REPORT OF THE MONTHLY MEETING OF THE API COUNCIL, 30 JANUARY 2020

1. First experiences with the SPP of the new Von der Leyen Commission.
Remarks made:

  • Unfortunately the new SPP has maintained the 'cluster structure' introduced by the Juncker Commission, with no longer one spokesperson per commissioner. The description of the portfolios of the SP's is too vague. Now it is not always clear who to go to with specific questions. The quality of the SP's is OK.
  • The style of this SPP is different from the previous one, less confrontational, less arrogant from the podium. It's positive that questions are no longer cut off, that more follow-ups are allowed, that if-questions are no longer rejected and in general that briefings are less rushed. Time is less an issue. Everyone gets ample chance to ask questions.
  • The quality of press releases is still not good enough. Too many quotes from commissioners to the detriment of factual information.
  • VDL is more available for backgroundbriefings and interviews than her predecessor. It seems though that there is too much focus on German media. Smaller countries and smaller media should get equal treatment.
  • In a recent briefing (on sanctions against a member state for non-compliance with migration policies) demonstrably incorrect information was provided, and there was apparently no willingness to correct it. It's not clear if this was done by mistake or deliberately. This is bad for the credibility of the SPP.
  • There is no reaction yet to our suggestion to make off-the-record technical briefings accessible online (password protected) to accredited journalists only. Opinions differ as to whether this is a good idea at all. It can make work easier for correspondents here, while others fear it can undermine their position when off-the-record information becomes more widely accessible.
  • Topnews: there is now a link on the Commission website with a tentative agenda for forthcoming Commission meetings. It's not quite the same as the dearly missed Topnews, but at least it provides basic information about forthcoming proposals and communications of the Commission. The site is refreshed every week. The link is: https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/index.cfm?fuseaction=list&documentType=TODO_LIST&withpdf=true&version=ALL

2. Denied access to photographers/cameramen at the signing of the Brexit withdrawal agreement
by Von der Leyen and Charles Michel, in the night of 23/24 January. Only an official EU photographer was present. We were not informed about this. API will contact Commission and Council to stress that events like this should always be open to public media (at least one photographer/one cameraman).

3. How to help non-EU journalists with their work/residence permits, now the Belgian law has changed and the Belgian press card is no longer equivalent to a work permit? The procedure to obtain those documents has become very complicated, even causing some colleagues to get help from (expensive) lawyers. API will try to organise a briefing with experts from the Ministery of Foreign Affairs and the labor department of the Brussels region, to explain the new procedure to the non-EU colleagues. There are currently 118 journalists accredited from non-EU countries (excluded British, Swiss and Norwegian colleagues, for whom nothing will change – at least not for the moment).

4. The yellow interinstitutional badge is no longer, it's now a white one, with a changed look: no more mention of the journalist's media, and no accreditation number. API was not informed about these changes. There were some problems with access to the Council building with the new badge, but those should be solved by now.

5. Access to the Berlaymont. The dedicated security line for journalists is not operational every day, as was promised to us. We have complained several times, but the guards seem not very willing to accommodate us. Katalin will again contact those responsible. (This resulted in that the security now has created a clear dedicated press line which will be operational during the Midday – 11:30-13:00h – or during other big media events. Let's hope this will last.)

6. Enlargement of the API Council. We are awaiting the nomination soon of a new Austrian member, to replace Thomas Schmidt who left last summer. We shall (again) have to ask the French and the Chinese to come up with a candidate for the API Council, as well as the Americans. Other (groups of) countries have too few API-members to allow for a seat on the Council.

On the agenda but not discussed:

7. There is a new privacy statement for journalists to sign when getting/renewing their interinstitutional accreditation. The new text now takes into account the provisions of the new GDPR-regulation on dataprotection. Data retention is better regulated, access to the data by the API Bureau is described in more detail, the Permanent Representations of the Member States no longer have access to the database, and the right of access to your stored personal information, and to make changes or to be removed from the system, are better guaranteed and explained. The API Bureau compared both privacy statements, and sees no reason to object to the new one.
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