"Journalists want their demands to be fulfilled and they are less interested in what we want to convey as a message."

Spokesperson and Chief Media Advisor of the High Representative of the EU for the Common Foreign and Security Policy

With 27 member states, the EU also consists more or less of 27 different cultures of communication. Nevertheless, with Javier Solana, there is a High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Is there something like a common EU policy in this sense?

What exists is a common policy in terms of communication that reflects the position that has already been agreed by everybody. And the efforts which are being made in order to progressively move to a common foreign policy are being made in as many fields as possible. I think that there are areas in which the commonality of thinking and action are big: there might be differences on some occasions, but we have a solid common foreign policy on the Balkans, on the Middle East and on many areas in Africa. The communications policy basically reflects what is being done in common by the Member States and the institution I certainly have to admit that when we reach a common position on an international issue it is far easier to communicate – no doubt about that. When we have discrepancies, we have a more difficult situation in terms of communication. But I think that in recent years the European Union has moved in a rather quick manner towards a common policy.

On January 1st 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, and further countries will most likely follow. What impact does this continuous growth have on the EU’s communication?

The expansion of the EU means that we have to adapt our communication. I must admit from the common foreign policy aspect that enlargement has meant that these countries now have been exposed to important common action and they are very interested in what we all do together in their areas of maximum interest. It is, for example, of the utmost importance for Bulgaria and Romania what the EU does in the Balkans, because they are countries of the Balkan region. Another challenge is the question of languages, the question of which have to be included as official languages, and the form we have to use to ensure reaching the members in a manner that they understand what happens. So there is a series of impacts which are practical, which are basically institutionally driven. From my end I have to make sure that the common policy that we are driving in Kosovo and in the Balkans is well explained to these countries who will be very much affected by whatever decisions are being taken in the near future. With every step in the enlargement of the EU we have to be very sensitive to the issues which interest public opinion and act accordingly. At the same time, journalists and the media want us, the institutions, to respond to many more questions related to the issues that are of interest for the new Member States.

What are the challenges that you face when communicating a common policy in your daily routine?

I always have to bear in mind that we talk to many people at the same time and therefore must know how to communicate with them. Sometimes we talk directly to the people, sometimes we talk to journalists in the media in different Member States and partners. Most of them are very experienced and well prepared about the European issues, most of them rather critical as usual, because in Brussels they are exposed to an enormous amount of information and they expect us to give them accurate replies. With modern techniques – the internet, websites – we also talk to public opinion as a whole because we try to place speeches, videos and statements immediately on the web. With this we make it possible for the consumer, NGOs and think-tanks, for example, to see directly what we do. Additionally, there is something else that I have to bear in mind and which I believe is fundamental: a sense of public service. These institutions in Brussels are institutions which have to serve the governments, the Member States, the leaders and officials. We have therefore got to be careful, particularly in the field of foreign policy – which our issues are – and we have to know what happens all over the world. Some of the issues arise because a crisis has been going on for some time, a diplomatic process has been going on for some time, and there may be new developments and therefore a degree of unexpected news to which we have to respond as well. Still, we always have to know what the European Union as a whole is doing regarding a certain issue. So you see we face quite a diverse number of challenges every day and we are trying to overcome those by coordination and parallelism with the position of Member States.

How important is it to explain what role Javier Solana plays in this? I believe that a great number of Europeans just don’t know what is hidden behind his long title.

I don’t want to be immodest, but I think we have managed in recent years, particularly through our action and through our presence, to show that an important result comes from his job, which was only created a few years ago. But what does action actually mean? Action means that, when there is a new conflict, Javier Solana travels and talks to the opposing parties, and to engage diplomatically. I am convinced that it is now clearly recognised that the European Union is not just a huge market but also a player. This has been achieved through the presence and engagement of Javier Solana.

How big is your team, what nationalities does it include?

It is a very small team if we only consider consider my immediate team in Solana‘s press office in Brussels, but a bigger group if we take into account other parts. There are only six people, including myself, who work directly with Javier Solana here in Brussels, but the group is larger if we include a wider group of colleagues who work in the press service of the Council Secretariat and also cover foreign policy, as well as those who work in our missions abroad. So, with the people in Brussels, and with colleagues who communicate what is being done in the European Union and in other parts of the world, our numbers are greater. The media team in Brussels is really small, but if you look at the overall structure, we manage to mobilise quite a large number of people. To answer your second question: I have colleagues from Belgium, England, France and Italy. There is a Spanish colleague who does communication in Afghanistan, two Spanish colleagues in the Middle East and a German in Kinshasa, because we also have a presence there. It is a very multinational team and the way we communicate amongst ourselves is in a multilingual manner.

There is also a European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy. Could you please briefly describe how the EU’s communication of the common foreign and security policy is coordinated in Brussels? How do you avoid there being “competition” between the two departments?

It is true that this creates a certain ambiguity. Since Javier Solana started his work, the question of who does what and how to split issues has become more and more important. Therefore we have a clear allocation of tasks which results in Javier Solana as the High Representative taking the lead on issues which are related to crises, which are related to conflicts and security, and which are related to diplomacy. The presence of the European Commission with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, is on the other hand in areas in which we have contractual relations and economic ties. I think there is a division which requires quite an amount of coordination at the highest level, with direct contacts between Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the officials and the spokespersons. Benita Ferrero-Waldner’s spokesperson and I contact each other on a very regular basis and exchange views. But most of the time we actually do not dedicate our efforts to the same issues because we generally approach issues from different directions. Javier Solana always approaches the issues from the diplomacy, security and the political point of view, whereas the Commission makes a much more long-term engagement in terms of programmes, assistance and partnerships.

The work of the Commission’s different departments is very often relevant to foreign affairs. How is the decision made whether you or the other departments’ spokespersons communicate the message?

You are right. The work of the European Commission is relevant to the diplomatic activities that Javier Solana leads. At the same time, our activities are relevant to the engagement of the European Commission’s projects, therefore we have to coordinate our work. From the point of view of public opinion and from the point of view of the governments, it would not be acceptable if there was no proper coordination in Brussels. Thus it is our obligation to ensure that the work is tuned in a most exact manner. You will probably know that there are departments in the EU Commission which deal with the neighbourhood policy, harmonisation and trade issues, which all have an impact on the foreign policy. Let me at this point mention something: the changes that have been envisaged and which will have to be agreed on formally in the new treaty which will hopefully be finalised very soon, will be invaluable in making the organisation of foreign policy, security and external relations more efficient. Therefore we look forward to these changes, which will clarify what – at this point – are instructions which have been left less clear. In the meantime we have the obligation to ensure that what has been done by both the European Commission and the High Representative leads to the same objective, which is to have a more efficient, better, more visible presence of the European Union in the world.

You are not only responsible for communicating the EU’s mindset on Foreign and Security Policy to the member states, but also to foreign countries. With 27 different nations that all have their own Foreign and Security Policy, this will always touch national interests. How does your work relate to the different governments’ spokesmen?

In areas in which we know a certain country has a higher sensitivity, we try to liaise in order to ensure that the message is well formulated. In the very rare moments in which one Member State is striving to give a different message,  it is Javier Solana’s and my objective to communicate common positions as well as new positions, and of course for him to take the lead. There is intrinsic coordination work on a daily basis with the representatives of all the member states in the European Union. As a consequence of this, we know very clearly from the beginning if there is an issue which is of more importance to one country. I must say one thing: we can take the lead, we can communicate through the statements of the EU, sometimes of course of the Presidency and Javier Solana, but the European Union is even more persuasive when it acts. Let me give you an example: these days there is quite an e.ort of diplomacy concerning Kosovo. You can imagine the interest of the media in Belgrade, in Pristina and in the Balkans as a whole as to what the European Union says and does. And to emphasise this again, there is a huge effort of diplomacy. In these moments I sometimes get the impression that the European Union is better understood outside the EU than inside the EU. This is quite logical, because if you are a journalist in a capital of one of the Member States, you want to reflect what your government does and thinks. We are not at all involved in those issues. So if you are a journalist in Madrid, you have your foreign minister, and when you want to know what he thinks, you call him if you need a statement. And this will be mostly compatible with what the European Union’s position is. We should not forget that foreign policy is intergovernmental. The link that the media establish on foreign policy issues is usually through the national government, but in areas like the Balkans they are more interested in what the European Union does, since they are not only concentrating on their own government. They call us, they call our office, and we respond.  

The highly controversial EU Summit some months ago ended with a number of compromises. One is that there will not be an official EU Foreign Minister. Instead, the EU will inaugurate a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who will fulfil the tasks of this new role, as well as those of the present European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy. Is that a missed chance for a common European voice?

You are right, we are not going to have a foreign minister, but we are going to have somebody who will perform as foreign minister. We think that the prerogative, the definition of this new post, has been made in a manner – or hopefully will be done in a manner, when it’s finalised in October – that it will not affect the substance of the job. I think that is not bad. Of course, allow me to say this: the title ‘foreign minister’ would have been a facilitation in a certain sense, as everybody would have understood it. But it is also true that the words foreign minister are always associated with governments, with Member States, so if we want to be fair, we can understand why some of the Member States were not at ease with this title. I think that, for whoever takes this job, it is only fundamental to have the attributes linked to the job that have been agreed and will be in the new treaty. What matters is action and the ability to carry out the action properly, quickly and in a well-coordinated fashion with the Member States. The title will then just be a question of marketing.

At the beginning of the interview we talked about the service-character of your work. Do you also actively try to bring topics from your department into the media?

We have to serve and respond to demands, you are right. At the same time we have to create some interest, which is not easy. Journalists want their demands to be fulfilled and they are less interested in what we want to convey as a message. Very often we have spent many days on briefings about subjects where the European Union is acting, but instead the interest of the media is in other issues. On many occasions we organise a briefing on a certain topic, we invite journalists and end up talking about another topic. I think that is just a matter of being persistent. The usual tactics, which are well known, are to invite them to background briefings, which we do on a regular basis in Brussels. But we have to use our imagination in order to achieve interest in other topics which the media do not actually focus on. Additionally there are some other ways to actively bring issues to the media. For example, we write articles for the press.

We were talking about competition earlier. Is there competition between your department and the Commission’s departments for media attention?

We try to organise our activities in such a way that there is space for everybody. It is clear that we have to work in cooperation. Let me give you a very practical example: if we have to organise a briefing, we try never to compete with the Commission’s briefings. Traditionally, the European Commission holds its briefings for the press at 12 noon. So we would not invite people to a press conference at that time of the day. It is absolutely necessary to do this. Certainly we don’t always succeed, because sometimes the agenda is already full and there are already loads of activities in Brussels. But it is clear that we are better served if we organise our work in a way that allows journalists to attend our media events. It is also true from my point of view that the journalists who follow foreign policy and security issues are not the same as the journalists who write about economics or trade issues. We have to bear in mind that now Brussels is a capital in which the leading newspapers and agencies have more than just one journalist. When we talk about the Brussels press corps that we serve, we know very well that they are just a sub corps consisting of groups which follow foreign policy issues, groups which follow economic issues etc. Therefore we all have our small constituencies.

That both Javier Solana and yourself as his spokesperson originate from the same country is quite a unique constellation in the EU. Do you discuss important matters in your mother tongue?

Since our team is very multinational and Javier Solana’s diplomatic advisors come from many different countries, we traditionally – apart from English and French as our official languages – use the language of the other members of the group. We certainly speak Spanish sometimes because that facilitates communication, but as Javier Solana has been working with multinational teams for many years, we always talk in either French or English whenever there is an advisor present who originates from another country.

What are the specific skills a political spokesperson needs to do the job successfully?

I don’t really want to define any specific skills as indispensable for anybody who does this job. I think we really have to be dedicated to trying to respond, to being helpful and to being explanatory. Political spokespersons in Brussels should also never forget that they work in the institutions, they do not work for a government. We work for a specific creature which is the European Union institutions. We will never have the same amount of power as a government and therefore we have to be much more flexible and much more subtle when we try to pass on our messages. We represent people who all have their obligations and their loyalties.

Where are the differences between corporate and political communication?

This is a very interesting point. I have never had experience in corporate communications, but I imagine that the defined goals of corporations are basically profit-driven. The EU institutions certainly have objectives as well, but they are politically driven. Our objective is that the European Union and what it does is well understood, that it is respected and valued with its foreign policy. A thing which both areas have in common from my point of view is that people demand from them the same sense of service and transparency.

At some point in the future, Javier Solana will no longer be High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. What are your future prospects?

I don’t have an answer to this question. It is true that Javier Solana will not do this job forever. From my background, I am a journalist. Before I started working for Javier Solana, which was one year after he was appointed Secretary General of Nato in 1995, I worked as a journalist. Professionally I would say I am linked to journalism, either as a journalist or a spokesperson. I would say this is the logical place where I would put myself, one side or the other. Speaking frankly, I don’t know what my future will bring but it will be linked to communication. This is quite sure.

Cristina Gallach

Since 1996, Barcelona-born Cristina Gallach has been spokesperson and chief media advisor of the High Representative of the European Union for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana. Previously she worked in Brussels as European Correspondent of the Spanish news agency EFE from 1992 until 1996, after having been the agency’s Moscow correspondent. She is also an experienced radio and newspaper journalist.