24 March 2011

Visual messages at European Council press conferences

Waiting for the press conferences to come tonight, it may be interesting to take a look at previous arrangements:

After the extraordinary European Council on the 11th of March, Kovács and Kováts have followed closely the press conferences of Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy. Here are some observations on the logistics.

All three delegations have been allocated a Council meeting room for their own press conferences, next to each other on the 20th floor. (Actually France is in the middle flanked by the UK and Germany on two sides.)

Let’s take Mr. Sarkozy first, who definitely received the most attention on 11 March. The French briefing room was even more packed than usual, overflowing with the international press. The first surprise came already in the morning that the French President has stopped at the VIP entrance for a “doorstep” statement to the press. If our memory serves us well, this rarely happened in the past. (Add to this that Alain Juppé had no time for a press conference the day before after the lunch of foreign affairs ministers, so one can imagine the excitement.)

So, here are the three pictures, where we try to single out a few details in a very subjective way that somehow caught our attention:

Position of speakers: both Sarkozy and Cameron are standing, while Merkel is sitting. Merkel has a spokesperson at her side, while the two men are standing alone, dominating the podium. In case of Merkel, the spokesperson moderates, giving the floor to journalists, while Cameron and Sarkozy solve this themselves (all three are extremely professional, very much at ease of course).

Sign: In case of Cameron and Sarkozy the sign says “European Council”, while in the German briefing room it says “extraordinary European Council”. The German sign was the only one that we saw where this distinction has been made. This is for purists, of course, but from a legal and procedural perspective an extraordinary EC has distinct characteristics.

Picture: Background is always blue, but in the German briefing room a map of the EU with stars marks each capital. In the UK and French rooms no map or any other decoration.

Flags: behind Sarkozy the French flag is placed a bit closer to the audience than the EU flag. The opposite is true for Cameron. The EU flag is placed a bit in front of the UK flag – we don’t know whether this is a nice gesture for the host or just a random placement of objects. (The use of EU symbols has been established by a declaration attached to the Lisbon Treaty, but the UK never signed up for this declaration as far as we know.) There is no flag behind Chancellor Merkel, but printed at the front of the podium. (N.B. after the euro summit, the French had all the flags of the eurozone MS, a very nice gesture.)

Security: The Chancellor and the President have paths leading up to the podium blocked, while there is a surprising lack of visible security around Cameron. He is engaging more directly with his audience, practically standing among them. (Of course there is enough security in the room, plus a gentleman with the famous red suitcase.)

Although we should not read too much into these little details, they do say a bit about the distinct national styles of communication. (And this post shows how deeply ingrained nation brands are into our minds. Or how much idle time we have during the waiting game....)

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