Věra Jourová, the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, visited Anglo-American University on the 8th of November during an event advertised as an open discussion about the future of the European Union between her and the students . It seemed like a great opportunity for the students not only to ask Jurova’s opinion, but also to discuss various matters with such an accomplished person. Despite the great expectations, the event ended up leaving the audience with mixed feelings.
In Vera Jourova’s talk about the future of the European Union, she didn’t talk much about the future at all. She covered what the EU deals with, and how they keep the member countries in check with different policies such as the Rule of Law and how that could prevent certain countries from ever becoming member states.
However, what struck me the most was when Jourova began talking about the Covid situation and how they dealt with it. To begin with, she said that already in January the member states were warned about the pandemic coming to Europe, but they didn’t react to it. She made it a point to highlight that the member states were warned, not the EU commission, in order to take away the blame from the EU.
This trend continued throughout the topic as Jourova mentioned the “EU competences” multiple times. She talked about how the EU is only “competent to collect the data and heath the warnings” but not actually take any measures or steps in order to prevent the spread of the pandemic. She mentioned that the EU wasn’t ready for such a “European crisis” and that their typical emergency method where a stronger country helps the weaker country couldn’t be applied because in this instance, they were all weak countries. This showed a lack of preparation, even though the member states, and as such even the EU, were warned months before the pandemic came to Europe.
She then spoke about how the EU invested 2 billion Euro for Vaccine research in 7 laboratories. “I was very stressed about investing this money, because you can’t take such a big risk investing public money,” said Jourova, “It was pure improvisation and we went beyond our competences with organizing the collective purchase of vaccines so the German’s aren’t first everywhere.” In this weak attempt to make it seem like the EU was doing more than they should’ve been doing, and that we all should be grateful for all they did, all I heard was that if it’s not legally within their competence, they won’t do anything until all of Europe is in crisis, but they will criticize the member countries for doing things their way.
Suzanne Bessisso, journalism student
Students pointed out Jourová’s lack of knowledge on the topics she was asked about and her inability to give clear answers.
“Could you as a person responsible for transparency please comment on the Press conference from October 28th, called by Rumanian politician Cristian Terbes, about the contracts that were concluded between Pharma companies and the European Commission in November 2018 that were blacked and not publicly accessible?”
This is the question that made the color drain from Vera Jourova’s face at the press conference on November 8th, 2021 at AAU. Previously, she had talked about how important it was for the European Union to have invested in the Pharma companies. Now she ducked around the question, saying that the blackened part of the contracts that had been signed between the European Commission and the Pharma Companies contained only information concerning the price of the vaccines etc.
Then, she said something that revealed just how Jourova failed in doing what she was appointed to do: to ensure that the European Commission worked transparently. “It was just about some commercial details,” Jourova said. “I do not know enough about them, someone else signed the treaties.” Stop right there. It was the European Commission who signed them. Jourova as the vice president and responsible for transparency should know. This is a clear sign that Jourova fails in ensuring transparency within the EU commission. How can she then ensure it towards the citizens of the EU?
Ines Plunger, journalism student
Additionally, some students highlighted how the discussion failed to be open. The assigned moderator asked multiple prepared questions and did not give students any opportunity to ask follow-ups to their questions.
Jourová’s guest lecture at AAU was a representation of how an open discussion should not be handled. Firstly, the event was advertised as a discussion between Jourova and the students, however the moderator seemed to dominate the field instead. She asked Jourova multiple seemingly premeditated questions, which cut short the time students could have used for themselves. When the debate with the audience finally opened, the moderator’s approach did not get any better.
A professor asked Jourova how does the European Union build a relationship with a private company such as Facebook which dominates the internet, collects people’s personal data and operates without any regulations. Jaurova seemed to be quite uncomfortable with this question because she started mumbling about unrelated internet regulations the European Union has in place without clearly addressing the specific issue. The audience seemed to be unsatisfied with Jourova’s explanation, however the moderator did not allow any follow-up questions and shut down the discussion with a questionable statement. She compared the debate about internet security to the debate about religion and seemingly concluded that there was no point in discussing the matter as there was no clear answer to it. After that, despite the fact that I prepared a question for Jourova, I ended up not asking it, as it was related to internet security as well and seeing her shut down a professor made me think she would shut me down as well.
The university could consider leaving the organization of such future events to the students as it was primarily advertised as an open debate, however the students ended up being just some middle persons in a talk between Vera Jourova and the moderator.
Dominika Szapuova, journalism student
Vera Jourova presents herself as a person who acts on the behalf of students. She says it is truly incredible how young people are concerned with the future of Europe and stresses theimportance of that. She further announces how she is very excited to hear students’ ideas andopinions. She continues talking about all the universities she has visited so far and howinspiring the debates were. However, when students actually ask her a challenging question, Jourova flips sides and starts acting like any other politician, simply resisting to answer in a truthful, open, and relevant way.
This is a clear example of a real issue journalists face every day. One of the key principles ofquality journalism is objective, reliable, and accurate reporting. However, journalists oftenrely on what politicians tell them during a press conference which is frequently prewritten and adjusted according to the speech topic. When journalists are given a limited amount of time to ask questions, such as during this open lecture students were, plus they receive a vague, confusing, or completely irrelevant answer, their reporting becomes very limited.
This may then result in providing lacking information to the public, affecting their right toknow, a fundamental value of democracy. Perhaps next time, the university should keep itsside with the students, encouraging them to demand answers to their questions, and if they donot receive them, professors should challenge the speaker themselves. Not suggesting whatthe audience should ask about next time, as the moderator in this case did. Hopefully, the school will learn from these boo-boos and give students more space to test their roles as journalists in another open lecture.
Eliška Havlíčková, journalism student
It seems that the most prevalent issues the students identified about the event were Jourová’s lack of transparency and the moderator’s excessive control over the discussion. Jourová’s approach to the debate and vague responses were not something the university could have prevented, however they could ensure that students will have more control over similar events in the future, so that they could benefit from them as much as possible.
All images by Anglo-American University