The communications officer for the European Parliament's petitions committee engages with citizens via social media, puts together a quasi-monthly newsletter, thinks up ideas for an exciting new project – then heads off for a week's holidaySaturday
I start my diary on a Saturday, not to be iconoclastic but to highlight the kind of preparation that goes into a typical working week. As I get up after the European Parliament's intense Strasbourg session last week, I realise that the coming seven days are going to be just as busy – with the last meeting of the committee on petitions before the summer break, and several loose ends to tidy up.
After a quick Skype session to see my girls – whom I shipped to their Italian grandparents to get a glimpse of what a scorching summer can be like – it is off with my wife to run some errands and catch up on the events I missed while I was in Strasbourg. In the afternoon, on the spur of the moment, I log into the social media outposts of the committee, which I curate. I spark up some discussions, make comments and try to provide European citizens with the feeling that somebody really cares, and is interested, in these digital interactions. For the evening we just decide to go to a friend's place and take it easy.
As much as I believe in spontaneity and freewheeling, on a Sunday morning I have a couple of rituals that date back to the 1990s. This is especially true considering that my lovely daughters are not with their parents, and my wife and I are enjoying a pleasant, if at times difficult, childless lifestyle. Some of the commitment that would normally go to them is easily redirected to my Sunday habits. First, I download a copy of the New York Times
on my tablet – last century I would just get it in any deli shop on my way back home, late on a Saturday night. And then I sit with a mug of café au lait, New Orleans style, and chew on my pancakes while listening to some inspiring music.
I strive to maintain personal interests in order to nurture the demands of a profession that relies as much on expertise as it does on an enriching and provocative personal engagement. Reading through a newspaper like the New York Times
, in fact, is not entirely an exercise of leisure as much as it is food for thought, to communicate important issues in ways that lure citizens in with the desire to know more. On Sunday afternoon, lazy by design, I log onto social media and provide a few more posts on the upcoming July meeting, stimulating activity among our 'friends'. Before the day is over I also take my wife to the airport, from where she will be flying to Italy to see our two daughters. I remain alone for the rest of the week and will reunite with my family next Friday evening.
Monday starts rather well. A new project is unfolding, one that will come even closer to the citizens, and a lot of scoping, analysis and brainstorming is going on. I know it will keep me busy for a long time but, as I always say, it is a 'good kind of busy' – the sort that keeps things moving and serves the greater good as well as the European Union's larger mission.
An early lunch to get coffee with a colleague at the European Commission allows me to gain new perspectives that will help me in many other aspects of my professional life. It is often refreshing and fascinating to exchange ideas with other people going through the same international environment and all the good and bad it entails. The afternoon goes by pretty fast, between curating the social media communication, working on next month´s quasi-monthly newsletter, and elaborating the new Europarl website's top-page item for the petitions committee.
Back home, I get a very spartan dinner – I am by myself at this point after all, and many things come to mind in terms of processes to take into consideration for the larger project. Oh well, I let the thoughts surface, acquaint with them and then go to bed so that the following morning I can express them properly and let everybody else evaluate their inclusion.
As I enter the office I find a document that needs a quick, informal, translation for the president of the committee, then go to work on our newsletter: the PETI Journal
. After that it is some more engaging on the Facebook
page. Over the last year we have been inviting our 'friends' to watch the proceedings of the committee's meetings through our live video feed. Although we reckon that it is not the same as being there, we consider that it is the second best thing and allows citizens to be drawn in, to understand the exotic, and slightly esoteric, lingo.
I have another early lunch, this time with a friend at the parliament ,and then after a quick fix of caffeine it is meeting time again. Many things become clearer and we are able to adjust some of yesterday evening's thoughts, although some others just do not cut it. They cannot all be good, can they? Then we have a very long meeting in visiconference – when we get together with people from different locations and different EU institutions to save on CO2 emissions and financial expenditure. It is a bit draining, as all really good meetings are.
I conduct an interview with the French Greens MEP Sandrine Bélier, to be featured in the next issue of the PETI Journal, and start gathering copies of the last three issues for distribution tomorrow in the meeting room. I am excited to have added Romanian to the whole array of languages in which PETI Journal has been published. I also log on our social media pages and share the direct link to the 'dossier of the meeting'. This is a very important preparatory step, and the document is one that we encourage our committed followers to go and read beforehand as it provides important background information about the issues that the committee will work on, and a more active and meaningful observation of the proceedings.
Then I have lunch and do a little editing on a note that needs to be informally translated to the president of the committee, before going to donate blood at the local blood bank of the Red Cross. I am not very brave and the sight of needles leaves me rather uncomfortable, but I reckon that it is very important for the many people needing blood, and as a committed and aware human being, and also a civil-servant, I go through the motions to donate it. After that, I concentrate on the very last steps in anticipation of tomorrow's meeting, then go home to start packing for my holiday next week.
This is the craziest day of the week, the one day to which we have been working for the last month or so, and it also starts pretty early. I get to the House around 8am, set the gear up – computer, tablet, camera and so forth – and gather all of the pages and information that I consider I may need to share with our audiences to engage, foster and inspire the European citizens who have decided to follow the proceedings of our meeting in real time. By 9am, when the meeting starts, everything is in order and as the chairwoman, the members and the petitioners enter the meeting room the live reporting can start. The salient moments are posted on Facebook, Twitter
, sharing related information and stimulating meaningful conversation. The pictures the team takes immediately go on the same social networks to illustrate the proceedings, and will also end up on Flickr to provide a photo diary. It is a straining activity. At any given time, the flow of communication needs to be consistent and adhering to three different standards: the more freewheeling Facebook and Google+, the strikingly primal yet effective Twitter, all while nurturing the full-length reporting of the PETI Journal with real quotes and descriptions of the atmosphere.
I do not simply want to communicate effectively. I strive to get the citizen centre-stage and enable him to feel what it is to be smack in the middle of a parliamentary discussion. In the last hour or so, in the morning, the meeting becomes a behind closed doors one as the coordinators of the political groups meet, officially, to move dossiers forward and take relevant decisions. The communications activities stop, r to resume at the beginning of the afternoon session, and I put all my e-tools in order and prepare to go grab a bite.
The afternoon session keeps the momentum going, fostering more thought-provoking and forward-looking commentaries by the members of the committee. The real-time reporting on the social networks and the note-taking activities for the next issue of our newsletter continue feverishly and I get, as usual, emotionally and physically drained at the end of the meeting.
I wake up very early to get ready, and then go to work super-early to finish off a number of errands and partake in the outcome meeting that follows every committee reunion. It is a very important moment and it allows for much stimulating thought and evaluations of the meeting to be traded across the room. At the end of it I grab my luggage and take the bus that will take me home for a seven-day weekend, coinciding with my eldest daughter's birthday, that will enable me to see friends and relatives I have not seen for over a year. I am looking forward to it, and I count my blessings that I have a family I love, and a work that allows me to be of service to the European citizens and instrumental to the great European project. What more could I want?Francesco Calazzo is communications officer for the European Parliament Petitions Committee