question asked by the head of the European Parliament press unit earlier this month is as simple as it is difficult to answer (Stephen and The European Citizen have given their views already).
It is difficult to answer because it is actually a question about why certain people get privileged access to (EU) institutions.
Why does somebody who has a press card easily gets access to the institutions even when she or he doesn't even report about what she or he sees or when he or she reports only tiny bits without much actual research afterwards, or when s/he distorts a story to please a national audience, when s/he only reports about what can be sold for money instead of telling the public what the public should know?
Why can you register as a lobbyist and then have access to institutions like the Parliament without there being a proper definition of what a lobbyist actually is (long discussion, I know)? Why are those who can afford the process of registration better than those who can't afford it?
Why is there no special "scientist access badge" so that people like me who are studying EU politics could work more easily in the Brussels environment?
Why is privileged access to public institutions given only to two categories of people whose professions are in fact hard to distinguish from activities individual citizens or groups of citizens without a clear organisational background are able and willing to do today on their own, namely reporting (=journalism) about and advocating (=lobbying) on questions of special or general interest?
The reason is simple: Old institutions are used to communicate with organisational actors, they hate to deal with real individuals even though in the case of journalistic or interest groups they usually have to deal with a very limited amount of individuals representing these organisations.
Institutions prefer to deal with those who are willing to invest in bureaucracy and structures over those who actually want to do something, because the former are more similar to themselves. Institutions want to deal with institutions, organisations with organisations.
The question whether bloggers should have access to EU institutions is thus actually not the real question, the question is:
Should individuals have access to EU institutions? And if yes, under what conditions?
We have to ask the question like this because there is no clear categorisation of what a blogger is, what a blogger does, how it is done and when, why or with what purpose.
A blogger can be someone like me who writes a blog without the blog being directly related to his/her work, who writes because s/he has fun to write, who follows politics because s/he is interested, because s/he feels s/he can contribute to some discussions as an informed citizen.
Other bloggers may have a more professional interest in writing, using the blog as a medium to publish journalistic texts to earn money with this activity.
A blog can be used as part of the institutional communication, helping the outside world to understand what happens within an organisation beyond stereotype press releases or to influence opinions by being part of an environment of public discussions where you can only prevail if you manage to have your views publicly represented.
A blog can be just a private commentary, involving issues we come across every day, be it culture, society, politics or private issues we want to share and discuss with a smaller or bigger audience, just because we want to and because we can.
Somebody doesn't have to be an EU blogger to write about EU affairs, to the contrary, maybe a national expert in a certain policy field will add a more objective yet more informed view on his or her topic.
A blog can have 100 readers a day who are the ones concerned or the only ones interested or a blog may have 100,00 readers who don't come because they want to be informed but just because it is fun reading the blog.
Bloggers are different kinds of individuals with different kinds of interests and styles and means, and the only thing that is common to them is that they publish on the web in a more or less regular way.
So you won't be able to draw lines to decide on specific criteria to define what kind of bloggers should have access to the EU institutions, but it is still necessary to give individuals with the intent to report about EU politics access to the institutions for a limited time, no matter whether it is for a local school newspaper writer, an international blogger or a scientist who needs to observe certain activities within the institutions for her/his research.
You may need some kind of small-scale body (a "Citizens' Access Unit") in each institution where people can request access for specific purposes, and either this unit will decide on its own or, whenever possible, re-direct the request to other competent people/structures within the institution (e.g. a committee secretariat, a political group, a head of unit in the Commission etc.) to deal with the necessary formalities.
And if this is not possible due to conservative thinking, you have to make at least public what kind of occasions there are already where you can get easy access, e.g. in the case of hearings, seminars or public committee meetings in the European Parliament where any citizen can register and participate quite easily as I have noticed while being here in Brussels.
In the end this is about trusting citizens instead of distrusting them, openness instead of closed up public institutions. And yes there will be one or another case of misuse of this trust, but you also give access to stupid lobbyists or stupid journalists whom you have trusted and who misuse this trust in rare cases.
And beyond this citizen access, the institutions also have to widen the scope of what they call "journalism", allowing permanent access to people who can prove (through previous work, current work, income statistics etc.) that they pursue a journalistic activity.
This kind of professional blogger or independent journalist may be defined by the intention to make a living out of this activity but institutions should end the need to demand that people are registered with some journalistic cartel organisations whose only interest it is to protect newcomers from entering a profession that is undergoing changes, being afraid of loosing to those who are better adapted to today's environment than they are. Journalists should be defined by what they do, not by the fact that they are registered as such with some national or European organisations.
Now this was more some kind public brainstorming than an argued blog post, but my main message is that the institutions need to find a way to allow access to those who are interested in dealing with these institutions, in particular when they do so with the interest of analysing and reporting their work to the outside world, making European politics accessible to new audiences or making European topics public and understandable that have remained in expert circles so far, out of the range of journalists or institutional communication.
The answer how to do that is not easy to give, but EU institutions that are able to decide about budgets of billions of Euros should be able to decide how they will allow individual access to their premises - but it seems it is easier to deal with big money than with human beings for them.
Picture: I took this photo in a European Parliament hearing for which I simply applied with an email sent to the political group secretariat. With the badge I received I was able to walk around freely in the European Parliament. Many of the participants seemed to have permanent badges (EP staff, permanent representations, lobbyists, not much press).
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