I had forgotten how narrow streets are in Europe. The taxi driver skillfully made his way between rows of cars parked on both sides of the road, driving through confusing-looking intersections, while I was curiously glancing out the window at all the buildings we were passing by.
It is my first time in Brussels - and I am here with a purpose: to learn about the workings of the European Union and how to report on it. As a recent journalism graduate and after winning an award sponsored by the European Commission, I have the amazing opportunity of travelling all the way from Canada to learn about an international organisation I always found to be a very interesting economic and political exercise.
Today, for the first time, I stood in front of the European Commission, looking up at the many blue flags waving in the wind. I felt my dream had come true. I am sure for those living in Brussels, the tall buildings of the EU institutions are not creating as much happiness as they did for me in that moment. I had wanted to see and learn more about these institutions for years now. I always saw the EU as having a great potential at building great inter-state and transnational relations, and its uniqueness has always appealed to me. Coming originally from Romania, I felt a connection with this organisation. After talking to locals here in Brussels I understood not everybody thinks positively about this institution, be it because they don’t understand it so well, or for other political reasons.
From what our organizers at the European Journalism Centre have told us, the Brussels media corps is the biggest in the world. There are apparently over 1,200 journalists accredited to cover the EU institutions. That is not that surprising considering the following: the EU is representing 27 member states; several politicians from each country (to a total of 785) are seating in the European Parliament representing their constituents; there are 27 commissioners (in charge of different portfolios in the European Commission); ministers from national governments meet in large chambers in the Council of the European Union to make joint decision; and heads of state appear in Brussels now and then to speak on different matters. Add to that the representatives of countries in close relations to the EU.
Today we got the chance to visit the Secretariat of the Council of the EU. There is a very large room dedicated to the press where journalists go to for important announcements. They also have their own working rooms, a nice bar area, and even small smoking areas set up in several spots along the hallways (not outside), since it seems many of them often feel the need for a smoke. There is also a TV and radio room where representatives can have live interviews with different national or international news agencies. Each member-state also has its own briefing room on the lower level of the Secretariat building, where national heads of states, ministers or spokespeople can be interviewed by their national media after a general EU announcement.
The existence of these rooms (some bigger than others, depending on the country) reminded me how important the issue of sovereignty continues to be as this organisation develops. Nation-states still need to maintain their individual voices, while the EU also needs to speak with a unified voice. A fine balance to strike. I am sure, though, that journalists look mostly for the national angle stories - the ones that can touch people better.
Since the day wasn’t very busy, there weren’t many journalists at their working stations. Or maybe they were all outside. A big protest had started in front of the building. Streets blocked and police everywhere. Dairy farmers had poured the streets to protest against falling milk prices.
No matter what one’s view is on the EU, what is clear is that as the EU develops as an entity, EU decisions touch the lives of more and more people, and journalists need to be there to find out how. That can be in official briefings rooms or in the middle of the street.