Take hundreds of people and stick them in a huge, square room. Feed them sandwiches and give them coffee. Make them run and rush and jump when you say so. If this sounds a little bit like a pycho training exercise, you’re not too far off. It’s also known as an EU summit.
Journalists sit, lined up at tables sprawled across the Schuman building. If you walk around enough, you can hear most of the EU’s 24 official languages. And yet, everyone is waiting to say the same thing, though in their own language. Everyone is waiting for the doors to open, the leaders to emerge and the announcement to be made. As my bureau chief said, it feels more like regurgitation than journalism. And yet, it’s still infinitely important to report what goes on behind those closed doors, where the direction of Europe is decided.
The big topic at this summit was data protection. Angela Merkel had a NSA hacking scandal break the morning of the Summit, propelling forward debates of privacy and responsibility, and of course renewed distrust against America. It has been absolutely fascinating to sit back and listen to European journalists rail on America, especially where I was sitting just a stone’s throw away from Daily Mirror and Daily Mail reporters. If you need some more sensationalism in your life, I know exactly where to point you.
Besides eavesdropping (I am American, you know), I spent the summit running around to different events and feeding quotes to the FT reporters writing articles back at the summit building. I quickly found that covering a summit well takes multiple hands and even more ears, and I have no idea how some papers like the International New York Times do it as a one-man show. Attending every presser and doorstep feels impossible, but it’s those details that count. I was sent to the Party of European Socialists doorstep, where the party members magically appeared in shinny black cars and walked down a red carpet to reports yelling questions.
Occasionally some stopped and answered, such as European Parliament President Martin Schulz. But most, i.e. Italian PM Enrico Letta, walked right on by. Regardless, it was incredible to be just a few feet away from political giants (in Europe, at least) and it felt unreal more times than not, especially when sitting in the same room as Angela Merkel and David Cameron later on.
Lampedusa – and the EU’s vast migration issues – were set to be the key topic of debate for state leaders on Friday, and yet, the majority of what I heard and read remained focused around America’s spying blunder. While the experience as a whole was an incredible learning opportunity, this part of it made me uneasy. As timing made phone tapping the new hot topic, that’s what journalists’ questions centered around and what merited front-pages.
EU leaders said the topic of migration will be revisited at a summit dedicated to the subject in June of next year. Until then, it will be more words and full, reporters and papers, and Lampedusa will be forgotten. Where’s the urgency Europe spoke of when the Italian border dominated front pages just two weeks ago?
As one of my journo heros, Martina Stevis put it:
“But the pressure on Europe’s fragmented asylum system will only mount in coming months, as Syria’s civil war deteriorates and the weather in the Mediterranean worsens in winter. For those desperate enough to attempt a boat crossing to Europe’s southern shores, next year’s summit may be seven months too late.”