Brussels, the Information Supermarket

By Roberta Jackson

Prior to coming to Belgium we were required to research the country in addition to the places we were touring as a group. I visited the European Union’s website to look up information and thought I was well prepared for my visit and thought I had a pretty good grasp on their role. I thought the EU was a technological dinosaur. But I was mistaken.

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After going through security, we were greeted with a “hallow” and a big smile by our tour guide Dominique, who remarked that she was excited to host the American students because we were friendly and always smiling. She had very high energy which started our tour on a positive note. We met in the atrium which also doubled as a meeting room, fully equipped with the technology for a full blown press conference, that can host over 600 journalists at one time.

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The revolving door…
The EU has rotating presidents that change every six months. Ireland is the current president. Although this may seem frequent, it allows each of the 27 member states, soon to be 28 in July, a chance to lead as well as follow. Believe it or not, the UN rotates every month. The member states are comprised of representatives from each of the countries that make up the EU. These 27 delegates are like 27 different presidents (similar to President Obama).
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Press and Public Relations…
The EU has a full staffed press department much like that of the White House. They are actually the second largest press agency to the White House. The Head of Press, Office for the Council told us the core function of the EU Council of Ministries are meetings and support. The role is to impartially communicate decisions that are made from the member states to the rest of the EU, physically organize press conferences/press briefings, distribute press releases, run audio and visual of the Council, and oversee media monitoring.

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The EU Council is involved in every social media account; however, they have recently taken an active role in strategically using those platforms to reach target audiences. Twitter and Facebook are the most popular social media platforms utilized by the Belgian journalists. Because he sees the value in social media, the head of press informed our group that he hired a social media officer to drive the initiative of strategic social media and has charged her with encouraging other officers by offering tips to use these tools in managing their constituents. The Council is about sharing best practices. The belief is that even if there is small following, Twitter can be used to promote dialogue and foster two-way communication. Since the EU requires delegates know both French and English they should tweet in both languages. Currently they only tweet in English.

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The Euro Crisis…
We also learned that only 17 of the 27 EU members state’s currency is the Euro. There is a not only a challenge in the EU with verbal and written communication but also financial communication. The reason for this segregated currency and hesitancy to convert to a universal EU currency is due to the north/south divide. The financially stable countries in the north do not want to incur the debt of the weaker economies in the south. Although the EU does not share the same currency, there was an asymmetric shock as a result of the euro and debt crises. Asymmetric shock does not directly effect the group because of the different economic structures and business models between the different member states that share the same currency but has an indirect effect.

As we learned in COM 7600….
When listening to the presentation on how the delegates of the EU create policy, I thought about transculturation. Each of these members states come together to make decisions that will, at some point, turn into policy. While they are serving as delegates they need a common ground to make decisions. These delegates speak different languages, have different customs, policies, traditions, economic structures, and business models; however, they are able to speak the language of compromise in their workgroups.

Next week, we will be visiting multinational corporations. Now that we have completed the government and non-profit sector, I am interesting in hearing the for-profit communication strategies and challenges. I can’t believe we have already completed our first week of this summer international experience!

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