Soon Cyprus – the island presidency – will take over the EU Council Presidency from Denmark. And they have proposed a bloggers meeting on 12 July in Brussels, a meeting that should bring together bloggers from Cyprus and other European bloggers, as well as introduce the Presidency team to them. I think this is a great proposal because it shows that last years efforts where not in vain.
As somebody who was quite involved in last year’s bloggers meetings with the Hungarian Presidency and as someone who, because of that, had the chance to be accredited twice to EU Council meetings as a blogger, I feel I have a lot to say about that. I also have to admit, that, as somebody who has worked for the German EU Council Presidency five years ago, I am still kind of fascinated by the communicative logistics that such a rotating presidency brings about.
And I don’t say too much when I say that I miss Kovacs & Kovats.
However, the fact that I was involved so much last year makes me feel that I have already profited so much that it’s now on others to make proposals for substance and format. Second, because I am fascinated about the work of the presidency and I have seen part of that work myself, I anyway have a very particular Eurogeek view on all this, so I do not believe I could make good proposals that represent anyone’s but my very specific view. Third, since I don’t live in Brussels right now, it’s unlikely that I will be able to physically participate.
Fourth, I would already be fine if simply Kovacs & Kovats would be back.
Still, I would like to bring in my five cents on the experiences and observations I have made last year and the conclusions I would draw:
(1) The only substantive outreach into the wider European blogosphere that last year’s exercise brought were this blog post on Netzpolitik.org and Joe Litobarski’s blog post ahead of our presence at the Council. There were more blog posts and a number of interesting discussions, but they largely remained within circles that anyway discuss these topics.
Conclusion: Organising a bloggers event doesn’t necessarily create outreach. What kind of outreach to any wider audience is created depends on who is involved, whether the topics discussed matter for them, and whether they have the access to channels that are actually read. In other words, thinking a bloggers meetings from the substance is nice, but, without knowing who can actually come and what s/he is interested in at that concrete moment, it’s difficult to define this a priori.
(2) The actual profit of the Presidency meeting bloggers last year was mainly limited to the few that were physically present, i.e. people who like me happened to live in Brussels and who had the time to come.
Conclusion: It’s actually a good idea to involve bloggers from Cyprus as the upcoming presidency proposed. In my view, this event should be mainly for them. If they are political bloggers, they may learn how they can find real stories, and the presidency may be able to tell them how they can provide them with background while other European bloggers present may give hints how they interact with the Brussels sphere in order to generate stories or attention. If they are blogging on other things than politics, it may be interesting if and how they relate their subject to Brussels or to the rest of Europe. So it would actually be nice to know them ahead, to see what they write, so that those bloggers who would be in Brussels to meet them might have an idea about what connects them already and what connections could be enforced.
(3) Parts of the meetings with the Hungarian Presidency last year were “off the record”, and while journalists may like such kind of 19th-20th century favouritism, I felt rather embarrassed as a blogger to be told stuff that I couldn’t blog about.
Conclusion: Cancel anything that cannot be live-tweeted, live-blogged, live-streamed. Give that to the journalists, they earn their money with that. This also means that, if one is at an appropriate venue, WiFi and electrical plugs need to be available. A live stream and recording would be ideal.
(3) The only real sense of connection to the Hungarian Presidency came through Gergely and Márton. They were present both online and offline, and they made you feel that they liked their job and this outreach, despite a political situation in their home country that made this quite an unlikely constellation.
Conclusion: Organising a bloggers meeting is nice, but if it’s a one-time socialising event, it may just be nice. However, the impact and change to the social culture that the old-style schizophrenic Council still portrays will be zero and the money and time for the meeting might be wasted. The change comes from a different behaviour, from new styles, from a real will to openness and human interaction. A bloggers meeting should be embedded in a more credible socio-political environment if it should have any meaning.
(4) The only real “innovation” (in EU terms) in our presence in the Council was the question I could ask in the May Council press conference, a question that was proposed by a pseudonymous commentator following Joe’s blog post. This was the first time, in so far that I could observe it, that the digital sphere had at least a minimal back-channel into a real-life event with high level officials in Brussels.
Conclusion: Organising a bloggers meeting without a chance of the outside world to interact, intervene, ask questions, listen in, follow up is not a real bloggers meeting making use of the means of the 21st century. Without the credible bargain of outside interference, it’s just another socialising in Brussels. Bloggers outreach should ultimately be about creating back-channels.
(5) I personally found the meeting environment in the Hungarian representation or the reporting environment in the Council too formal, even when the atmosphere was nice. When you feel like you’re in a formal meeting or you’re in a 24h new scycle facility, you don’t feel like blogging, not even afterwards.
Conclusion: Meetings with bloggers that are not digital meetings (e.g. video conferences) should ideally take place in an informal setting where people can join or leave, sit on the ground, on a couch or at a table, interact with those in the room and those outside the room as if this was a normal conversation. The more formal it is, the less it reflects the reality of blogging and social (media) communication. The picture below (by elschy, CC-BY) shows one possible proper blogging environment:
(6) I was kindly asked to transmit Ivan’s Twitter comment that all this might be is a PR stunt, a feeling-cool occasion for a bunch of privileged bloggers and a waste of public money. I think that is a valid point.
Conclusion: Skip all extravagances that may be regarded standard in Brussels or in the political sphere. Bloggers can bring their own bottle of coke or beer, a pizza or a cake, if you tell them ahead that they are allowed to bring or should bring stuff. For the rest, spending public money should actually serve a wider cause, so maybe the bloggers meeting can be a good occasion to test equipment that may be used once everyone has returned home but still wants to communicate with the Presidency.
In summary, it’s quite difficult to define the right format and substance of a bloggers meeting. Usually, bloggers are quite communicative people, so if you give them a proper space they will communicate.
Any formal activities that actually destroy social communication is wasted time. Any bloggers outreach that doesn’t take into account that the blogger’s space is – by definition – online, is probably in vain. Any meeting that isn’t the opening door for more openness, for more digital interaction with a wider European public is a nice one-shot exercise, but will just create expectations that can only be deceived afterwards.
PS: And that’s not just something for the Cyprus presidency – presidencies come and go – but more specifically for all those who think about EU communications on a continuous basis.