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Les gens de l’information: A sociology of EU information people

The “Eurobubble” online series (see also my recent blog post) and the last months of working in Brussels have raised again my academic interest in the sociology of the bubble. In my readings around this subject, I stumbled over “Le champs de l’eurocratie: Une sociologie politique du personnel de l’Union européenne“* by Professor Didier Georgakakis.

I haven’t yet read the book, except for the chapter titled “Producteurs, courtiers et experts de l’information européenne“** by Philippe Adrian for which a manuscript version has been published.  This chapters looks at the profession and the professionalisation of EU information people (‘les gens de l’information’) in and around the Brussels institutions.

The chapter starts out as a historical account of how the European Commission Directorate General for Communications (DG Comm) has evolved separately from the spokespersons (service) of the European Commissioners. While the former is responsible for defending the “truth” about European policies towards the rest of Europe, the latter has been in the dirty in-fight with the Brussels press corps, often by former (EU) journalists themselves.

The chapters highlights the lack of power of the DG Comm, being a low profile portfolio for the respective European Commissioners and being a place within the Commission’s administration that isn’t very helpful for making a career. This traditional conflict between spokesperson and the DG Comm that existed since the early 1960s was even further enlarged by the creation of specialised communication units within the policy-oriented Directorates General of the European Commission, a necessity for those DGs to win the political fights with other EU institutions by winning over the public opinion. At the same time, more and more “production” of information was outsourced to (private) contractors, not seldom equipped with personnel that formerly worked as communications professionals within the institution.

The chapter then moves to the Brussels’ journalists, starting with the claim that, in the early times, the institutions “convinced” certain media companies to send permanent correspondents to Brussels by ordering several dozens of subscriptions of said press products. It then continues to notice the creation of a “Brussels” or “European” press corps by a specialised system of accreditation, including the “Midday briefing” and off-the-record access, or by involving freelance journalists in creating European information (e.g. in the form of institutional newsletters etc.). In recent times, however, Adrian notes a certain normalisation of the formerly close relations between institutions and the press, and a more critical stance towards institutional spin.

Finally, the chapter closes with the field of “communications experts” that populate the boundaries between media, EU institutions, consultancies and information specialists in think tanks and in others types of organisations.

All in all, it’s an interesting account of a particular professional landscape in the Eurobubble. For anyone reading Michaël’s blog “Décrypter la communication européenne“, none of the topics covered is particularly revelatory and few things will surprise the permanent observer of the Brussels bubble communications.

However, this article should be seen in relation to other current sociological research into the people inside the Eurobubble – the field of the eurocracy, from Members of the European Parliament, conflicts between European Commissioners and high-level officials or personal characteristics of Commissioners, the establishment of the European administrative corps.

Academia is starting to help us understand why and how the Brussels Brussels or the Eurobubble is what it is, beyond anecdotal evidence or generalised assumptions. If you’ve got good research to share (your own or others), I’d be happy to write about it.

PS: It’s been a while that I haven’t written about political science on this blog. This has largely to do with the fact that used my political science brain in my free time (i.e. outside my day job) to finalise the text of my PhD thesis. I hope to be a little more prolific from now on.

* English: “The field of the eurocracy: a political sociology of the European Union’s personnel”

** English: “Producers, brokers, and experts of European information”

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