We call him "Über Boss" and he once explained here what it means to work with us – from his point of view. This week, Newshound, the EP internal online magazine interviewed Jaume Duch-Guillot, EP Spokesman and Director of Media Directorate on different issues: workwise and personal. Here comes the full interview, if your curiosity is challenged.
Explain your role as the EP’s official spokesman. What’s the difference between a press officer and a spokesman?
The EP Spokesman speaks on behalf of the Parliament to present and defend the line that the institution takes. In this capacity, I take part in a fascinating process helping to define the way the EP’s message on key political dossiers, such as EU budget negotiations, or legislative issues, is conveyed. I work closely with MEPs, the President´s Cabinet and the SG´s office.
Once you have a message, it has to get into the media and most of times this has to be done quickly. That’s my responsibility, but I couldn’t do it without our media teams, all highly professional people.
The EP Spokesperson is also responsible for crisis communication. Mostly that means getting the right facts out there, but it can also involve correcting erroneous reporting, for example, about the consequences of a European Parliament vote on a piece of legislation. You would be amazed at some of the things that the press picks up, for example, at one point the EP was accused of forbidding Nutella sales in Europe.
But don’t get the wrong idea – don’t picture me playing a part in an action movie every day. Not every day involves crisis management, my daily tasks include responding to media inquiries, chairing press briefings, moderating press conferences, assisting the President and other EP stakeholders on media aspects and working closely with EP and political group press officers.
Our press officers are on the front line with the media, beside MEPs, to explain what is happening in the Parliament at any given moment – be it in the committees or during plenary sessions. Press officers in Brussels specialise by policy area, while our colleagues in the Member States have an in-depth knowledge of their national media markets, which means knowing when and how to best sell Parliament.
We have been able to recruit outstanding staff – former journalists with longstanding experience in newsrooms and senior public relations specialists, even former prime ministers’ spokesmen. When I look at my teams I am proud, but also demanding. With these people on board I dare to set ambitious goals.
How does your role differ from, for example, that of the president’s spokesman?
The President's spokesman is in charge of the President's communication work and strategy and speaks on his behalf. The EP spokesman coordinates the media services of the Parliament and at the same time gives a personal touch to institutional information. The spokesman of the Parliament has to communicate on the decisions of all Parliament’s bodies (Conference of Presidents, Bureau, plenary…) in an informative way, without political bias.
In addition to being the EP spokesman you are head of the media directorate. Can you sum up the directorate’s mission in one sentence?
Raise awareness of the work of the European Parliament and its members through traditional and digital media. We also offer a range of services to MEPs. (Find out more in this video)
How many people are in the directorate and do you know them all?
We are around 200 working in 23 languages, in fields from press relations and services to television and radio to web communication. Most people work in Brussels, but we have press officers posted in the 28 EU capitals.
I know almost everybody in the Directorate, partly because I have spent a lot of years in different posts here and partly because we work in a very integrated manner, with few administrative borders. It’s the only way to apply a coherent editorial policy and actually be a good Spokesperson – be on the ground, gather insights, know the operational constraints that people may have.
Tell us a bit more about the media directorate, how is it different from other EP directorates?
Our particularity lies in the fact that we are simultaneously a directorate and a fully-fledged media service, a kind of EP media, where decisions on content must be shared by all units and services. Coordination is key.
To communicate effectively on major legislative files in the EP (some current examples are the MFF, CAP reform and data protection legislation) we bring together specialists from several units. Drawing on their expertise of the different communication disciplines – online, audiovisual, press relations – they elaborate an integrated media strategy on how best to communicate Parliament´s decisions, to which audiences and through which channels.
The truth is that these key files contribute considerably to shaping the EP’s long-term image.
We are lucky to have a high percentage of young people and freshly-recruited officials working with us. They bring lots of new ideas and fresh perspectives, which I think is a must-have in our bureaucratic environment. These youngsters push us forward.
If we are talking about current affairs, we are already in election mood. This mood comes over us every five years, well in advance of the European elections, for the simple reason that preparing a campaign in 24 languages is no joke and requires serious long-term planning. For example, the main European Elections website will go public in December 2013, but we started working on it in December 2012.
So now we know who you are, who are your clients?
Our traditional clients are correspondents in Brussels and national and regional media in the Member States. Did you know that there are almost 1000 accredited journalists in Brussels?
We are seeing ever increasing interest in the EU from the international press. During the last plenary we welcomed our first group of US journalists. ACTA, EU-US- trade talks, data protection – are all issues that demonstrate Parliament’s influence on the international sphere.
Our “new” clients are bloggers and online opinion influencers. A young French person with 200 000 followers on Twitter is a sort of media owner in himself. Initiatives are being developed to target online influencers in the context of the elections. (ed – Jaume is on Twitter too, you can follow him here)
Describe a typical day
I don't think I ever have a “typical day” because my work depends so much on what happens on any given day, much of which is unforeseen.
I start my day reading press reviews. There are always meetings – some are institutional, others about internal coordination and I need to leave space for contacts with Members, journalists and the colleagues who help me do my job. There are often press conferences and I sometimes travel with the President or with the Conference of Presidents and I participate in seminars about communication around the EU.
And then of course there is the administrative part of my job…
But my working day is often overtaken by events, for example the furore over the MFF talks, which mean that I spend most of my time in crisis management – and that can mean I work for much longer than my usual 12-hour working day.
What do you like best about your job?
I really enjoy reporting on what Parliament does, being in contact with journalists and working in an atmosphere of permanent evolution. It’s very rewarding.
If you compare the media presence of the Parliament now and 5 years ago, there is a huge difference. Our media analyst has just informed me that plenary coverage doubled this spring in comparison to last autumn.
This can partly be explained by the big economic issues such as MFF and economic governance. Generally speaking, the Parliament is now a real player in many fields and gets much more visibility than we think.
Of course we still have a long way to go and I can assure you that in the context of the next elections, the EP media services are ready to work to beat the media coverage record.
I also enjoy the constant demand for innovation that digital media brings Other EU institutions are envious of our presence on social media, and rightly so. Parliament has been courageous in embarking on ambitious projects such as newshub, which aggregates news feeds from all political actors in the House in 23 languages.
What do you like least?
I am not a big fan of the huge amount of paper work that I have to deal with on daily basis and sometimes I have the impression that a lot of this paper work could be easily reduced. But it must be done and well done. It takes time.
What’s your next project?
To increase the awareness of citizens about the next European elections. In June 2009, 67% said they had seen or heard about the European election awareness campaign, which was a very good result. This time we have to do even better.
Tell us a bit more about what the elections will mean for the media directorate
As I said the pre-election time will be a very stimulating period for me and my team. In line with the Bureau decision, we are responsible for implementing media actions within the framework of the Parliament’s institutional campaign for the elections.
Aside from our efforts in the audiovisual and press fields, this campaign will have a very strong online component. We will provide platforms and opportunities for MEPs to directly engage with people.
Engagement is what the public wants. They are tired of top-down monologues. There is a huge demand for dialogue and exchange. Over the past few years, our teams have invested a lot of effort in building Parliament’s presence on the main social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and others.
It has been a strategic and I would say far-sighted investment in developing a “digital fan base” for the European Parliament. We will soon reach 1 million fans on Facebook. Now these fan bases will be used to activate and engage with potential voters.
Getting people interested in the elections is not an easy task: the European Parliament can be perceived as distant because of the physical distance, the fact that its new powers are not widely known and because the link between the EP and people’s daily life is not always evident.
The decision-making process at the EU level and in the Parliament is complex and complexity confuses and scares people away.
But we have an ace to play. We are the only European institution directly elected by the citizens, which is a huge asset when so many people are asking who really takes decisions at EU level. There is popular demand for a more transparent and more democratic Europe.
In addition, we need to communicate and explain why these elections are different, why "this time it's different". As European political parties are set to nominate candidates for the post of European Commission President , by voting people will indirectly “elect” the head of the EU executive. (ed – exciting times)
On a more personal note:
How would you describe yourself?
Hard worker, lucky, jovial, impatient and not afraid of making mistakes, because they are part of the learning process.
What did you do before being spokesman?
I started my career as an official in 1990, in Luxembourg, prior to which I was an assistant to an MEP (1987–1989). Before becoming spokesperson and Director, I was head of the press unit (1999–2006) and press advisor with the private office of the then EP President José Maria Gil-Robles (1997–1999).
At that time a President had just one press officer, even though it was at the time when the EP forced the resignation of the Santer Commission and the whole press corps was looking to the Parliament, almost for the first time.
And before you came to the EP?
I studied International Law at University of Barcelona (1980 – 1985). Between 1986 and 1990, I was associate professor of Public International Law at the University of Barcelona and coordinator of the European institutions and policies seminar. I also worked in a educational training foundation and did press work from the age of 17 to help pay university fees.
What drew you to the EP?
When I was a teenager, the Spanish transition to democracy sparked my passion for politics. My interest in the EU came through both the political and the academic side. When I had the opportunity to take a European competition I had no doubts. It was simply my dream.
What do you like about Brussels?
Life in Brussels is easy if you like the work. The city is not big or small, there are plenty of things to do and my family is acclimatised. I like Brussels, in spite of weather.
What do you miss about Spain?
I miss the Mediterranean and the quality of life of my city, Barcelona, but no place is perfect.
You must have seen a lot of interesting things during your time at the EP, what stands out?
I have, but for some of them you have to invite me for another coffee in a few years’ time ;-).
There are lots of stories around the fall of the Santer Commission, which was initiated by the European Parliament. Media interest was so intense that I had completely lost my voice by the end of the affair. I remember the day when the wise men’s report investigating the corruption allegations was brought into the press room on a trolley and the 250 journalists attending the press briefing literally jumped on the trolley to get the document.
It was a lifetime experience for me and for the Parliament. But the funniest anecdotes are mainly linked to official visits abroad or VIPs coming to the Parliament.
What are you passionate about?
I’m still passionate about Europe. And with every year my passion grows. It started as an emotional passion. Now is a rational one. I’m convinced that to do well in your job, you have to be passionate about it. My other passions are opera and discovering small cellars of Catalan cava, but alas I will have to wait for less busy times to pursue them.
What are your hobbies/interests?
I like travelling with my family, reading fiction and taking an urban ride on my motorbike, like I used to in Barcelona.