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The European Maritime Safety Agency: An EU communications perspective

Over a week ago I was in Portugal to hear about the issue of water in all sorts of contexts, a reporting trip I had won because I have blogged about EU water politics.

Since my focus is on EU matters, I kind of was looking forward (professionally) to hearing what the EU people had to say. We heard Rui Cavaleiro Azevedo, press officer of the EU Commission representation in Portugal, talk about, well, issues in his country and we were briefed on the work of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA; spoken: Em-Sa) by Andrea Tassoni, communication advisor at the agency.

To make a long story short, they both could not have been more different.

Mr Cavaleiro from the Commission, who according to himself is in Lisbon since January, was boring, unprepared, unstructured and almost disrespectful to the audience of about 30 journalists and bloggers from around the EU by several times giving more attention to his cell phone than to the audience.

He even started his presentation saying that he “did not prepare a PowerPoint nor even a very structured speech” and that he was “to address in very general terms the issue“. That’s what he did: He talked in a very general way about very general environmental topics related to Portugal and the rest of the world, without actually talking about anything concrete or useful. He simply didn’t seem to care.

[UPDATE, 17 May 2011: Recording of the meeting Part 1 (starts after 60 seconds), Part 2, Part 3; see also the comments to this post]

If this would have been the only image the European Union institutions and bodies would have portrayed during our trip, it would have been a very sad picture of the EU.

The EU can be thankful to Mr Tassoni from EMSA for being the total contrary.

Tassoni was able to transmit true passion for the rather technical work of his so far unknown EU agency without falling into specialist or EU jargon, something many EU officials in Brussels are totally unable to do.

As you can see on the picture below, he explained technical work with simple drawings on a flip chart, the rest he was showing “live” on the internet, EMSA’s website and other websites that were useful to make his case.

You could see that he loved doing was he does while showing glimpses of self-irony to his new work as EMSA communicator, having worked as an EMSA trainer before. He knew how he had to talk to non-EU, non-maritime specialised journalists and bloggers: concrete enough to be understood but not to the last detail to lose our attention.

He was also ready to defend his work and the agency even against critical questions, a challenge he took on with pleasure and good arguments. And he did all that with a lot of patience and respect, although we had actually been 30 minutes late.

Before going to EMSA, I had started to look at some academic research (results hopefully in a future post) and the website of the agencyMr Tassoni told during his presentation that this website was freshly redone. Having looked through the website, I was about to mock about their newsletter in this blog post, but why bother with such details when you get a great presentation that convinced everybody who was there.

I think Tassoni will be great on social media, because he is authentic and because he seems to have good feeling for the right tone, and he promised that EMSA would be also more active in the digital sphere in the near future. His colleague from the Commission representation in Portugal should listen and learn.

I’ve recorded the meeting with Mr Tassoni (raw, largely uncut version in 3 parts), and although it’s a little less appealing to listen than it was to see live, you will still learn a lot about a (one of the many) largely unknown EU agencies and see how good communication about the work of an EU body can sound like:

Podcast Part 1 (general introduction to EMSA & maritime safety)
Podcast Part 2 (EMSA data collection & related work)
Podcast Part 3 (Questions & Answers)

As one of the winners of the Th!nk About It blogging competition on the topic of water I have travelled to Lisbon from 17-21 April for a reporting trip with over 20 other bloggers from around Europe and beyond, a trip organised by the European Journalism Centre and co-financed by the European Commission.

8 Responses to The European Maritime Safety Agency: An EU communications perspective

  1. avatar Rui Cavaleiro says:

    Dear Ron,

    I respect your opinion and your need to judge and evaluate the speakers on all and every the conference you participate. I even take it for granted that your CV and experience can give you enough tools to make a remember there was a strong applause at the end , and several colleagues of yours stayed at the end to congratulate me and to clarify some points of my speech.
    It is true that I begun my conference saying that I was not making a power point presentation. I usually don’t use such tool. I prefer live and controversial presentations and exchanges of views with the audience. Perhaps you did not share my view points on some environmental issues. However you did not dare to take the floor to express your points.
    Now , in order to make your blog a serious one, I would like that you explain what part on my work did not met your expectations:
    1. The style;
    2.The substance (which aspect);
    3.The fact that I did not use a Power point;
    4. Not enough detailed ( what have been covered but wasn’t) .
    5. Other (please specify).

    In all cases , please motivate your thinking.

    As you see I take this issue seriously.It is a question of my reputation of 25 years serving an European institution. I hope that you justify your point or if not present excuses. Otherwise, or if you do not publish my comment I you will not deserve respect on your profession.


    Rui Cavaleiro

  2. avatar André says:

    Maybe the other participants of the Th!nk trip to Portugal should share their opinions here in the comments to give a better account of the situation.

  3. avatar Rui Cavaleiro says:

    For the moment I am quite interested on knowing the rationale and motivation of Mr Ronny Patz. I don´t take it personally but I take it VERY serisouly. In fact is the image and reputation of the European Commission that is at sake. The same European Commission that invited Mr. Ronny Platz on his trip to Portugal and provided him with different viewpoints about the Portuguese situation.

    In my opinion, behind this simple attack there is a fondamental issue for the social media: Can one use the these media to attack others without giving reasons nor entering into a debate on ideas or substance? Can these persons call themselves journalists?

    Mr. Roony Patz , whom I assume is an adult and responsible person wrote:

    “Mr Cavaleiro from the Commission, who according to himself is in Lisbon since January, was boring, unprepared, unstructured and almost disrespectful to the audience of about 30 journalists and bloggers from around the EU by several times giving more attention to his cell phone than to the audience.”

    Wasn’t Mr Ronny Patz, whom I assume is an adult and responsible person, able to comment or contradict any of my staments during my 30ms presentation?

    I wait the answer of Mr. Ronny Patz and then we will go deeper on the ideas and interests of his blog.

    My interests are cristal clear, I serve the European Commission and express the views of my Institution.

    Rui Cavaleiro

  4. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    Dear Rui,

    you have every right to complain that I complain about you and you have every right to get an answer. It is not my intention to ruin anyone’s reputation, I’m just voicing criticism and, in the case of this article, I’m also highlighting particular good work by one of your colleagues.

    In order to be fair – this is now almost one month ago – I’ve just listened again to the recording of your presentation and I’m currently uploading this recording to the internet so that anyone can listen and either agree with me or disagree (which is why it took me a moment before reacting here).

    My criticism starts with the most fundamental issue:

    You started your presentation to us saying that you did neither prepare nor structure your speech and after about half an hour you closed your presentation by saying “I’ve done this without preparation and without structuring for which I am sorry”.

    In principle I do not see a problem by coming unprepared to a public speech, everyone has to do this from time to time. And I’m also not speaking about PowerPoint or not PowerPoint, that’s just a method, and a good free speech can live without PowerPoint.

    However, from my perspective – and I’ve heard that afterwards from several people (but I’m not going to speak in anyone else’s name here) – I felt during the presentation that it was not helpful that you did it without any preparation.

    For me your presentation lacked a clear structure, a clear thread with thought through examples. For me the presentation consisted of a number of very general references to the fight against climate change and some very broad issues relating to Portugal. I did not see how the information provided were of any help in the context of a reporting trip.

    Having come there I had expected you would talk about what the Commission does in Portugal related to water, concrete successes or problems, communication efforts, criticism you face etc. You could have spoken about the Commission’s policies regarding water or concrete recent developments in Commission policies on climate change, something that was new or particularly insightful so that one could have used it for writing an interesting blog post.

    But at no point I had the feeling that you were speaking as the Commission’s voice in Portugal with an interest to inform us bloggers and journalists about your institutions concrete work, the challenges you face, the policies you promote in the field of interest we had come for to listen to you.

    Maybe my expectations were wrong or you had not been properly briefed about what we might expect from you, but this is how it felt on the other side. This became even more obvious when on the same day we went to EMSA and had a very concrete, very refreshing presentation.

    Two more things: I did not feel that you answered to any of the questions asked in the second half of our joint hour in a straightforward way, which also made the 2nd part of our session not really informative. And the fact that you were dealing 3-4 times with you mobile phone during the presentation also did not help to make me feel that you were actually focused on this meeting.

    So in total, across all presentations I have listened to throughout the whole trip to Portugal this was the one that gave me the least input and the least food for thought. Maybe I’m alone with this feeling, but this is how it felt to me.

    Yet, I am sorry if I did not lay out my arguments as clearly as I could have done within the blog post and thereby made it feel an unjustified judgement to you, but I hope with this comment I at least could give you my perspective that brought me to the conclusions I have drawn above.


    PS.: As soon as your presentation is uploaded I will add the link(s) to it in this blog post.

  5. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    I’ve uploaded the recording from the presentation and linked it in an update to this post. See above.

  6. avatar Rui Cavaleiro says:

    Dear Ronny,

    You state the following: “I am sorry if I did not lay out my arguments as clearly as I could have done within the blog post and thereby made it feel an unjustified judgement to you”.

    You recognise that the posts you put on your blog are not clearly justified and motivated. And yet you do not hesitate to use the web to try to spoil the reputation and credilibilty of citizens and officials with years of experience and recognised good record.

    This is an example of lack of responsibility on the use of social media.
    I give you another example of your complete unacceptable behaviour. You just informed me that you have upload to your blog my conference. May I ask you if you have asked my permission to do so? Are you aware that according to the code of conduct of journalists this is completly unacceptable? That there is a thing called “copyrights”, that there are “statements on the record and staments off the record”?
    I really believe on the corporate responsibility of the users of social media to act according to a code of conduct allowing free expression, respectfull of the other users and with a clear declaration of interest.

    Now, about the substance. I defended on my presentation the line of the European Commission on the good use of structural funds in order improve water supply and water quality on the southern Countries. I also refered to the fact that the production of of renewable energy was a long term bet of the Europe 2020 strategy, which would allow the energy independence of such countries. However the tariffs on the short run would be higher. I also referred that the production of energy by the power plants built under the new Portuguese plan on dams (approuved by the Commission) would provide for this energy independence. You remember that this line of the European Commission raised (ideological)reserves from other participants on the conference.
    So, if your blog would go into a discussion about ideas on europe this was one really interesting.It would be interesting bto know your ideas. You would show to your followers that you have something to say, a message to convene. I really regret that your capacity is directed to personal attacks but not to a discussion on european issues.

    I have another issue that I would like to clarify about the nature and the purpose of your blog. I will post a comment on your latest post. I am sure that your followers will judge the nature of your work and the contribution you give to the (no) discussion of European issues on the web.


  7. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    Dear Rui,

    let me start again by saying that it’s not my intention to spoil anyone’s reputation and that I actually had a message or an idea to convey with this post (see further below).

    1) Regarding the recording of the meeting:

    Given that this was a reporting trip for bloggers – some of them also journalists -, given that we had a cameraman in the room [Updated at 1:27 am: see minute 3:20 of this video], given that internet was available and given that at no point it was said that this was off-the-record, I never considered this to be a meeting that was not supposed to be recorded, tweeted about or live-blogged from as it has become standard these days in such meetings. In all meetings that I’ve seen so far in which bloggers were invited and that were off-the-record, we were clearly told so and I have always respected that.

    However, if you want me to remove the recordings I will do so immediately – I actually thought it would help to clarify the matter instead of making things worse in your eyes.

    2) Regarding your criticism of my blog:

    Altogether, I’m not pretending to hold the truth nor considering that my blog is particularly original or right, and anybody who thinks that I am wrong, unbalanced, unfair or that I’m not developing my thoughts as detailed as I could should criticise me and is invited to do so here on my blog or anywhere else in the social media sphere.

    3) Regarding the lack of message or ideas in this post:

    The message I wanted to convene with this blog post is that the way an (EU) institution is presented by the people representing it actually shapes your ideas about the institution itself, maybe even about the EU at large. I felt this was very well exemplified by my own perception of the EU institutions that day, and so I thought it was worth blogging about it.

    4) And regarding social media more broadly:

    With new media, institutions are more and more invited to interact with a larger public and that the way this interaction happens – taking up the previous point – shapes the way we perceive the institution itself. So whenever officials enter into conversations with the public, whether in public meetings or on Twitter, on blogs, on Facebook or anywhere else they impact the image of their institutions.

    And given that the real world on social media communication are merging more and more we have come to a point where it becomes difficult to separate, where public speaking and opinions thereon will be reported online and online discussions will be continued over a beer or on a panel in public.

    I agree that this is not how classical journalism functions, that this opens room for less controlled social communication (as contrasted to ritualised communication between journalists and institutions) and that this personalises the relations between institutions and the public much more than this was the case in the past.

    But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, it may take some time until both sides are used to it in a way that makes it more natural.

    Kind regards,


  8. avatar Rui Cavaleiro says:

    Dear Ronny,

    The fact that you could not engage into a serious discussion about the subject matter of the conference (water and energy supply) makes it it completly useless to go on with this discussion about colateral issues.


    Rui Cavaleiro

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