elections should be analysed as a “political earthquake” are also grossly exaggerated. The radical/eurosceptic vote is only marginally larger than in previous elections (and most eurosceptics basically want out of the EU – not to “reform” it) – so how can you claim that those people want “reform”? 60 %  of European did not got to vote – do they really want “reform”?

If there is anything people want it is  better – or different  – policies (although many are confused what is EU and what is national policy). Arguments about institutional reform  don’t usually feature very high on the public agenda. Of course there might be a case for a “more democratic EU” or a “more competitive EU” –  but it is far from obvious what actually should be done. And yes, a clear division between the Eurozone and the rest of the EU would be desirable. But is it politically possible?  There might be a case for institutional reform but we should also be clear about what exactly needs to be reformed and – more importantly – we need to distinguish between institutional changes (that could even be implemented under current rules) and policy changes (that require political will to change existing directives and policies).  We should not forget that the last “Reform Treaty” (the provisional name of the Lisbon Treaty!) has not been around that long and it seems to me that there is still potential to use current rules to change things.

PS: The ‘reform’ crowd often underestimates treaty ratification dynamics. Any new treaty would need to be ratified (also via referendums!) by all 28 Member States. It is very difficult to win referendums on institutional questions (as some might remember from Lisbon and Nice) and if a new treaty is simply seen as a vehicle to give  concessions to one member state (ie UK) it is destined to fail.


A rambling blog post on why we can’t continue talking about “reform” without saying what *exactly* needs to be reformed.

BBC news, UKIP-style

Today, the Migration Advisory Committee published a 358-page report titled: “Migrants in low-skilled work: the growth of EU and non-EU labour in low-skilled jobs and its impact on the UK” Well, it’s a huge report,  difficult to summarise with – potentially – a lot of interesting findings, here is quick summary of what the report covers (p.279):

The first part (Chapters 2 to 4) is a review of the evidence around migrants in low-skilled work and the evolution of the wider labour market for low – skilled employment over the previous 15 years;

The second part (Chapters 5 and 6) looks at how employers recruit migrant workers and whether there are any issues with the compliance and enforcement of relevant rules and regulations;

The third part (Chapters 7 to 9) focuses on, respectively, the impact of migrants in low-skilled work on the labour market, the wider economy and the social environment.

A second quote to clarify the scope of the ‘recommendations’ at the end of the report (p. 279-292):

We do not make specific policy recommendations as the evidence was not sufficiently developed to enable us to do this. Rather, we make suggestions as to where the focus of policy on the area of migrant low – skilled employment should be

I don’t want to look into the content of the report (as I have not finished reading it) but for now let’s remember some simple facts: The report is about the impact of EU and non-EU immigration  on the  lUK abour market – in particular relating to low skilled workers –  over the past 15 years or so. And there are no recommendations as such. And the first part is pretty much a literature review.

Although there are no recommendations as such it is interesting to  skim through the conclusions (Chapter 10, “Areas for policy focus”) to get an idea what sort of issues are part of the ‘conclusions’ of the report:

  • Recruitment, and compliance and enforcement
  • Labour market outcomes for the native population, especially for younger groups
  • Greater recognition of, and support for, the local impacts of migration
  • The role of institutions and other public policies
  • Flows of migrants into low-skilled work in the future
  • The role of evidence in the wider migration debate

So how does the media report such a complex report?  Well, let’s listen to a snippet from the BBC:



So why did the BBC decide that the main (!) conclusion of the report is  linked to future (!) EU enlargement (it is mentioned in one paragraph)?  Why use the the phrase “combined population of  84 Million”?  The number includes  75 Million Turkish citizens; and we all know that  there are only minimal chances that Turkey will become a EU member state anytime soon. And most importantly, why copy UKIP’s implicit claim that all people who live in those countries would eventually look for jobs in the UK? This is pretty poor journalism for the BBC as it simply does not reflect the depth of the report.

Another problem is the nature of those news items. The recording above is taken from one of those very short (1.30m) news programmes on BBC 6 music that is repeated every hour or so. It is arguably not the most important radio station in the UK but other music channels have exactly the same kind of approach  to news formats. And it is probably  one of the main news sources for many casual listeners. It’s a perfect example how the news can shape the public discourse – and how bad journalism can fuel euroscepticism. People listen to music stations for much longer than they listen to news programmes – and they have to listen to the same 1m 30 news format for a whole afternoon. So not only is this 40 seconds piece above one of the main news items it is also repeated  several times a day – and what do you remember at the end of the day?

Migration = bad, EU enlargement = bad, 84 Million people will come to the UK…

As with many of those complex reports you could also come to the opposite conclusion – and find other interesting angles, here are just a few examples: Migrants had a modest impact impact on the labour market, but there was a positive net contribution of EAA migrants. There is not much evidence to suggest that benefit tourism actually exists.  Most low skilled migrants are not from the EU. It was also noted that different areas in the UK are more affected than others – and that some local councils/government departments were not helpful in preparing the report.  Contrary to some gossip there was also no indication of discrimination against UK workers – but a worrying trend of general non-compliance and non-enforcement of rules in the low-wage labour market in the UK. In fact the lax rules of the UK labour market are mentioned  several times. The report also laments the gap between public perceptions of migration and the reality…

The BBC is one of the few news outlet that explicitly focuses on the future (!) enlargement angle. Not even the Telegraph or the Daily Mail do this as this (rather unrepresentative) overview of UK media coverage shows (also a good illustration of how various papers report migration issues):

Guardian: EU migrants ‘not hitting UK school-leavers’ job prospects’

Telegraph: Britain ‘struggling to cope’ with immigration, says official report

The Independent:  Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons’ employment, say government advisers

Daily Mail: Mass immigration to parts of Britain HAS driven down wages of the poor and put pressure on services, official report finds

Evening Standard:  Schools ‘fuel migration by failing less able children’

Reuters: Parts of Britain struggling with immigration, say government advisers

Bloomberg: U.K. Local Authorities Need More Help With Migrants, Panel Says

Interesting talk by Wolfgang Blau.

#ep2014 journalism: How to report the European Parliament elections

First things first: The European Parliament elections are not – and I repeat – NOT like national elections. So what does that mean for journalists? Well, first of all familiarise yourself with the EU decision making process – no, really I mean it, just click here for the infographic! Too superficial? This report abut the European Parliament’s procedures may also be helpful.

In a nutshell:  The EP  is not like a national parliament, it is not about clear majorities and there will be no new government. The EP always works with the aim of  finding a cross party consensus – so the most interesting work is done in committees. Yes, there are a couple of “Spitzenkandidaten” who hope to become EC President later this year. The problem is that we don’t yet know how this will play out. It is pretty much an experiment. But you should use this process as a journalistic opportunity – these candidates are supposed to present ideas for the next Commission and it would not be a surprise if some of them were to end up in one of the top jobs after the election. As a journalist you can use this process to find out what will be on the agenda in the coming years. You see, the role of journalists is to dig deeper. Don’t just criticise the (admittedly flawed) selection process – also give them a hard time defending their policy ideas (if they have any!)

Anyway, here are a few tips how to report issues in the run-up to the European Parliament elections 2014 (this could also be useful for local/regional journalists):

  • A new kind of “policy journalism”. Ask EC candidates (“Spitzenkandidaten”) for concrete policy ideas, then check with parties and (prospective) MEPs what they think about it. This would actually reflect the EU policy making process. (I am sure your readers will appreciate this new format as it shows that your outlet knows what you are talking about!)
  • Impact? The question about “impact on country X” should be treated carefully. It is not a national election (I might have mentioned it before…) so we actually talk about impact across Europe. But again, it is all about individual policies – so if you really need to write a piece about “your country” think about a concrete directive or EU policy – and do some proper policy journalism. Please note that neither the Parliament or the Commission can change the treaties – focus on concrete ideas and check whether the EU has the competence to actually do something about your issue.
  • Change of existing EU law? Look for controversial directives and ask whether EC candidates or prospective MEPs would like to change them in the next term. [yes it is possible for the EP to propose things along those lines: 2010 framework agreement & a Commission that is open to the idea]
  • Read the party manifestos. Yes, good old party manifestos or campaign posters/leaflets/slogans are a great source of stories. Especially the question whether policy proposals are a matter for the European Parliament. Sometimes manifestos don’t seem to be fact-checked by a lawyer and contain ideas that can only be implemented with a new EU treaty. Another easy mistake are proposals that can only be implemented on the national level – without any EU involvement.
  • What to ask prospective MEPs. Ask them which committee they want to sit in, whether they see themselves as a rapporteur for certain issues etc. Try and find out what they want to achieve in the European Parliament. It is about issues: environment, digital rights, transport, agriculture, fisheries – you might want to read about the role of the EU in those policy fields. Another idea: check their personal links to companies and how they dealt with lobbyists (industry and NGOs)  in previous jobs. Ask them what sort of directives they would welcome and what issues they want to see on the agenda.
  • The most important question. Does this issue fall under EU competence? What would be the role of the European Parliament in the process?
  • No EU jargon. Don’t be satisfied with phrases such as ‘completing the single market’, ‘a more competitive Europe’, ‘jobs are important’,  ‘a stable Euro’ or ‘completing the digital single market’, ask what it means in concrete policy terms. Does the EU really have instruments to address unemployment (or is it a national competence?) What sort of directives would boost competitiveness? Name one concrete regulation that is considered “red tape”. What is the role of the EP in the governance of the euro (or is this a matter for other institutions)?
  • How the European Parliament really works. The EP is different from national parliaments. There are usually big majorities at the end but the process is the interesting bit. So as a journalist you should familiarise yourself with the nature of political groups in the Parliament and how a committee works. This will help you to understand how the job of an MEP looks like – and what questions you should ask them in the run-up to the election.
  • Scrutinizing MEPs  Votewatch is one of those great resources every journalist should worship. Here you can find amazing data about the voting behaviour of certain MEPs. So before you arrange an interview with an MEP have a look at the individual voting records.
  • Lobbyists. The European Parliament is the target of quite a few lobbyists. Dig a bit deeper and you will find great stories about the influence of big business or NGOs. Also keep an eye on the “revolving door” and what sort of part-time jobs MEPs pursue!
  • What to ask the Eurosceptics. Try and find out what they want to achieve –  focus on the policy level and avoid cliches about ‘red tape’ and the Brussels ‘superstate” Another question could be: why do you want to be an MEP? Since you want to leave the EU wouldn’t it make more sense to run for your national parliament? Confront them with their manifesto and ask whether they can really achieve it by being in the EP. Are they interested in policy work – or in youtube hits or TV appearances?
  • Issues. Issues. Issues. Talk about issues –  really this is what EU politics is all about. The European Parliament could kill TTIP – did you know this? In fact it can kill any trade agreement if there is political will. (Remember ACTA?) Or think of REACH or the service directive? In both cases the EP hugely changed the original proposal.
  • Agenda Setting. Since the adoption of the 2010 inter institutional framework agreement the EP can submit legislative proposals to the Commission – if the Commission does not want to take it up it needs to explain in great length the reasons for its decision. Did you know this? Why have I never read anything in the press about the success rate or the problems connected to it?
  • Questions for all Spitzenkandidaten. Tell me three concrete legislative proposals your Commission would propose in the next term? (don’t be satisfied with speech bubbles such as ‘competitiveness’ or ‘sustainable’ or ‘stable euro’) Why do we talk about the future of the EU in such vague terms anyway? Voters have a right to know what exactly is in the pipeline…

Reporting Europe Prize 2014

Reporting Europe Prize!

A promising start for @FactCheckEU

A warm welcome to FactCheckEU – the first crowdsourced fact-checking website for EU topics. It launched a few weeks ago and – so far – it is looking rather promising. It probably has the potential to become one of the most useful EU related websites. Go check it out and – more importantly – help them!

It is crowdsourced so everyone can contribute. And we also should remember that the quality of factchecking websites pretty much depends on the community and its ethics. Obviously both things need time to develop (so critising aspects of the website today would indeed be a bit premature) So, let’s hope FactCheckEU succeed in attracting enough contributors who are also able to do some high quality fact-checking. It is much needed – especially ahead of this year’s European Parliament elections.

Paul Dacre received EU farm subsidies

That’s a nice story: Paul Dacre, the infamous editor of the Daily Mail, received  generous EU subsidies for his estate in Scotland. (hat tip: Zelo Street)

For those of you who don’t know Paul Dacre: Some have described him as ‘the man who hates liberal Britain‘ and called his newspaper, the Daily Mail,  ‘the newspaper that rules Britain’. One of his side projects is to run/invent anti-EU stories. Over the years a large number of euromyths and fabricated anti-EU stories originated in the Daily Mail. Unfortunately, the Daily Mail is the most read newspaper in the UK and played an important role in creating the toxic, uninformed eurosceptic discourse in the UK. Especially the campaign-style journalism of the Daily Mail which is based on myths, half-truths and the absence of facts is an example what’s wrong in British journalism. (also interesting in this context: Alastair Campbell’s submission to the Leveson enquiry)

Reporting Europe Prize 2013

The Reporting Europe Prize is back and nominations are open! Please nominate the best pieces of EU reporting/journalism via the official website: UACES is looking for an outstanding blogpost, a great newspaper article, or a particularly good radio or TV piece.  New forms of journalism are also highly valued. It is the only independent journalism prize that is exclusively dedicated to journalism about the European Union.






FAQs (that are not covered on the official website):

Why only in English?

It is simply an issue of resources. UACES is financially and organizationally not in a position to do pan-European selection process. If you are a sponsor or an organisation that would like to change this get in touch and we see what can be done.

Why is the award ceremony in London?

UACES is based in London. Although it is a European association its roots are in British academia which explains the UK focus of its work.

Does UACES have a political agenda regarding the EU?

No – it is academic membership association providing services to academics that work in the field of European Studies.

Disclaimer: Yours truly is a member of the UACES committee and  will serve on the jury this year.

Understanding British EU journalism

This sums it up.

(thanks to Mary Honeyball for publishing the letter!)

Short guide to lazy EU journalism

The unofficial rulebook for lazy EU journalism. 20 invaluable tips for your career in EU journalism.

1. Not sure how the EU works or what institutions are involved? –> Just write “Brussels”.

2. Germany is generally seen as important in EU politics and journalists know how to frame it: If Germany is active in a certain policy domain just write something about  “German dominance” and if you work for British newspaper add  some subtle references to the war. If  Germany is passive in a given policy area just write that Germany abandons the EU and it clearly adopted a unilateral strategy, if you work for a British newspaper you could add something about the war.

3. Found a short reference in a paper which talks about your country? –> Is is an evil plan to undermine democracy

4. General rule: No need to distinguish between different European institutions and organisations. Who cares whether it is the Council of Europe, the European Council, the Council of the EU, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union or the European Court of Human Rights . –> Just write something about eurocrats and unelected foreign European judges interfering with your beloved country. [thanks Andrew!]

5. You are in Brussels and there are several events happening at the same time?  –> Well, this is a clear sign that the EU does not address the important issues! (Important issue = event you attend)

6. Unsure what is happening in the EU? –> Don’t bother ringing someone in Brussels. Just make something up about bananas or recycle a story you read half a year ago. If you are ambitious call the press department of one of the parties in your capital or use a recent party pamphlet.

7. Did you come across a controversial statement or an opinion of an MEP or any national MP? –> Start your article with “EU plans to…” or “Country X wants to…” Any MEP or committee must be prefaced by “senior,” “influential” or “key” as long as he/she/it says something confrontational. [thanks Tim Jones]

8. Facts are overrated. Don’t bother checking the original EU policy documents. There is no need to understand differences between white or green papers, a report or a regulation or a directive. It is much easier to write about ‘crazy ideas of EU bureaucrats’.  If you have an idea for a good EU story don’t let facts ruin it. Plus, nobody will check if a EU story is true. Everyone knows that the EU is boring and evil. Moreover, the single aim of the EU is to produce unnessary regulation (generally known as ‘red tape”).

9. Use “EU bureaucrats” or “Brussels bureaucrats” as often as possible. A more experienced lazy journalist would simply refer to ‘Eurocrats‘. (Thanks Gawain) Useful adjectives in this context include “unelected”, “unaccountable”, “corrupt”, “highly-paid”, “highly-pensioned”, “lazy”. This list is not exhaustive and can be adapted to your journalistic needs. You may also use “EU official” or “EU representative” especially if you follow rule 4.

10. Don’t mention that ministers might have a veto over EU policy –> Just write about how the EU destroys national sovereignty.

11. You think that the EU is a bit too complex and everything takes a bit too long? –> Well just focus on zero sum games especially during summits.  One country wins, one country looses. That is life. That’s the EU. Simples.

12. A good headline is key. So always go for the pun or the the odd ‘eurocrats’, ’empire’ reference. And the fight is always between europhiles and eurosceptics. Keep that in mind.

13. Symbols are more important than substance. Stories about what people had for breakfast or dinner, something about flags or anthems are great examples. Always mix personal stories about EU leaders with national stereotypes and prejudices. You will be surprised: it always works.

14. EU funding is always a great story. There is corruption, waste and funny projects. However, do not mention that projects need co-financing. Also do not try to look at the positive examples, it would just spoil the story. Anyway, EU money is by definition a bad thing. So, don’t try to explain why EU funding exists in the first place.

15. The EU budget as well as the budget negotiations provide many interesting options for lazy journalists. You could write that the EU books have not been signed off for years – without mentioning the auditing rules. Or you could write something about how much money your country pays to be in the EU –  without mentioning that it may get something back. Don’t make the mistake to link to any official cost-benefit calculation. Because if they exist they are must be wrong, if they don’t exist it is generally a conspiracy.  Rather use a statement from another newspaper or dodgy think tank. Just don’t ask any questions. Never think about what the EU could do with the money, just assume that “Brussels wastes all the money it gets”.  Budget negotiations are zero sum games, so rule 11 applies. There is no such thing as the “European interest”.

16. The single market means competition which might include foreign companies winning tenders in your country. If that happens just focus on the foreign element of that company. Make some claims about corruption.  Write about how many jobs will be lost. No need to mention that new jobs will be created. If you are an ambitious lazy journalist write about how EU competition laws are made to destroy your local economy.

17. Don’t bother learning a foreign language. It is not useful in EU journalism. You can always rely on international news agencies.

18. Subscribe to all ‘think tanks’ and ‘business associations’ which are highly regarded among your collegues. From time to time, just ‘write’ (copy/paste) short articles. Don’t include links to your sources.

19. Context is overrated. Headlines are more important. Just go for the best quotes – no context needed. If you have a great quote from last week, you can still use it. No need to check whether current events have moved on.

20. A beginners mistake is to engage with the opposite side or with critics of your work. So, just don’t do it.

The second part of the ‘short guide to lazy EU journalism’ will be published in the coming weeks on this blog and might focus on the recent “Eurocrisis”. Use the comments below to share your tips how to become a lazy EU journalist or how to cover the eurocrisis as lazy journalist.  This would give me the opportunity to plagiarise your ideas in the next blog post. 😉

Update 20/11/2011 – 25/11/2011: Well, it seems that ‘#lazyEUjournalism’ is indeed a pan-European issue.  Consequently the ‘short guide’ was translated into several European languages! Thanks to all bloggers and translators!

DE: Ein kurzer Leitfaden zu faulem EU-Journalismus – Vielen Dank, opalkatze!

FR: Comment faire du journalisme européen paresseux, en 20 points – Merci beaucoup, Fabrize! 

IT: Short guide to lazy EU journalism ovvero come fare del giornalismo europeo di pessima qualita – Grazie, Francesca!

RO: Cum să scrii despre UE când ai o maximă lene …   – Mulțumesc, Roxana!

ES: Kosmopolito denuncia el periodismo basura europe |europa451.es

NL: Korte handleiding voor luie EU-journalisten | Presseurop

HR: Kratki vodič za komotno novinarstvo o EU – Hvala, Srdjan!

IS:  Stutti leiðarvísirinn fyrir lata Evrópublaðamanninn – Takk, Hilmar!

Inspired by this post there are several adaptations which discuss in how far the guide applies to different national public spheres:

NO: EU for late journalister | europabloggen

CZ: Příručka pro líné EU novináře | respekt.cz 

PL: Jak pisać o UE | Kadmos

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