"We help popularize European issues by replacing the citizen in a system."
TREMÄA, is an interesting media project about European topics. Created in 2014 by three young professionals from Brussels, Basile Beauvois (filmmaker), Tiphaine Fabre, Mathias Ruttens and Mathieu Leonard (journalists). This media platform aims to bridge the gap between European institutions and citizens.
For the past few years ‘Eurosceptiscism’ has been growing in public opinion, nourished by Europe’s difficulty to provide an inspiring vision for its 500 million population and also citizens’ distrust in political institutions. Not a day goes by without hearing or reading the words “Europe” or “Brussels” in the media, but what do we, citizens, actually know about Europe ? What are the consequences of hundreds of legislative texts approved each year by these institutions on our everyday life ? Can we influence the decision-making process ?
As Seymour Simon, an American science writer, once stated : “Knowledge empowers people with our most powerful tool : the ability to think and decide”. In this sense, information and transparency are essential to an active democracy and this is the reason why TREMÄA acts as a digital tool that provides in depth analyses on diverse topics such as immigration, Big Data, the TTIP and renewable energy. It also combines interviews of experts with citizen’s opinions. For now the website is only available in French but will be soon translated in English in order to reach a larger audience.
We met Basile, Tiphaine and Mathias, founders of TREMÄA, and they explained how they have been putting their passion and skills to give citizens a better understanding of what is happening in, what they call, the ‘Euro Bubble’.
What motivated you to start this project in the first place ?
Tiphaine : It all started with the European Parliament election in 2014. In Belgium we had the highest turnout mainly because of the compulsory voting system [every citizen is required to vote otherwise he/she will be fined] but the level of participation was quite low in the rest of Europe, around 42%. We realized that even if we vote every 5 years to elect our European deputies, we don’t know what is happening behind these doors. The Parliament seems to be disconnected from the civil society but at the same time Europe’s policies have a large impact on everyone’s life. Indeed, most of legislations voted on a national level have already been established on the European level. So we wanted to reconnect the citizens with European issues.
Mathias : We are very much attached to this idea of bottom-up movements, which is why we wanted to make European topics accessible to people who are not part of the “European bubble” [those working with institutions and all NGO, lobbies, etc.]. People who work inside this bubble assume that everyone is familiar with European issues and institutional mechanisms behind each debate. While in fact ordinary citizen usually don’t have a clue about what is happening at the European level, decisions who have been taken and their impact
All these topics are complex. If we take for instance the TTIP and its influence on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), how do you manage to make information and data understandable for citizens ?
Tiphaine : We help popularize European issues by replacing the citizen in a system. The TTIP, if implemented, will also have an impact on local agriculture and consumption practices
Therefore it is important to have some basic information about how the CAP works. Here we explain the whole food industry process until the product actually ends up on the consumer’s plate. Then we focus on the citizen so we try to understand the impact of the policy on a Belgian farmer’s life (subsidies, health and environmental requirements and so on). We present portraits of people (we don’t really like the concept of ‘average citizen”), and in this case we spend time with a farmer who decided to switch to organic agriculture methods, immersed in his daily life.
These stories enable the user to put him/herself in someone else’s shoes so he/she wanders “what would I do if I were in his/her position ? Will I try to implement organic farming methods too?”. Or maybe as a consumer might think about its choices : “should I buy my bottle of milk directly to a local producer or do I go to the supermarket ?”, “how does decisions taken in Brussels impact the life of the farmer I meet every week-end on the local market ?”.
Basile : Even if top-down European policies are complicated, we also want to show that citizens have a say in that matter. For example with the TTIP, we informed them that a certain legislation would be submitted to the European Parliament so as a citizen we can also voice our opinion and call out the politician who represent us. So Europe is not only a massive legal and bureaucratic cloud flying above our heads but we can find a way to get involve.
Regarding the format, how do you present information to make them attractive for the reader ?
Basile : So far we covered four topics, released every two weeks between May and June 2015. TREMÄA is a mix of different medium (writing, sounds, videos, photographs, drawing).
We also add other types of information like for example a glossary, interviews, caricature and videos of citizens giving their point of view on a specific question. In addition, we have ‘En savoir plus’ section to learn more about the topic that explains the journalistic or legal jargon used previously and where you can find some links for books or films related to the subject.
How did you manage to launch this webplatform and what kind of support did you had during this process ?
Mathias : We launched the website on May 2015 but we actually started thinking and working concretely on the project on September 2014. We presented the project for the first time at the “Salon du Financement Participatif” (The Fair of participative founding) also known as “Europe Refresh”. We wanted to raise 10 000E in order create the web platform, with a really nice website able to bring mix different media. Everyone is able to create a blog nowadays but we wanted something tailored around our initial concept, which requires some substantial money. So we presented this project in Brussels and Paris and managed to raise 10 000E.
We initiated the project but without all those people supporting us, we wouldn’t have managed to make it happen. We made a successful crowdfunding campaign that later helped us get a grant from a public institution (‘Federation Wallonie Internationale’).
How was this project received ?
‘The dossier on the TTIPP was largely shared among activists.’
Mathias : Very positively ! For example the dossier on the TTIPP was largely shared among activists. Most of the time, people write us to tell that this kind of platform was missing in the media landscape. We also received emails from people who would like to work with us.
What are the most challenging aspects you experienced throughout this year of working on this project ?
Basile : The two main constraints are the budget and the lack of time. In terms of budget, we are depending on external subsides so we would like to find other sources of funding and generate some profit that enables us to develop the project in the long term. Promoting the website is also an important challenge; each of us is creating the content but we would need someone else to work exclusively as a community manager or so. We would also like to have other journalists to join our team and a proper place to work (we used to work in my room), but it will only be possible if we get new funding.
The second constraint is time. In fact, all of us are quite busy with our day job and side projects so we struggle to find time to sit and talk about TREMÄA. It requires a lot of thinking and preparation. Before starting the crowdfunding campaign we have worked on the project for 9 months.
How do you want the project to evolve ?
Mathias : Until now, TREMAA was in its pilot phase and, currently, we are trying to improve it. For example, we would like to publish every week different topics and different formats. We previously gave an overview of the TTIP treated as an individual theme and now we would like to include it in different topics. We also want to translate the website to English and Dutch to make it accessible as much as possible.