Euro-freelances gain in strength

FREELANCES PLAY an important role in the NUJ branches in continental Europe, especially in France and Belgium. NUJ Paris Branch recently celebrated its 200th member joining, and Brussels has in the past year seen a sharp increase in opportunities for English-speaking freelance journalists.

The accession of eastern European countries - that mostly have English as their second language - means a chunk of specialist EU publications have gone over to being in English rather than French, according to NUJ Brussels Branch committee member Leigh Philips, leading to more native-English-speaking freelances starting out in the EU capital.

Freelances in Brussels are encountering an increasing problem: the growing influence of corporate lobbyists on the content of the EU's various journals, briefings and other specialist publications. "Money moves down the food chain from the European Union, to lobbyists, to publishers, then to freelances - pressure at the top forces more biased copy made by freelances," Brussels Branch's Terry Briscoe told April's NUJ conference. "Copy by journalists is altered", so that reading matter for  "Brussels' movers and shakers"increasingly resembles "adverts and advertorials", he said.

That NUJ conference voted to instruct the National Executive Council to work with the International Federation of Journalists (the NUJ's international) to investigate "the extent of the problem of EU specialist media being financially over-dependent on lobby groups, with the subsequent pressure on journalists, and to recommend necessary actions." As we go to press, this has not yet resulted in action on the ground in Brussels.

Freelance journalists protest in Brussels dressed as pigoens
Non-pigistes in Brussels

In Paris, Branch member Simon Coss has compiled a guide to the "fiendishly complicated" French social security system, which doesn't really understand the concept of a self-employed journalist. Most French journalists are pigistes, paid a pro-rata salary after (large) social security contribution deductions. Tell French social security that you are a self-employed, journalist Simon says, "and they will say you can't be: journalists are employees." He suggests providing the  authorities with ingenious semantic constructions, such as "self-employed writer of political and economic articles".

Continental NUJ branches keep in touch with freelance members through the Continental European Council (CEC) and the Grapevine email network. The CEC now has its own version of the Freelance Directory and a password-only Rate for the EuroJob.

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