The team of the outgoing European Commission's spokespeople said an emotional ‘goodbye’ to the Brussels press corps today, pending the commencement on Monday (3 November) of a revamped service working for the Juncker Commission.
Unsurprisingly, it was Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, the Danish spokeswoman of the Commission, who delivered the farewell message of the 100+ Spokesperson service, as she has been the one who most frequently chaired the commission midday briefings over the last few years.
Hansen paid tribute both to her colleagues and to the journalists, without whom according, to the spokesperson, the EU executive messages would not have reached a wider audience. She called her experience “sometimes painful”, as she had been pressed to say more, and to be increasingly precise.
“I thank you for this pressure”, she told journalists, adding “I am sure that our successors will correct our mistakes”.
Hansen, called Pia by the hundreds of journalists attending the midday briefing, was presented with a sweatshirt reading “I love midday” as well as flowers by Koen Doens, the Head of the Spokesperson's Service, who rarely spoke to journalists from the podium.
Reportedly, the new spokespersons team, to be led by Margaritis Schinas, will have a different style. Schinas, who is in fact a politician, having served as an EPP-affiliated MEP from 2007 to 2009, has already addressed the press corps on several occasion, speaking on behalf of President-elect Juncker.
Spokespersons responsible for ‘clusters’ of commissioners
As the new team is expected to be smaller in size, Schinas is expected to personally cover the activities of the “economic cluster” of Commissioners, namely Vice-Presidents Valdis Dombrovskis, responsible for the Euro and Social Dialogue, of Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and of commissioner Pierre Moscovici, with the portfolio Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs.
The deputy spokesperson will be Mina Andreeva, the former spokesperson to Vice President Viviane Reding, of Bulgarian origin. She will cover the activities of Vice President Andrus Ansip, responsible for Digital Single Market, of Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, and of commissioner Věra Jourová, responsible for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.
The remaining spokesperson will also cover the work of several commissioners each.
Natacha Berthaud will cover the work of Vice President Frans Timmermans, responsible for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional relations the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as of commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, responsible for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. Bertaud is also a familiar face, as together with Schinas and Andreeva she has been part of the Juncker team from his time as ‘spitzenkandidat’.
At least one more of the spokespersons is a familiar face – Maja Kocijancic, the Slovenian spokesperson of Catherine Ashton. She will now cover her successor, the new Vice President/High Representative Federica Mogherini, but also commissioner Johannes Hahn, responsible for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.
Several journalists switch sides
Several journalists have switched sides, and will now work as spokespersons.
Jakub Adamowicz, a Luxembourgish journalist specialising in EU affairs, will now cover the work of Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, responsible for Budget and Human Resources, as well of Commissioner Corina Creţu, responsible for Regional Policy. Vanessa Mock, a journalist well-known in the press room, who until recently worked for the Wall Street Journal, will cover the work of Commissioner Jonathan Hill, responsible for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union.
A few other journalists and communication professionals will cover the rest of the commissioners, with the full list to be announced on Monday.
It is expected that the Commissioners themselves will come more often to the midday briefings, and that Juncker himself will be available on important occasions. Most recently, Barroso was criticised for not coming to speak to the press was when the results of the Scottish referendum became known.
On that occasion, Barroso said in a written statement that the rejection of the independence by a majority of Scots was “good for the united, open and stronger Europe that the European Commission stands for”.
But at the Commission's midday briefing on that day, over 35 minutes, Hansen repeatedly refused to comment on what the referendum meant for the Brexit referendum, or the possible poll for Catalonian independence from Spain. Journalists told her that on occasions like this, the Commission President should find the time to meet the press.