What this media briefing room tells us about the EU

BRUSSELS, Belgium – When I first entered the media briefing room of the European Commission here in Brussels, all I could say was wow. 

The media briefing room looks like a big, comfortable movie house. I don't think we have anything like this in the Philippines.

This room has 300 cushioned seats equipped with buttons, earphones, and a microphone that connect to 21 translation booths, according to a press officer at the European Commission.

More than 1,000 journalists from all over Europe have been accredited to cover the European Commission. Not all of them, however, go to this briefing room in the flesh. Those who attend briefings here mostly come from Italy, Belgium, Germany, and France.

Still, the number of journalists covering here – and the range of countries they represent – says a lot about the diversity of interests in the European Union (EU).

The EU is not, as many Filipinos think, a monolithic body that knows nothing but criticize Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. 

The EU is an economic and political union composed of 28 European countries, each with its own political dynamics, economic interests, and agenda on a global scale. 

Single currency

On the economic side, the EU has a single currency – the euro – which is used by "more than 340 million EU citizens in 19 countries," a briefer on the EU website said. The EU is also "the largest trade bloc in the world."

The EU briefer added: "All EU citizens have the right and freedom to choose in which EU country they want to study, work or retire. Every member country must treat EU citizens in exactly the same way as its own citizens for employment, social security and tax purposes."

On the political side, the EU "is governed by the principle of representative democracy."

Decision-making at the EU involves the following institutions:

'The Parliament is not the EU'

I am part of a group of Filipino journalists invited by the EU Delegation to the Philippines to study EU institutions here in Brussels.

One way we've absorbed the diversity of EU institutions is the 900-meter walk – in the cold of winter! – back and forth from the EU Commission to the EU Parliament. 

The most important way is through on-the-record and, so far, mostly off-the-record meetings with officials and experts in the EU. 

Maria Laura Franciosi, founder of the Press Club Brussels Europe, said the diversity of interests in the EU makes the life of a journalist more challenging. 

Franciosi said that the EU "looks as if it was a compact union," but in truth "every country has its own position." Because of this, it hard to reach an agreement in the EU Council "unless it's something uncontroversial."

Franciosi said the work of a journalist here is more difficult "because you have to identify all the different positions" of the countries – and political parties – involved. 

"You have what seems to be a harmonized parliament, and then everybody has got their national positions," the veteran journalist said. 

In Philippine news, an example of the EU's diversity was the EU Parliament's call to free Senator Leila de Lima. The call initially came from a group of lawmakers, and was only adopted by the EU Parliament.  

The call was not from the EU Council, composed of heads of state or government of European states. 

For this and other moves by EU parliamentarians, however, Duterte ended up denouncing the whole of the EU. (READ: Wrong info leads Duterte to threaten EU diplomats)

An EU officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Duterte fails to distinguish between the EU Parliament and the EU External Action Service (EEAS), the counterpart of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

"We should understand, the Parliament is not the EU," the EU officer said. "For Mr Duterte, everything is the EU, but the Parliament is not the EEAS." – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.