The restrictive measures resulting from the corona crisis in Belgium are being slowly and gradually lifted. Then, of course, comes the question when the European institutions will follow, and when we will again have access as usual to the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. The simple answer can be short: not any time soon.
From Tuesday 14 April EU-accredited journalists will be able to ask questions in real-time and do follow-ups during the European Commission's daily Midday briefing! The Commission's Spokesperson Service will that day launch an interactive system to run briefings and press conferences.
The API Council held a virtual meeting using Zoom this Thursday. Main topic were the media arrangements of the main EU institutions and NATO during the coronavirus crisis.
Since Belgium officially went into a full lockdown yesterday, API has received questions from colleagues who want to know to what extent the restrictive measures also have an impact on their journalistic activities. Especially where journalists want to take to the streets to conduct interviews, make reports and do stand-ups.
The European Commission will start on Tuesday 10 March with voluntarily registering the names of journalists attending briefings and press conferences in the Berlaymont press room as part of its measures against the spread of the corona-virus.
The API Bureau on Tuesday 3 March had a meeting with the heads of the European Commission's security service. We discussed a number of security issues, mainly related to the access to the Berlaymont for journalists.
As most of you you will know by now the European Commission's Security Office has launched a new format for the inter-institutional badges.
They are no longer yellow but white. The name of the media of the holder and the accreditation number are not mentioned anymore, only family name, surname and expiration date. API-IPA has been informed that all these changes were made for practical and security reasons.
1. First experiences with the SPP of the new Von der Leyen Commission.
Today departing European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker made his last appearance in the Commission press room to say farewell to the European correspondents before handing over the Commission Presidency to Ursula von der Leyen. Also chief spokesperson Mina Andreeva and her deputy Natasha Bertaud said goodbye, as they will be leaving the spokespersons service. Hundreds of correspondents applauded President Juncker. On behalf of API and all correspondents, former API president en board-member Lorenzo Consoli said the following:
On Thursday 24 October we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Martine Joos as secretary of the International Press Association. In October 1979 she started working for API-IPA, and in the four decades since Martine has been continuously at the center of the association. She has been and still is the most invaluable source of information for thousands of foreign correspondents in Brussels, who have passed by her office in the IPC to become a member of API, to get help with accreditations or advice on settling in Belgium and how to cope with the many institutions and local bureaucracies.
Willy Hélin, who passed away on 11 October at the age of 73, was undoubtedly one of the most popular spokesmen ever in the pressroom of the European Commission. He was popular both with commissioners and colleagues AND with journalists. "Il fallait le faire – het moest gedaan worden", the son of a Walloon father and a Flemish mother born on the outskirts of Brussels could have said, actually in plenty of languages. Yes, he could even master the "langue de bois", the obscure newspeak so common in many press rooms. Of course, as a spokesman for competition commissioner Karel Van Miert, he didn´t sometimes have the choice. But even during those years, Willy managed to convey a clear message and information.
On Thursday 3 October an API-delegation (president Katalin Halmai, SG Hans de Bruijn and Bureau-members Lorenzo Consoli and Michael Stabenow) had a first exchange of views with the leaders of the communication team of the upcoming von der Leyen Commission (VDL's executive communication adviser Jens Flosdorff, chief Commission spokesperson-designate Eric Mamer, and his deputy Dana Spinant).
Purpose of the meeting was to get acquainted and to discuss the many expectations, wishes and suggestions raised by correspondents in API's extraordinary assembly on September 24. For a summary of those issues see the report of this assembly distributed to all correspondents, and available on the API website www.api-ipa.org.
API-IPA organised an extraordinary general assembly Tuesday 24 September for members and non-members alike to discuss expectations, wishes and suggestions for the new communication team of the Von der Leyen-Commission. API-IPA will now ask for a meeting with the new leadership of the spokespersons service (SPP) to discuss these and establish a good working relationship. Below is a summary of the issues raised.
In the EU inter-institutional accreditation committee the question has been raised if the current accreditation criteria are still up-to-date, or that they need to be reviewed, taking into account all kinds of new media (bloggers, podcasters, influencers etc.) who can be expected to ask for accreditation. After the summer a special meeting will be dedicated to discuss this issue.
API-IPA has protested the behaviour of members of the new 'Identity and Democray'-group in the European Parliament, during the press conference in the EP press room where they presented themselves last Thursday 13 June. At several instances supporters of the far-right group, who were seated among the journalists, applauded the speakers at the podium. To people watching the press conference on their screens, this gave the impression that journalists were showing support, which was of course not the case.
Michel Theys, one of the most experienced Belgian journalistes covering European affairs for many years, died this week after a serious illness. Mr. Theys (67) has devoted most of his professional career to his two passions, journalism and Europe. He campaigned for a committed and independent press, and defended the project of a political, more democratic Europe, capable of liberating itself from excessive intergovernmentalism.
Last week Irish journalist Lyra McKee was killed while she was reporting on riots in Derry, Northern Ireland. The International Press Association (API-IPA) extends to the partner and family of Lyra McKee and to all Irish journalists our deepest sympathies and condolences on the murder of one of the bravest and most original new voices of Irish journalism.
In his farewell speech as president of API-IPA, Tom Weingärtner deplored the decreasing news value of the European Commission's daily journalists briefing and an unwillingness to provide real answers.
"The news value of daily briefings has plummeted compared to the previous commission when it had already reached an all time low," Weingärtner told API's general assembly.