Handling the press for YPFP

I’m delighted to be volunteering for the Brussels branch of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy as their new Press Officer. YPFP brings together a diverse array of young people to discuss and engage in international affairs, hosting events, workshops and training sessions throughout the year.

As Press Officer, my aim is to better promote the work of YPFP in Brussels to media outlets based in Belgium and across the EU, to increase coverage and gain new members. By raising awareness through a new press strategy, working closely with the Communications and Marketing team together with the rest of YPFP’s talented staff, I hope to cement YPFP’s network as a well-respected, engaging group operating from the heart of Europe.

Find out more about the organisation here.

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If you were the EU, what would you do?

During my five months with the European Committee of the Regions, I was fortunate enough to help lead an exciting video campaign with my fellow trainees under the established YFactor brand.

For each cohort of trainees at the CoR, a YFactor event or project is organised focusing on a particular issue or topic associated with young people. Rather than running another dull conference synonymous with the EU bubble, we decided to reach out to young people from across Europe through a viral video campaign.

meandeuWe asked young people a simple question: if you were the EU, what would you do? Respondents were encouraged to take a selfie video discussing something they’d like to see changed about the EU. The environment, Brexit, migration and EU accountability were just some of the topics raised.

Launching in late November, young people had until the end of December to send us their videos and be in with a chance to win a trip to Brussels. With the videos submitted, we then grouped themes together to create four unique short videos on a topic raised by Europe’s youth. The videos combined young peoples’ views with our own humorous drama scenes, scripted, performed, filmed and edited by trainees, alongside answers from elected members of the CoR.

Throughout the process, I was in charge of social media: promoting the campaign primarily on Facebook and Twitter to reach out to young people and encourage to participate in the project. I did this by regularly posting online, using GIFs, short videos and articles to raise awareness of our brand and project. Liaising with an external communications group and sending out an email to all CoR staff were other ways we garnered attention to the #meandeu scheme. I then had the task of publishing the four videos on all our platforms, including YouTube, for the general public to see and share.

The project was a big success. We produced four unique, fun and informative videos that have been viewed and shared by thousands of people. The impact has even seen the CoR take on the #meandeu project and use it for other events targeting young people. It was also encouraging to see elected CoR members getting involved, with support from all political parties from start to finish.

Digital campaigns are more important than ever, and it was great to see our hard work pay off and produce something rather special. It also tested my planning and organising skills. Crucially however, if it wasn’t for a strong team of trainees working together, we would not have achieved such a successful campaign. Team work certainly matters!

You can see clips and samples of my promotional work for the project below:

Writing for the ECR Group

For the past four months I’ve been lost in the world of bureaucracy and high-rise office blocks, enjoying the thrills and chills of the European Union from Brussels, the so-called heart of Europe.

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-21-28-20Trainee life is not all about parties and networking though, I have been fortunate enough to work on interesting policy areas and shape communication strategies for my political group, the ECR in the European Committee of the Regions.

The ECR, which sits on the right hand side of the political spectrum, prides itself on a localism approach to policy making, advocating a bottom-up strategy where decisions are made at the lowest level possible, i.e. where citizens and local people have the greatest say possible and not politicians at the national or EU level. We represent members from seven EU countries, and I’ve been lucky to follow our members activities and write about their work for the Group for our quarterly newsletter, ECR News.

You can see the latest edition here, which features articles on farming, energy, Brexit and natural disasters: ECR Newsletter December 2016

What’s more, I’m regularly writing content for the ECR’s website, covering a variety of policy areas including the environment, energy and regional cooperation, as well as writing reports on our Group’s localism events taking place across Europe.

Recent articles include:

ECR President calls on Commission to prioritise less regulation and greater empowerment of citizens

Pavel Branda appointed rapporteur on people-to-people projects

ECR rapporteur Daiva Matonienė’s opinion on heating and cooling adopted unanimously

ECR calls for reform of EU regional policy at localism conference in Italy

Building disaster resilient communities: ECR Rapporteurs help conclude UN-CoR cooperation

Enjoy!

Celebrating the LGBTI movement in Europe

Last month I had the pleasure of attending ILGA Europe’s European Equality Gala, a celebration of all the work that activists and supporters do in Europe (and beyond) in campaigning for LGBTI rights.

I was humbled to be in the presence of some notable LGBTI heroes, including Julia Ehrt, Executive Director Transgender Europe, and the legendary ‘Queen of Ireland’ Panti Bliss.

My experience of being LGBTI in Europe has been very positive, thanks mainly to a lot of the work carried out by campaigners and activists to ensure my sexuality doesn’t affect my rights or protections.

CmIxyQ1WYAAD4u0.jpg-largeYet I know this is something I cannot take for granted. In other parts of Europe we see many countries refuse to recognise gay people.

And as the devastating attack on Pulse Nightclub in Florida showed, even when safeguards are in place they’re not always enough to protect LGBTI individuals.

As a community we can’t be complacent. We must do more to raise awareness and campaign for those in countries where their sexuality is oppressed. And of course, we must continue to educate people in our own countries to eradicate homophobic views and beliefs once and for all.

Which is perhaps why an event like ILGA’s Equality Gala is so important. I was inspired to see so many people in attendance, with representatives from big businesses, the EU and national governments all celebrating LGBTI individuals and promising to campaign further to improve the lives of LGBTI citizens in Europe and further afield.

The killing of 49 innocent victims in Orlando was a harsh wake-up call for many in the gay community. We must stand united and do more to protect our rights and freedoms, as well as improving the lives for those individuals who cannot live openly and without fear.

I’m grateful for the work that ILGA and many others do to improve our lives, and I look forward to continuing to follow their cause and donate to their mission.

I would encourage you all to do your bit and campaign too; it doesn’t matter whether you join a local society or donate to a LGBTI charity, it all makes a difference!

You can find out more about ILGA Europe here.

 

 

Bringing the UK’s EU referendum debate to Brussels

After months of planning, last week I organised my first political debate on the UK’s upcoming EU referendum.
BSIS debate 4Despite a few last minute changes to the panel (many thanks to Roger Helmer’s office for leaving me in the lurch with one day to go before the debate), I was thrilled to have a balanced line-up consisting of two IN voices (ex-Labour MEP Mark Watts and Pro Europa’s Scott McCulloch) vs. two OUT supporters (UKIP’s Tony Gould and vice-chair of the Campaign for an Independent Britain Rev. Philip Foster), chaired by a fantastic host; Professor Richard Sakwa from the University of Kent.

The evening was a great success! Having reached full capacity I was thrilled to see over 100 guests attend the debate at the Brussels School of International Studies.

Topics discussed by the panel included immigration, sovereignty, economic concerns, and BSIS debate 1foreign and security policy. Heated exchanges and a few chuckles from the audience – mainly made up of IN supporters with a few undecided – ensured that the atmosphere remained pleasant despite the emotive nature of some of the issues deliberated.

In Brussels where the mood is evidently pro-EU, it can be difficult to find anyone that wants the UK to leave the EU. Even as a remain supporter, it was certainly refreshing to hear the other side and think about the arguments I’ll be making in the coming weeks to ensure we vote to stay in.

I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of the Brussels Graduate Student Union and the University for Kent; a big thank you to both. A massive round of applause also to my chair and panel, who did a fantastic job informing, educating and entertaining guests.

If anyone needs help in organising similar events please contact me: kdjwatkins@yahoo.co.uk

 

The power of Eurovision

If ever there was an event that could restore one’s faith in humanity, Eurovision would be it. Whether people were happy on Euro-pop or happy on alcohol, the jubilant atmosphere in Stockholm was something I’ll never forget.

Eurovision 1The ambience was infectious, the crowds tantalizing. People from all walks of life representing all countries, coming together to celebrate the camp comradery that is the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s the kind of thing even Simon Cowell can’t recreate.

It’s safe to say I had an unforgettable time. From seeing Loreen sing the world-famous Euphoria to being in the Globe Arena fanboying over the hilarious Petra Mede, every moment was memorable.

Stockholm itself was friendly and charming, full of history and character. A tad chilly and a bit expensive mind, but an impeccable host for the contest. 12 points to Sweden for putting on a great show!

Now for the important bit. As a Brit who worries about the future of Europe, particularly as my home country gears up for one of the most important votes in its history, the timing of Eurovision couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Eurovision 2It made me realise that Europe is so much more than just a continent. It’s a part of the world where on the whole, countries share the same values of love, life and tolerance. Admittedly, some states need to work on their human rights record, but it arguably brings people together in a show of force against evil.

At a time when terrorism threatens to tear up societies, I can only see Eurovision and indeed Europe as a good thing for society. Right, I’ll stop writing like a Guardian columnist now.

I mean, how can it be perceived as a bad thing when Australia, the US and even China want to get in on the act. Because that’s the power of Eurovision; it unites old enemies and takes a step back from politics (usually) to celebrate music and people. It may be clichéd, but it’s a cliché that still keeps on giving. And I for one love it.

See you in Kiev Eurovision!

My first foray into politics

Having recently spoken about my new volunteering role with Pro Europa, I was delighted to be asked to participate in a debate on Brexit last month.

Organised by the Bexleyheath Conservative Future society, the debate comprised In and Out supporters, with participants including James Brockenshire, the Minister for Immigration, and Conservative MP Rebecca Harris.

Topics discussed included immigration, terrorism, international relations, and the economy, with friendly, informed arguments raised by both sides.

This was my first experience participating in a debate, so I found the experience slightly daunting but very interesting. The crowd – mainly made up of Out supporters – were certainly tricky to convince, but I was happy with the debate outcome.

Next time, I hope to be more confident with my arguments and ensure I speak up on key points. The use of statistics and evidence is another important tool I will use more when looking to strengthen claims.

Overall though, I found the opportunity very rewarding and would like to thank Pro Europa for inviting me. A big thanks also to Bexley CF for organising the debate.

With my first foray into politics completed, who knows where I could go next. Watch this space!

Picture courtesy of @ComendadorMBF