The annual general assembly was held online for the second time. Due to the strict corona-rules still in place in Brussels, it was not possible to organize a physical or even hybrid meeting. The general assembly must take place at least once a year, preferably in the first semester. We hope to be able to return to a normal schedule next year. This assembly was attended by 27 members.
Topics on the agenda:
Presentation and approval of the financial reports and accounts 2020, and the 2021 budget:
Treasurer Nagayo Taniguchi called the financial situation of the association 'stable'. There was a slight decrease in income, mainly due to the increasing number of freelance members, who pay € 70 a year instead of the € 120 for employed members. API now has 330 paid members, of whom 101 are freelancers (about 20 members still have to pay their fees). Expenditure increased somewhat, partly due to a write-off of Solidarity Fund costs. There was also a one-off expense for legal advice in connection with the new, complicated procedure for obtaining a work and residence permit for journalists from non-EU countries. This advice will spare these journalists high legal fees. Tomas Miglierina, who verified the accounts, says that these new rules make it more necessary than ever for non-EU colleagues to become member of API. Belgium should treat EU and non-EU journalists the same. He also wonders whether increased teleworking will affect the association's membership. API's bank accounts 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.
'State of the association' – speech by API president Katalin Halmai:
The president highlights API's activities towards the institutions in the past year, which were severely affected by the restrictions caused by the corona-crisis, which has fundamentally changed the way journalists work in Brussels. "We as journalists still have limited physical access to press briefings and press conferences. We have limited access to our sources and have minimum interaction with each other. The Covid19 pandemic made it much more difficult for us to act as a watchdog and hold those in power accountable", Katalin Halmai said.
API has done everything it could to make the institutions to open up at least partially. She praised the European Parliament, which kept its doors open to journalists. The European Commission and the Council are gradually opening up, be it still in limited numbers. We had problems in particular with the Council, where the press was not even allowed in for doorsteps at summits. In the end, the Council accepted our arguments and allowed dozens of journalists to follow the June summit on the spot. "While hybrid press conferences will remain, API encourages everyone to attend in person the press briefings and press conferences!", Halmai said.
The European Commission press service moved quickly first to online and then to hybrid press conferences. There are still complaints about the late reply to written questions. We welcome the regular technical briefings and press conferences with Commissioners. President Von der Leyen is less available and seems to be reluctant to hold regular press conferences. API raised this issue several times with Eric Mamer but until now to no avail.
API has asked the SPP to make embargoed documents available to the press on time. We have also pointed out that the Commission often overwhelms us with an unsustainable number of briefings and press conferences in one day.
There is criticism on the survey among correspondents organized by the EU Council about our working conditions and experiences during the corona crisis. API should have organized such a survey itself. The president says the survey is OK, although API was not consulted on this. We need to await the results and can then decide if we need to do something like this ourselves.
It is proposed that API sends a letter to Commission president Von der Leyen urging her (again) to appear more often in the press room.
API president Katalin Halmai, and vice-presidents Teresa Küchler and David ab Iago have reached the end of their statutory two year terms, and are up for re-election. The assembly re-elects all of them without a roll-call vote and by acclamation. The three free-elected members of the API Council, Kris Van Haver, Erisa Zykaj and Thomas Friedrich also have reached the end of their two year term. They are re-elected without a roll-call vote and by acclamation.