Margaritis Schinas, the new chief spokesperson of the European Commission, is to circulate to all European commissioners a daily guide on how to answer topical questions from journalists.
The “lines-to-take” document will be drafted by the Commission’s spokesperson’s service (SPP) each morning and circulated to all commissioners, heads of cabinet, deputy heads of cabinet and the communication advisers in each cabinet. A “lines-to-take” database will also be set up that all members of commissioners’ cabinets can consult, “to ensure collegial communication on all issues at all times”.
According to an internal Commission planning document seen by European Voice, “Communication can only be successful if the Commission speaks with one voice.” The document outlines a new strategy for communicating with the public that will see commissioners have more direct interaction with the media.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the Commission, has already declared that he or his first vice-president Frans Timmermans will lead a press conference to be held after each weekly meeting of the college of European commissioners.
Juncker this week made an unscheduled appearance at Wednesday’s post-college press conference, which had been billed as conducted by Timmermans. Juncker appeared as well, to defend himself against suggestions that he was complicit in tax avoidance while prime minister of Luxembourg.
A document on the working methods of the Commission outlines ways in which the Commission’s spokesperson’s service is to be brought under tighter top-down control. It is clear that the Juncker administration wants to get away from the impression given in the later days of the Barroso II administration that spokespeople were sometimes acting for individual commissioners rather than the Commission as a whole. Sometimes conflicting messages came from different cabinets amid turf wars about which commissioners determined policy.
The document stipulates that Schinas, as spokesperson for the President, will be supported by two deputy spokespersons. The high representative for foreign and security policy will have two spokespersons. In addition there will be “up to 10” spokespersons who will cover other policy areas, but no longer representing specific commissioners. There will be “up to 30” press officers specializing in more specific policy areas.
Each commissioner will have a communications adviser in his or her cabinet, who will be the contact point for relations between the spokesperson’s service and the commissioner. These communications advisers will have a weekly meeting chaired by Schinas “in order to establish a communication planning that reflects the political agenda of the college”.
While the Commission is aspiring to greater control of its communications to the media. Juncker is also insisting that its operations should become more transparent.
As of 1 December, all commissioners must make public, on their respective web pages, all the contacts and meetings held with lobbyists “unless compelling reasons of public interest…require confidentiality”.
“As a rule” commissioners must not meet professional organisations or self-employed individuals who are not registered on the joint transparency register of the European Parliament and Commission.
Members of the Commission are urged to ensure “an appropriate balance and representativeness in the stakeholders they meet”.
The adviser will be called upon by the spokesperson’s service for political input to “lines to take” on matters under the portfolio of his/her commissioner.
Advisers “have no mandate” to speak to the media on the record.
“Only members of the SPP are empowered to speak for the Commission on the record, off the record or on a background basis,” the document warns.
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