A hopefully useful exchange took place at the Commission midday briefing on Monday and Tuesday (8-9 April) about whether Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is accessible to the press.
The midday briefing is the best place to take the EU temperature. With the European elections approaching, journalists believe it would be great if Juncker was more open to press conferences and interviews. Even more so as he is not a candidate for re-election, which provides him with more freedom and moral high ground.
On one side, the journalists say that Juncker has very rarely appeared in the press room where the midday briefings are held, which happens to be the biggest press room in the world and is open every working day.
Juncker’s spokesperson’s service has a different view. Its chief, Margaritis Schinas, keeps repeating that Juncker has held hundreds of press appearances, not only in the Berlaymont building but in the European Council, the European Parliament and many places across the world, during his many visits.
Journalists are not happy with such an answer, because in the Council, for instance, at the end of summits, very few questions are allowed, often to the surprise of Juncker himself. Even fewer questions are allowed abroad, and they are often agreed in advance with the host country.
Schinas said Juncker had spoken 17 times in the Berlaymont press room during his mandate, roughly once every three months. EURACTIV asked him to send the list.
Schinas sent it – here it is – but he said he was “hurt” by such a lack of trust. We apologise for having been so rude.
Among these 17 appearances, there is one all journalists remember: when he announced the (controversial) appointment of his chief of cabinet Martin Selmayr as the new secretary general of the European Commission on 21 February 2018.
Juncker actually likes to speak to the press. He offers good quotes, has incomparably vast experience and can still be surprising, even though sometimes he repeats himself. And he has a great sense of humour.
We watched at random one of the 17 videos. On 14 February 2018, Juncker in fact reprimanded Schinas in front of the media, as the latter was trying to cut short the Q&A: “I instructed you to take some questions before I leave,” a frowning Juncker told his chief spokesman.
The sad truth is that the spokesperson’s service is not helping Juncker with the press. It is protecting Juncker from the press, largely at the request of Selmayr, who is the real boss in this domain as well.
By Alexandra Brzozowski
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Look out for…
Hopefully, the last Special Brexit summit of its kind before the UK’s exit from the bloc (or a long extension), starting at 6 pm.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]