11 March 2011

Communicating the achievements of the Presidency?

Yesterday the Council has adopted the extension of Libya sanctions, which we feel has been a great diplomatic success for the Hungarian Presidency (technical details below and in the coming posts). The negotiations on the sanctions has been all over the international media during the last few days and yesterday there was a wave of reporting when we broke the news of the final decision early afternoon. The wires (DPA, AFP, Dow Jones, etc.) have reported it extensively and most leading media outlets have picked it up (from Le Figaro to the BBC). For a few hours, the mobile phones of Kovács and Kováts would not stop ringing, which brought further reports all over the world from Algeria to Azerbaijan.
One of the most sought after information was the names of those 5 entities and the one individual to come under the sanctions. Kováts had to stonewall and repeated “Sorry, I can’t disclose this information” at least a hundred times. (As we promised, this morning the names were published in the Official Journal of the EU, here you can read them. This is how yesterday’s secrets become public knowledge today.)
The Council has also decided about enhanced cooperation on EU patent with 25 countries on board. A probably even bigger diplomatic achievement for the Hungarian Presidency to manage the file and hold together the 25 member states (up from 12 just about a month ago) while not alienating Italy and Spain. (After 50 years of struggle, this is quite a start for the Hungarian Presidency.) Here is a good article on it from the Financial Times.
What was rather intriguing is the fact that in Hungary where one would expect enhanced interest to EU affairs during the Hungarian presidency, these news have hardly appeared. Most journalists in Brussels tell us that the Hungarian public is surprisingly interested in negative foreign media coverage of the country. But it seems that positive coverage or simply the daily nitty-gritty of the presidency work fails to raise any interest. As our mandate covers mostly communication to the foreign press, we shall not try to explain the reasons for this limited interest. (What is in our mandate is to liaise with the Hungarian press corps in Brussels, who are rather numerous for a “medium-sized” country and extremely professional.)
The filtering through of information to the media and public in the country of the presidency remains an intriguing question, any comments welcome. (We should not try to explain it exclusively with the media law, that would be far too lazy and off the mark.) We will try to look into the experiences of past presidencies on how the Brussels reality is filtered through domestic lenses and takes sometimes surprising twists and turns.

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