10th European Public Communication Conference – EuroPCom 2019

7 November 2019, Storytelling in political speechwritingEuroPCom 2019 #europcom @EuroPCom2019 Belgium - Brussels - November 2019 © European Union / Danny Gys

The EuroPCom 2019 took place on the 7th and 8th of November at the European Union institutions quartier, more precisely at the Committee of the Regions-building. The purpose of the 10th edition of this two-day conference was to provide spaces for interaction between different social groups and stakeholders, ranging from regional governments to EU functionaries, with the aim of enabling transparency and communication at different levels of the EU. In the aftermath of the newly elected European Parliament and the new College of the European Commission, it seemed like the perfect timing to gather those who communicate Europe at national, regional and local levels, to exchange new ideas and discuss methods and tools.

The main clusters selected for discussion were the elections, to reflect on what worked and what could have been done alternatively; the engagement of EU citizens with regional and local communication channels. For these purposes, there were different group formats of discussion: Workshops, bringing communicators together on specific topics and presenting practical case studies; mini trainings, which were sessions were practical skills were orchestrated by an experienced trainer; Ideas Labs Open, where participation and active interaction had cavity, a space for co-creation based on a call for interest by the participants; and finally EuroPCom Talks, which were short, inspiring keynote speeches. It took place on the Committee of the Regions at the conference rooms of the fifth-floor which simultaneously hosted in its corridors a Market Place with diverse advocacy groups to give the participants an opportunity to bring in their projects and ideas and exchange experiences and best practices with others.

The opening was held in the Hemicycle of the Paul-Henri Spaak building of the European Parliament. Questions such as ´where do we stand after the European elections?`;  ´where do we want to go from here?` and ´what are the challenges for public communicators?` where raised by different experts related to the European Union.The commencement speech was delivered by Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions, Othmar Karas, Vice-President for Information Policy, Press and Citizens Relations; Paloma Escudero, Director of Communications at UNICEF in New York; Catherine E. De Vries, Westdijk Chair and Professor of Political Behaviour in Europe at Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam and Peter Müller, Brussels bureau chief for DER SPIEGEL. The moderator for this ice-breaking session was Florence Ranson, Founder of RedComms in Belgium.

JESC participated in the event represented by Alba Requejo, Social Media and Content Assistant. At the opening, there was one specific idea which caught her attention and regardless of how simple it can seem, it renders a different perspective on EU consolidation. Catherine E. De Vries stated her idea in line with her book Euroscepticism and the future of the European Integration: ´It is okay to be Eurosceptic, but in such a case, one should ask himself, what is the alternative to this?` From her point of view, the solution was simple: More efforts deployed to create an ideational stand as Europeans and less relentless time spent on outlining functional proposals. It makes genuine sense when considered that if the citizens of the European Union feel part of it, functionality would flourish and become a much simpler endeavour.

The subsequent sessions went through topics such as what communicative strategies worked in the electoral campaigns, the connection of the EU and its citizens through the cohesion policy, explaining power and perils of narratives or getting information across with emotion and humour for more effectiveness, innovative citizen engagement to counter populism, and other informative sessions which gave tips on how to react to a disinformation attack, how to start a podcast, storytelling in political speechwriting.

The Lab Ideas workshop that Alba participated in was on immigration communication and involved using Lego pieces to create a communication strategy towards more inclusive and effective campaigns. This exercise led its participants to explore new ways of creativity by building their thoughts into lego structures to convey the message of how to improve the current communicative campaigns on immigration within the Member States.

Regarding the speakers, there was a blend of international backgrounds from EU functionaries working at different DGs of the EU Commission, the Parliament at communication departments, the Committee of the Regions and the EEAS. There were representatives from the Communication Directorate of the European Committee of the Regions; European Investment Bank, EEAS and Council of the European Union.

From the public sector there were governmental spokespersons such as Adrian Teban, the mayor of Cugir in Transylvania and Doreen Grove, Head of Open Government in Scottish Government, Scotland. There were also academics, such as Dr Luca Pareschi, Post-doctoral Research Fellow for PERCEIVE Project in Italy and from other domains such as data literacy aspiring to raise awareness of this concern and to make an appreciable impact on social perceptions. 

Moreover, there were representatives from advocacy groups such Nadja Nickel is Country Lead Germany and Project Manager for the Horizon 2020 Populism and Civic Engagement project at the Democratic Society and Dr David Fernández Quijada from Switzerland is manager of the Media Intelligence Service, the market research unit of the European Broadcasting Union, the world’s biggest alliance of public service media and Stephen Boucher, the founder of Dreamocracy, a think tank and public interest consultancy on collective intelligence and democracy.

Besides, the conference counted leading figures within the Belgium-based private sector such as Stefan Haenen, Account Manager for Hill+Knowlton Strategies; Wietse Van Ransbeeck, co-founder and CEO of Citizen Lab and Stephen Turner, Head of Public Policy, Government and Philanthropy from Twitter and Laura Shields, founder and Managing Director of Red Thread, a Brussels-based communications agency specialised in media. There were also representatives from EU agencies such as Anthony Lockett, Head of Unit for Communication at the European Research Council Executive Agency.

Such multilateralism sparked a vivid environment of different perspectives and debates which gave leeway to questions from the audience and the participants. After the round of workshops and speeches on Thursday there was a small ceremony to celebrate the 10th edition of the EuropCom which was successful and key for communication between the multiple societal segments attending.

By Alba Requejo Hernández