We are excited to be at a summit again, the climax of our life in the Brussels Bubble. Although this bubble has been pierced by the protests taking part just outside the Justus Lipsius building: while leaders are preparing to adopt the Competitiveness Pact (renamed the Euro Plus Pact), trade union protesters outside are raising signs saying “No to the Competitiveness Pact, no to austerity”. (By the way, Hungary has also said no to the Euro Plus Pact for completely different reasons, and we do support its implementation) To the protesters, the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy answered through his twitter page: “To the people demonstrating outside, I say: We take your worries seriously. What we do is not about dismantling social protection.”
This is a sign of the new reality driving media during summits: the tweets by Van Rompuy (http://twitter.com/euHvR) - some of the newswires reporters have jokingly complained to Kovács and Kováts, fearing for their jobs if @euHvR carried on tweeting out the results.
But the surprising fact is that it is not only the Brussels press corps reacting, but even world markets. This has been clearly illustrated by a strange event that took place at the last Eurozone summit on the 11th of March. While we were all playing the famous “waiting game” a tweet has appeared from @euHvR claiming “We have an agreement on the pact for Euro”. (You can read the original tweet’s screenshot on Dirk’s blog: http://blogs.fd.nl/brussel/2011/03/spooktweets.html )
Some people have picked it up and re-tweeted, but in a few moments the tweet was deleted and replaced by another, softer version that read: “Update from ongoing meeting: Agreement in principle on the Pact for the Euro, but still discussing the other elements of the package.”
We have looked at news sent out by one of the leading news agencies. They have quoted the original, later deleted tweet of Mr. van Rompuy in their breaking news – and markets reacted! According to another report that night, the “euro hit $1.39, up 0.8 percent on the day. Short covering played a significant role in boosting the euro zone single currency throughout most of the session, strategists said.”
The incredible power of a tweet merits a closer look at the hands that are writing those tweets.
As it is clear from the AFP blog post by Yann, a regular contact of Kovács and Kováts, the tweets are actually written not by Mr van Rompuy himself, but his spokesperson, Dirk de Backer or his deputy Jesus Carmona.
This EU tweeting project started at the 2010 October European Council meeting under a rather unlucky constellation of stars. An #EUCO hash tag has been set up and all tweets containing that code were shown on two giant screens set up during the summit meeting in the Atrium (one of the reasons for covering the famous carpet – see our post here). Eurblogger Jon Worth has quickly seized the opportunity and published a short post on it, while some Twitter users have jumped on it and started commenting on the Italian premier, Berlusconi. It has created some powerful images and several comments. (See the subsequent post by Jon Worth here or the BBC report here.)
To the credit of the Council Press Team, the mixed comments did not discourage them and now the #EUCO hash tag has proven to be a success, just like the Twitter account of Mr van Rompuy.
The number @euHvR followers have exceeded 10.500, which is a nice result in such a short time.
Even though it is dwarfed by the more than 7 million followers of Barack Obama, in the Brussels world this is quite an achievement*.
Yann quotes Dirk de Backer saying that one of the reasons they started to tweet for Mr van Rompuy, was to give first hand information to journalists and analysts, thus pre-empt any rumours. Well, they have definitely changed the dynamics of the European Council information exchange. So tonight, we keep looking at those tweets from @euHvR, and if we are lucky, we may get a Haiku on the euro**.
*What makes @euHvR’s following even more valuable is the fact that many of them are serious opinion multipliers, being journalists, bloggers or think tanks. While to our knowledge President Barroso does not tweet, President Buzek of the European Parliament has approximately 5.500 followers (for detail, see this WSJ post). Yves Leterme, the successor of Mr. van Rompuy as Belgian prime minister has slightly more, almost 15.000 followers. To our knowledge the Brussels dignitary with the most followers is Neelie Kroes (more than 16.000). Neither Kovács nor Kováts has been able to break the 500 limit (yet)
** He did tweet a special Haiku last year: In de winter klinkt het gekras van de kraaien Ijler dan anders
UPDATE: This latest tweet hopefully didnt move the markets - Malta and Cyprus out of the euro zone