Martine Reicherts used to work at the very top of the European Commission’s tree. When Jacques Santer became the Commission president in 1995, she was recruited as deputy head of his private office, and during the final 18 months of his troubled administration she was his official spokesperson. But she does not countenance the suggestion that her current job running the EU Publications Office is any less influential.
“To me, the job in publications is probably one of the most political jobs in the institutions,” she says. “Fortunately, people haven’t understood that yet, so maybe I shouldn’t tell you.”
Tucked away beside the railway station in Luxembourg, on the opposite side of the city from the main EU institutions, the Publications Office is excellently situated to be a well-kept secret. Yet its role is central: everything that the EU institutions want to publish, from the Official Journal to brochures, passes through here. In the past, publication meant printing, but now the office has to consider many different ways of distributing information. With this change comes new considerations about how Europeans perceive and interact with the EU institutions.
Reicherts, who is herself from Luxembourg, became director-general in 2007, at a point when the office had still only tentatively embraced digital publishing. Electronic versions of paper publications and some services were online, notably for tenders and the results of EU-funded research. She has developed a more ambitious strategy, which highlights easy access to information in multiple formats.
“If the transformation programme works, we will have changed the whole approach to documents in the institutions,” she says, “and that’s a revolution.”
The fundamental challenge is to separate text from the way in which it is delivered, achieving what the office jargon calls “the dissociation of content and container”. If you can get the content into the right form, it should flow easily into the required container, whether that is a print publication, a website with sound and moving images, an e-book or some format that has not yet been conceived.
“The important thing is to have a place where everything is stocked, in order, indexed in a way that we can find it,” Reicherts says. A lawyer by training, this has meant some adjustment on her part. “I had to get fully involved in what I would call the philosophy of information technology. I don’t know how it works, but I know what it should be doing.”
By 2012, Reicherts wants the office to be the main public access point for EU publications. The first stage will be completion of the EU Bookshop, which will allow electronic copies of any EU publication to be downloaded free of charge (gone are the days of the office trying to maximise sales of the Official Journal). Everything on the shelves dating back to 1952 has now been digitised – some 12 million pages – and work is under way on the interface.
Next will come reforms to the Eur-Lex service, so it gives easy access to the whole cycle of EU law-making, from a Commission proposal through to the final legal text, followed by details of national implementation and jurisprudence at both the EU and national levels. Official texts will be accompanied by ‘citizens’ summaries’ designed to make the law comprehensible to the public.
Reicherts traces her inspiration for reforming the office back to her experience in the Commission, where she saw how hard it was for people to get hold of information and for citizens to engage with EU processes. Her subsequent jobs in the Commission’s personnel directorate and running the Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Luxembourg also brought useful experience. “When you have to get the restaurants and canteens to work…it brings you back to reality. It gives you a pragmatic approach to things.”
She enjoys the people-management tasks that take up half her time as director-general. With a staff of around 650, getting people onboard has been an important factor in changing the way the office works. “I now have a whole bunch of people who have really understood what we are going for, who are interested and who are trying to find new ways forward,” she says. “Creativity is starting to appear all over the place, and it’s a real pleasure to see.”
Click Here: United Kingdom Rugby Jerseys