I was in Brussels yesterday and the day before, with a group of visitors. They were all people who teach journalism in UK universities, most of them former journalists, and who were interested in finding out more about how the EU really works. The idea of the visit came out of approaches I had had from several of them, either asking for people from our office to come to talk to their students, or else looking for information about the EU and the accuracy of some media reporting.
On the first day they had some presentations on the institutional set-up of the EU – who does what, how decisions are made and so on because, by their own admission, they didn’t feel very well-informed. There was a look at political priorities for the future, and how the Commission organises its information and communication. We visited the audio-visual facilities made available to journalists accredited to the Commission’s press room, had a virtual tour round other services for journalists and spoke to various people about working in Brussels: a journalist, a Commission spokesman and a UK government spokesman.
Like most visits of this type, almost the best result was the networking among the group. There were 7 universities represented. Some brought several people, one just one. Some had met before, some were meeting for the first time. But it was clear that new ideas emerged for their teaching and research. Certainly several indicated to me that the visit had really given them food for thought about the coverage of EU issues in the UK. Perhaps the main message that emerged was that the EU shouldn’t be treated as a foreign news story, but as the nuts and bolts of what happens at home (a view shared, I am told, by Nigel Farage!).
For my part, watching the presentation of what we do to the outside, with all my insider knowledge, it occurred to me that what we do is, for the most part, very dull. Very important, very useful, very relevant, and very necessary. But nonetheless very dull (conciliation process anyone? Comitology decision?). Maybe we should start making more a virtue of that…?
I also met some fellow-bloggers today, which was not only a pleasure, but quite useful. Watch this space…