Good Press: EW at the EESC
Greta Scott and Nicole Molinari recently represented European Waves at two seminars organised by the European Economic and Social Committee, an EU advisory body which is composed of employers, employees and representatives of civil society. Here, they share their experiences.
Greta at the Connecting EU Seminar, Zagreb, November 2022
European Waves was lucky enough to secure an invitation from Mathilde de Meester for the 2022 Connecting EU Seminar, hosted by the EESC. I was sent to Zagreb in order to promote European Waves and make some connections.
The EESC organised flights and accommodation for all the attendees. From the moment I left the airport, I knew I was in for an interesting time. As I jumped on the bus to my hotel, I attempted to pay for a ticket by card, to which the bus driver said, “Only cash, never mind”, and drove off, with me on the bus – I enjoyed his complete disregard for his employer’s purse strings as I took my seat, somewhat awkwardly, at the front of the bus. We were staying at the Westin Hotel, a five-star business hotel in the city centre. On entering the foyer, I felt immediately underdressed, surrounded by impatient corporate types in suits. That evening, determined to maximise my stay in Zagreb, I took a walk around the city centre. Although reliably informed by my local friend that prices were rising in preparation to join the Eurozone in January, not to mention with inflation, I couldn’t help but relish in spending only a couple of euros on my supper.
The next morning, I arrived at the Hotel Dubrovnik for the seminar proper, where I was greeted by Mathilde and given a European Commission badge, the true status symbol of anyone in European Studies. My nerves quickly dissipated as I found myself sitting next to a friendly Latvian journalist, who told me all about a hitchhiking trip she had taken to Zagreb after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The seminar began with a keynote speech by the Franco-Russian historian Galia Ackerman and a panel on EU enlargement. I particularly enjoyed the multilingual aspect of the seminar, which took place in English, French and Croatian, with interpreters at the ready in booths at the corner of the room. After a buffet lunch came the “speed networking session”, a chance for EESC members and press officers representing various trade unions and civil society organisations to discuss how they can best promote their activities. Although I clearly did not count as a press officer, a fact which I was forced to awkwardly divulge to my colleagues, it was, at least, the chance to watch an advisory body to the EU reach out to grassroots organisations and offer a reciprocal partnership.
We then went on a tour of Zagreb, courtesy of the EESC, during which I realised that I needn’t have hurried out of my hotel room the day before, since the city centre is charming, but tiny. Afterwards, since I had about an hour before the final event of the day, I meandered over to the Museum of Broken Relationships (yes, really). The museum features mementoes from a number of relationships gone sour, along with the stories which accompany them. Feeling sobered up, I hurried off to the traditional Croatian restaurant where the EESC had organised a dinner.
I found myself sitting next to a Ukrainian activist named Marta. She had founded her own NGO called Promote Ukraine, the voice of Ukrainian civil society in Brussels. Despite immediately embarrassing myself by taking a sip of what I thought was water but turned out to be the vodka which Croatians apparently serve in tumblers with no trace of the bottle in sight, we quickly settled into a very engaging conversation about the importance of her work. This activist became my hero over that conversation: throughout dinner she was handling calls from her daughters as well as her employees. She expressed the intense pressure she was under: if she took her eye off the ball for a second, if her NGO let someone down, its reputation would be damaged, and she, as its sole leader, would have to take responsibility for that. She was someone who embodied the 21st-century hustle culture, not for some random start-up, but for something that actually mattered. I was thrilled when she wanted to collaborate on some podcasts.
The next day, another panel was held on communication in times of crisis. Over the buffet lunch, I spoke to one of the panellists who I knew would be speaking in the afternoon. She was very confused as to how I knew who she was, and I decided not to tell her that we had been sitting together the day before. The panel was about the energy transition, and featured a lively debate on the merits of nuclear power. It tickled me that this conversation was taking place in Croatia, where seemingly all the energy in the EU flows, keeping the hotels a toasty 25 degrees and the restaurant terraces heated.
At the end of the day, I returned to everyone whom I had met over the course of the seminar and got their contact information. I managed to secure a few exciting interviews with some journalists who had particularly grabbed my attention. That evening, since I had decided to stay one more day in Zagreb, I moved from the five-star comfort of the Westin to the cheapest hostel in town. The owner didn’t know that I had reserved a room, and seemed relieved that he had one free. The next morning, I visited the last places I had left to see in Zagreb, met up with my local friend, and then flew back to my home in Barcelona.
All in all, this seminar gave me some definite insights into the work of the EESC. As is often the case, I think a lot of the real work goes on between panels, when people can come together to have real conversations amongst themselves. Since there was a real mix of professions in the group, including journalists, press officers and EESC staff, it was fun to both observe and be part of conversations between professionals who might not otherwise have met. The attendees all came from such different backgrounds, and so the miriad of perspectives at the seminar contributed to the richness of debate. The seminar definitely succeeded in connecting various civil society groups within the EU.
Nicole at the Seminar for Journalists, Brussels, December 2022
Thanks to Greta’s participation in the Connecting EU conference, the EESC informed European Waves about the possibility to participate in the 6th Seminar for Journalists on the topic of “Energy and media as weapons in wartime”, which took place on December 14 and 15 in Brussels. My application was successful, so I received the opportunity to represent our organisation at the event. All travel and accommodation expenses were covered by the institution.
I landed in Brussels the day before the beginning of the seminar, which gave me the opportunity to settle comfortably at the selected hotel in the city centre and hang out at night with the EPS Brussels crew. The next day, my alarm was set at an early hour since the rendez-vous was at eight o'clock. After first enjoying the continental breakfast, we all met in the hall with two members of the EESC Press Unit who accompanied us to the venue, which was the institution’s headquarters. We were welcomed there with coffee and pastries, and then we took our pre-assigned seats in the selected room, where the photo exhibition “Children in War” was displayed.
There were around twenty-three of us from different Member States, plus a representative of an independent Russian media outlet and a correspondent of a Ukrainian television channel, which I was quite surprised about, but the anecdotes and experiences they shared regarding their job during wartime were extremely interesting and inspiring. I think ensuring representation from these media outlets was a great signal from the EESC of the support towards the Ukrainian cause. The majority of participants were professional journalists, but there were other representatives of student organisations, namely Eyes on Europe and Global Initiativ’. I was pleased to see that even if our experience in the field of journalism was not comparable to that of the other people present, we were all treated equally, and the participation of students was highly appreciated. At first I was a bit intimidated, but the Press Unit staff was really kind and caring, and the participants as well were all interested in knowing my work and that of European Waves. For young people, these events represent wonderful opportunities, and it was nice to see that much has been done to involve us, especially given that we were still in the European Year of Youth.
The opening remarks were delivered by EESC President Christa Schweng and Vice-President Cillian Lohan, followed by two roundtable discussions featuring the presence of EESC members who debated the topics of the seminar: one concerned the energy market, where the discussion focused on the possible solutions to the current energy crisis and how the goals of sustainability, renewability, and reduced dependence could be achieved. On the other hand, the following speakers talked about how propaganda and disinformation are used in times of war and crisis as a tool and what the media can do to overcome these challenges. It was extremely insightful to hear the opinion of experts on such relevant topics and the role of the media in the current political situation.
In the afternoon we first had a meeting with the three Group Presidents (Employers, Employees, and Civil Society Organisations), and then we moved to the EESC plenary session, which took place inside the European Commission Charlemagne Building, in the same room where EPS students were hosted during their visit at the institution (you can read more on the Brussels Field Trip here). This was a truly exciting experience: we were sitting at the spots reserved for the press, and attended live debates, discussions, speeches, and voting sessions — a great insight on how this institution works. The topics on the agenda were several: from relations with the southern neighbourhood, innovation and digitalisation, to gender equality and media. During the session, I had the pleasure to interview Kerli Ats, the Director of the Estonian Farmers’ Federation and member of the Civil Society Organisations’ Group. At the end of the day, I went back to the hotel and took a walk through the lovely Christmas markets on the nearby square.
The second day of the seminar started a bit later, and we were taken back to the Charlemagne building for the second part of the plenary session. The focus that day was on the Civil Society Prize Award Ceremony, which was aiming to reward initiatives that empower young people on the one hand and help Ukrainian refugees on the other. For the first category, the winners were a Spanish organisation which fosters the inclusion of Roma young people, a Portuguese project developing school programmes for children at risk of exclusion, and an Italian network for young care leavers. Concerning the help to Ukrainians, the first prize was awarded to a Romanian association, while the other two were given to a Spanish organisation which provides help to Ukrainian children suffering from cancer, and to the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association. I had the opportunity to interview the latter and it was impressive to learn about the wide range of initiatives they have in place to help these people integrate into Polish society, but also to offer just temporary assistance.
Afterwards, the topics discussed in the session concerned the food price crisis and related topics, but the core issue was youth. The debate focused on the transition from the 2022 European Year of Youth to the 2023 European Year of Skills, but also on the empowerment, employment, and education of young people. I was positively surprised by the great attention reserved to the issues of our generation, and to see that real actions and initiatives have been adopted in order to let the young people speak and their voices be heard at the European level. As said by Commissioner Nicolas Schmidt, who participated in the discussion, “every year should be the year of youth”, as young people are needed to build a better future for the whole of Europe.
My experience in Brussels and at the EESC ended that day, after a fruitful networking lunch and the last greetings to everyone. I am deeply grateful to the EESC Press Unit for selecting me and therefore European Waves to participate in such a prestigious event and for the great treatment afforded to all of us. I really hope more European Waves contributors will have the opportunity to take part in many more events like this in the future, as even if our experience in the field of journalism is not extensive, our contribution is still really valuable, and we should not be afraid to participate in such events and engage with professionals!