A Ten-Week Immersion in Public Affairs at the United States Mission to the European Union

Madeline Bronstein was an intern at the Public Affairs Section at the United States Mission to the European Union

As a Public Affairs intern with the United States Mission to the EU (USEU), I had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, issues, and interests during my ten weeks working in Brussels. The office I worked for, Public Affairs (PA), directs the communications efforts for USEU, including press and media, programs and events, and international exchanges. What distinguishes Public Affairs from other sections within an embassy or U.S. foreign mission is that it directly reaches out to the public-in this case the citizens of the European Union—instead of primarily focusing on government-to-government relations. At USEU, the target audience is not as straight forward as in a traditional embassy. USEU has very little direct contact with the population in the member states. Instead, the mission reaches out to journalists, researchers, activists, and public servants who represent the European constituency in Brussels.

As a PA intern, I worked on issues that spanned across the mission’s departments (political, economic, trade, etc.) to plan events and media initiatives. The experience taught me more about the Foreign Service, public diplomacy, the strength of the US-EU relationship, and the challenges it faces over a broad range of global issues. USEU plays a key role in defending U.S. interests on world issues, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, climate change, migration, and others. The mission works to give the United States a voice in Europe through interviews, press releases, events, exchanges, and other means of engaging Europe in a dialogue on how we can best work together to highlight our strengths, rather than focus on our differences.

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USEU Intern Madeline Bronstein introducing U.S. Ambassador the EU, Anthony Gardner to a group of EU trainees

The Public Affairs press section organizes media opportunities for USEU diplomats and visiting officials, including press conferences, interviews, and briefings, and informs the media through press releases. It also runs the mission’s social media programs. Working with press and social media at USEU was an extremely interesting experience, as media can involve almost all areas of the mission. I helped organize interviews and briefings for European media, monitored news for a daily USEU newswire distribution, and drafted social media content for events and major development. As a millennial, my generation is extremely active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc.) and it was interesting to see how these rapidly evolving tools are used in diplomacy to reach out and provide a new way for public audiences to gain insight into the positions and activities of government offices. Social media is easily accessible for most people-it’s free to use, simple to navigate, and often emphasizes brief, clear concise messages. This makes it a great tool for informing audiences that it otherwise might not be able to reach.

The other key component of my internship at USEU was working with the Programs and Exchanges team. Public Affairs organizes events both within the mission and with external organizations (think tanks, NGOs etc.), bringing in U.S. speakers and experts to share an American perspective with European audiences. Organizing as well as attending these events demonstrated instantly to me just how powerful these events can be as a public diplomacy tool. It was interesting to hear the thoughts and questions Europeans had for the American diplomats and experts that spoke. Getting out of the office and giving the United States Mission to the EU a face to the European community can play an important role in establishing mutual respect and understanding, and I was very impressed by the impact USEU’s programs and events can have. Perhaps the speakers might not always convince the audience that the U.S. position is the correct one, but they can also provide people with a more sophisticated understanding of the U.S. position, which can be equally important.

A highlight during my internship was putting together a series of morning briefings at the mission for EU trainees, or stagiaires. Engaging with stagiaires is an important initiative for PA, as the trainees represent potential new EU leaders and policy-makers, and emphasizing the transatlantic relationship as well as inviting them to hear a U.S. perspective can strengthen current and future relationships between USEU and the European institutions.

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EU Stagiairs Briefing on Sanctions with USEU Economic Officer, Amy Roth

I organized three of these briefings, which culminated in a half-day program on the broader U.S.-EU relationship. The briefings each focused on a different topic pertaining to transatlantic relations, including humanitarian aid and development, sanctions, migration, and the Fulbright-Schuman exchange program. Working with USEU officials, including members of the political and economic sections, USAID, and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner, as well as meeting and hearing from EU stagiaires on a range of current global challenges was both fun and a great experience- I worked on the events from their beginning stages through to their end. The dialogues that came out of these morning briefings were interesting, open-minded, and candid. I enjoyed being a part of the effort to increase understanding and share perspectives between Americans and young professionals working in EU affairs.

Working with both the press and events sides of USEU/PA was not only a good opportunity for me to diversify my projects, but gave me valuable perspective on how different public diplomacy tools work together to achieve goals. The Public Affairs department is ultimately a team, utilizing a variety of channels to communicate US perspectives and increase understanding between USEU and Europe. Programs and events have exponentially more reach and impact when accompanied by social media coverage, and local press and media are much more likely to accurately understand US positions if Americans are given a chance to share thoughts and engage with Europeans through events. Traditional and social media, events, and programs also go hand in hand as the reach of important news stories and events can be exponentially increased through social media and journalists can rely on events and social media as a source of information and inspiration.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to live and work in such a dynamic city during interesting times. When I arrived in mid-September of 2015, the European Union and the transatlantic relationship were facing unique challenges like the heart of the migration crisis, the lead-up to historic UN climate conference COP 21, the ongoing TTIP negotiations, and the ever-evolving situation in Ukraine. These issues, as well as many others, have shifted and morphed throughout my time with USEU, and it was extremely interesting to be in Europe during a challenging and formative time in the EU’s history.

I chose to come to Brussels to work with USEU because I was, and am now even more so, interested in the relationship and partnership between the United States and Europe. Working with the Public Affairs office and USEU has helped shape the way I think about Europe, the transatlantic relationship, and American diplomacy, and I could not have asked for a better way to learn about our partners across the Atlantic.

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