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19th Nov 2018

Greek to front Juncker's new media strategy

Jean-Claude Juncker has appointed a Greek EU official as his main spokesperson, part of his revamped media strategy for the new EU commission.

"I've made a few changes in the spokespersons' service," Juncker announced Wednesday (10 September) when presenting the who's who of the new EU commission, due to start in November.

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He said he appointed Margaritis Schinas as his main spokesperson, assisted by Natasha Bertaud "who already stepped up to the plate" and Mina Andreeva.

Bertaud and Andreeva were on the press team of former Luxembourg commissioner Viviane Reding.

When Reding's chief of staff Martin Selmayr became Juncker's campaign manager, ahead of the May EU elections, Bertaud took a leave of absence and joined the campaign as spokesperson.

She stayed on as Juncker's main spokesperson during the "transition period", later joined by Andreeva.

Schinas has not done press work before. He is currently the commission's economics department (DG ECFIN) pointman in Athens and is fluent in English, French and Spanish.

Attuned to political symbolism, Juncker may have picked Schinas in order to have both a Greek as his spokesman and a German (Martin Selmayr) as chief of staff. Bertaud and Andreeva are British and Bulgarian, respectively.

The 52-year old Schinas has worked in the commission since 1990 and also served as MEP from 2007-2010. Before taking on the job in Greece, in 2013, Schinas was deputy head of Barroso's in-house think tank, the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (Bepa).

He was head of cabinet for Cypriot commissioner Kyprianou from 2004-2007 and deputy chief of staff for commissioner Loyola de Palacio.

He studied at the London School of Economics and the College of Europe in Bruges.

Fewer spokespeople

Noting he wants to "shake things up a bit," Juncker also emphasised the need for commissioners to be "communicators" - to go out and explain policies to the public, media, and national parliaments.

This will also result in fewer posts in the spokespersons' service, now consisting of over 100 staff.

This is already being met by resentment among current spokespeople, some of whom warn that the cutbacks will only consolidate Selmayr's power.

But the commission is aiming to cut 5 percent of its staff in all the areas anyway, so the cuts in the spokespersons' service were imminent.

The new service is likely to have fewer spokespeople who can go on the record. Currently, each commissioner has one main spokesperson and several press officers, but in the new system with seven super-commissioners overseeing broader policy areas, it could be that not all commissioners have spokespeople who go on the record. The rest of the commissioners are likely to have only press officers who can give information to media, but cannot be quoted.

As part of his get-out-and-talk-to-press strategy, Juncker is likely to have one EU commissioner, on a rotating basis, come down to the press room every Wednesday and communicate what the college has decided.

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