The annual general assembly was originally planned for early April 2020. But due to the corona-crisis the event had to be cancelled at that time. It was not possible to organize it again in the following months, The API statutes state that an assembly must take place at least once a year. Therefore the API Council decided that the assembly would take place online, via the Zoom-platform. About 30 members attended.
Topics on the agenda:
– Presentation and approval of the financial reports and accounts 2019, and the 2020 budget:
Treasurer Nagayo Taniguchi calls the financial situation of the association sound. "Our financial independence is guaranteed for the foreseeable future". Last years expenses were considerably lower than in 2018, when API had to pay for the printing of the Correspondent's Guide 2018-2019 and for the redesign of the API website. Our bank accounts show show a substantial positive balance. The membership fees can remain the same, €120 for employed journalists and €70 for freelancers. The inspectors have checked and approved the accounts. The assembly approves the accounts without vote.
* Anna Vandensky suggests to publish a future new edition of the Correspondent's Guide only online, to save money and paper. In these times a printed guide is no longer necessary nor desirable.
The secretary-general (SG) promises to seriously consider this.
– Election: Thomas Friedrich, free-elected member of the API Council, was up for re-election this year. As it was not possible to organise a secret vote online, the API Council proposed to extend Thomas's Council-membership by one year, until the 2021 general assembly, hopefully in the spring. Jonathan Kapstein objects in a written statement, saying that API governance is "locked into a self-perpetuating group of insiders" and needs fresh blood. SG refutes that in the last two years six new members have joined the API Council, among whom the president and two vice-presidents. With only his vote against the extension is approved.
– API-membership: API currently has 344 members who have paid their membership fee. Last year ended with 362 members. A small decrease that may be related to the corona crisis, which may have resulted in fewer correspondents being sent to Brussels. The number of accredited journalists is also down by 5 percent compared to the beginning of this year. A limited number of API-members have not paid their membership fee yet. They will receive a final reminder.
* Anna Vandensky suggests that if there are colleagues who cannot afford to pay the membership fee, API could help them, via crowd funding or other facilities.
Hajo Friedrich supports this as there is enough money in API's accounts. He also suggests to hold a survey among Brussels' correspondents into the extent to which they have been affected by the corona crisis, both financially and in their working conditions.
The president values these suggestions which will be discussed soon in the API Council.
– Overview by president Katalin Halmai of API's activities towards the institutions in the past 18 months, especially the new Commission and its spokespersons service, as well as the consequences of the corona-crisis for which has fundamentally changed the way journalists work in Brussels.
The communication from the Commission's SPP has improved compared with the previous years, but the picture is mixed. The information provided still doesn't meet the expectations, as the Commission still tries to keep the press as far away as possible from the decision-making. Covid-19 has made this even more difficult. The press rooms of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament are still not or only very limited accessible to journalists. API is in constant consultation with the institutions about restoring access. In the meantime we have to do with virtual briefings and press conferences while personal contact with spokespersons is also only possible by virtual means.
* Anna Vandensky remarks that we can never accept that digital communication becomes a substitute for normal, physical contacts between journalists and spokespersons or officials. API should continue to stress the need for a speedy reopening of the press facilities. She has the impression the SPP doesn't mind as much us not being in the press room. The current situation is to the detriment of us and the institutions.
Aiofe White says that this makes our work more difficult and that is bad for accountability.
The president fully agrees. She says that only after repeated pressure from API the Commission switched to virtual press briefings. "And we stress that this system should not be in use any longer than the pandemic. The longer it lasts, the worse it gets."