Brussels from afar: Interview with Eline Schaart, reporting for Politico

Interview conducted by Marco Valenziano from the “Becoming Bruxellois from Afar” project

This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by a group of Groningen students as part of their Eurocompetence II project. The interviewees all work in Brussels institutions and were asked questions related to the Euroculture’s 2020 IP topic: “A sustainability Europe? Society, politics and culture in the anthropocene”. Here, Marco Valenziano asked Eline Schaart, a young female journalist from Politico to give us her perspectives on sustainability in the news.

Marco Valenziano: Could you please introduce Politico and its main objectives?

Eline Schaart: Politico is a global nonpartisan politics and policy news organization, launched in Europe in April 2015. Our European division is a joint-venture between POLITICO LLC, based in the USA and Axel Springer, the leading publisher in Europe. With operations based in Brussels and additional offices in London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Warsaw, Politico connects the dots between global power centres. In June 2018, an annual ComRes/Burson-Marsteller survey ranked Politico as the Number One most influential publication on European affairs, for the second year running. Its journalism lives online at politico.eu; in POLITICO Pro, the real-time subscription-based policy news service for professionals; in daily morning newsletters, such as Brussels Playbook and London Playbook; in print via a weekly newspaper; and through live events.

MV: Can you briefly summarize your role within Politico? How your career path led to your current position?

ES: I did an Erasmus Mundus Master programme in Aarhus and Swansea. The focus was on international journalism. When I graduated I briefly moved to Amsterdam, where I am from, but soon I moved to Brussels to work for a Japanese newspaper as an assistant to the correspondent, but I really missed writing my own articles because I was mainly helping him by going to briefing and by helping him finding new topics. then I found a fund that helps young female journalists here in Brussels to get started in their careers. Two young women are selected every year and placed in a Brussels’ newsroom. I was placed at Politico for a five-months internship covering the European elections and helping with the breaking news, very short articles about anything that’s relevant happening across the Continent. After that, I got a temporary contract to continue covering the European elections. I now have a permanent contract. At Politico we have free articles but also “pro coverages” which people can subscribe to and that means that I work in a team writing a newsletter [the PRO Sustainability Snapshot, ed.] of around 1000 words about all the major sustainability-related news happening in Brussels and in the EU every day. We also write long and short articles. In my case, I cover chemicals and circular economy, so waste plastic, environmental policies, and also air pollution. Recently, since I am the only Dutch reporter in the news room I have also covered a lot of Dutch politics.

MV: Since you have a role in reporting on sustainability issues which action do you feel is progressing the most and which is not really?

ES: I think that in any sector there are frontrunners but also companies which are less willing to innovate, so I do not think that you can really say that one field is way ahead of the others. However, what you do see is that some sectors are more regulated by the European Commission. For example, in the previous Circular Economy Action Plan which was launched in 2015, the Commission really targeted plastics, resulting in the setting of many standards for this material, whereas for example there is not such a thing for textiles. This means that there are still no targets set for textile recycling or recycled materials used in textiles. So definitely some branches can learn from others that are already dealing with more regulations. In fact, last month the Commission launched a new Circular Economy Action Plan that targets a lot more fields, such as ICT, packaging, or construction sector.

MV: What is the role of Politico? Is it limited in the field of information or does your job have a further impact?

ES: Politico’s goal is absolutely not to influence a certain policy issue, but rather to inform. This does not mean that what we cover does not have an impact. It could draw attention to a certain topic that normally would not be looked at. We may have some inside information that other players do not have and, in that sense, we can definitely influence policy-making but that is not our objective.

MV: Do you believe that Politico’s information has pushed the European Institutions in some direction?

ES: The [European] Institutions do not always know what the others actors are doing so for MEPs is very useful to know the position of some countries or when the Commission is coming up with some new initiative. In that sense, we help the different institutions to know what is happening in the other key places.

MV: Is this helped by your presence in Brussels? Do you work there mainly to inform who is there or to have an inside view on what is happening in the “European capital”?

ES: Part of our work is to build a network: you get to meet the people who are relevant for your reporting and you build a certain relationship with them. By meeting with them and having a regular chat, you build trust. This way, they are more willing to share what they are working on. If you look at most of the other media in Brussels they are just covering what their country is doing in the European Union. They lack a European-wide view that we are lucky to have by working with journalists from different countries.

MV: Since you have an inside view on Brussels and beyond, how do you see the future of the European Union in 5 years? 

I think that the current European Commission has drafted a really ambitious programme in December with their Green Deal and now they are following up, as I mentioned before, with the publication of the new Circular Economy Action Plan. The proposals they included are still to be discussed but at least on paper they look really promising. The question now within Brussels is how the Coronavirus is going to impact the timeline of all those proposals. Transitioning to a more circular and greener economy request a lot of money and MEPs are arguing about delaying the Green Deal just to have the money flow into the Member States and make sure that they have enough to get their economy going again after this crisis.

Picture credits: personal file

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