Photo © Reuters, who also covered Madeleina in Brussels

How Brussels ignored the Young European of the Year (and what must change)

Having played a vanishingly small role in the rise & rise of #EUSupergirl — as of yesterday, Young European of the Year — I thought I’d reflect on what the Brussels Bubble’s lack of interest says about EU communications.

It’s been a good week

First up, happy birthday, Madeleina! Coming the day after you were awarded Young European of the Year from a jury in Germany, you’ve had a pretty neat week.

I also hope you enjoyed yourself on the BBC’s Daily Politics with Nigel Farage, and that you liked your card from Brussels.

A huge shoutout to those in Brussels who signed it (some not pictured):

Some of my favourite people in Brussels

How did we get here?

Madeleina Kay (@albawhitewolf) had been campaigning against Brexit for around a year when she entered the EC-financed blogging competition which brought her and four other winners to Brussels for the EWRC conference (October 9–12, 2017).

There she managed a rarity: getting the EC-funded project she blogged onto BBC News (see When EUSuperGirl came to Brussels, October 2017). #EUSupergirl was officially born a week or so later, although the first usage I found was from Day One of the conference.

she brought an entirely new audience to the conversation

Social media analysis showed that her reach on Twitter was second only to the official @EU_Regional account, which is extraordinary for a newcomer. Moreover, she brought an entirely new audience to the conversation.

@albawhitewolf’s reach (bottom right) was 2nd highest and brought in an entirely new audience (orange).

Two months later she and her friends were back in Brussels for the Letters2EU project, distributing letters to Europeans from Remainers in the UK.

I ran the blogging competition, loved the Letters2EU project, and so spent the previous weeks trying to drum up interest from around the Brussels Bubble.

And I failed miserably

In case you’re thinking this post is me hitching my wagon to her star, I’d just like to point out that I had one job, and I did it badly. I was supposed to assemble a crowd. They didn’t come.

My failure would have been complete had it not been for Guy Verofstadt (European Parliament) and Luca Jahier (EESC) finding time to meet her.

In fairness, I’m not a lobbyist: my focus is communicating Europe outwards, not inwards, so apart from knowing a few other EU Comms types, I’m not that well connected to MEPs, lobbyists and the rest.

But while the EU Commission was apparently nervous about meeting due to the ongoing Brexit negotiations (a few staff did drop by), I still couldn’t believe how uninterested the Brussels Bubble was.

Barely anyone lifted a finger. In fact, the EU Twitterati organised their own event elsewhere while Madeleine, FauxBoJo, Charlie, Richard and I were distributing letters of friendship to the locals at Place Luxembourg.

TL;DR: the future Young European of the Year, a 23 year old woman who’d gotten an EC-funded project onto the BBC News and brought an entirely new audience into the Brussels Bubble, was shunned by EU professionals specialised in communicating Europe.

every time you hear someone in the Brussels Bubble pontificate about how vital it is to “engage with young people about Europe”, gently send them here

So next time you hear someone in Brussels pontificate about how vital it is to “engage with young people about Europe”, gently send them here, or to the post I wrote following Letters2EU:

“It simply wasn’t important enough for them to remember… people come to the Bubble to influence others in the Bubble. Particularly people with influence… It’s their job. Engaging with someone without influence from outside the Bubble is not”
- Does the Brussels Bubble care enough? (December 2017)

What next?

I don’t know what Madeleina’s next move will be, but I do hope this episode wakes up someone in Brussels.

Because something is seriously wrong when what EU Institutions say they have to do - engage with young Europeans, bring people in from outside the Brussels Bubble, etc — is the complete opposite of what they actually do when the opportunity is served to them on a platter.

It’s difficult to imagine much changing. People generally act according to their interests. Today, Brussels Bubble lobbyists are focused inwards, on influencing people in the Institutions; while those in the Institutions are focused upwards, making their bosses happy.

Noone focuses outwards, because in this ecosystem noone’s advancing their career by engaging with someone not already in somebody’s organigramme.