raffaella de marte gardening

Raffaella in her garden.

Journalist, communication officer, policy adviser, web editor: Raffaella De Marte.

Since her arrival in Brussels in 2004 where she started as a trainee in the press office of the Council of the European Union, Raffaella De Marte has had many jobs, including political advisor for a national delegation to the European Parliament and the very prestigious job of policy advisor to the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies.

While working, Raffaella De Marte continued to study because she had another objective: to become an official in the European Parliament! She had to study for hours and hours per day, but when she entered the competitive hiring process (understandably one of the most difficult in Europe), she passed and got the job. Since March 2009 she’s been an official at the Directorate General of Communications for the European Parliament where she works as a web editor and social media officer.

Facebook plays a central role in your work, it matters everyday more: politicians and officials have to use it to move with the times and to reach people. Can you explain when it became so important and why a public Institution has to depend on it?

It started with a moment of panic before the European elections in 2009. We said: what can we do to increase participation in the elections? There was a fear that people wouldn’t go to vote: participation was decreasing every year at a greater rate. So, basically, the Members of the Parliament (MEPs) decided that we should do everything possible to grow participation and that’s how we came to the idea of using social media.

In the meanwhile there had been Obama who, with his famous social media presence, won the American elections, so the MEPs begged us: we want the same, like Obama! It was easy for us to launch this platform during the 2009 campaign. The MEPs were not in Brussels at that time, so we could somehow be more free than usual. The result was that especially our Facebook page, got a lot of fans, like immediately, because the elections were so close and there were people looking to Parliament and joining the page. Then Facebook also offered us some free publicity because they saw that the page was growing so quickly.

So. after the elections, we said: and now? What are we going to do with these 50.000 people who are registered on our page?

We should continue. We should try to keep people informed on what the European Parliament does in its daily business and try to interact with them and create a dialogue with citizens on the European level – it’s been missing but it’s one of the main purposes of the European Union. And it worked, we were very surprised because we thought “Ok, after the elections nobody will care about it anymore,” but that wasn’t the case: people continued to comment on the content we added, to interact with the politicians and so on. The growth was constant. Our page remains the main platform at the European level for communication between citizens and an institution which, after the White House, is the second largest in the world, People love to talk about European politics and to share their points of view with each other: recently, for example, the main topics have been the situations in Libya and in Japan. One last thing: this April we will celebrate our second birthday with our 150.000 fans.

raffaella de marte jerzy buzek european parliment

Raffaella and President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek, courtesy Pietro Naj-Oleari

When did you decide to leave Italy and why Brussels?

It was by chance. I wanted to go to Latin America. I was in love with Argentina where I had lived for 6 months, so I went to my thesis advisor and asked him about going abroad to Latin America. After a couple of days, he came back to me saying “look, we have an opportunity in Brussels, an internship with a European institution: are you interested?” Ah, where the weather is bad and nearly everyday it rains? OK, I’m in.

I had no idea of what the European institutions were like, I hadn’t studied politics and when I came here everybody was “high level.” The matter was so difficult, I didn’t feel adequate. But then, with time, I started a traineeship in the European Council and it was so exiting, because the prime ministers were there every three months and I had the opportunity to attend meetings and go into rooms of power that are very closed, very secret. Being there was so unexpected.

Now you’re happy, you wouldn’t change anything right?

Well, I still complain about Brussels and the weather, and the fact that people are not warm as Italians are. Belgium is in the north of Europe and I like the south, I like the sun, I like the sea… I’m considering moving to California (laugh…) to work for Facebook. Sure. At least there is more sun there!

How do you live as an Italian in Brussels? Are you member of some associations or groups attended by Italians?

Basically, when you are in Brussels and you are Italian you don’t have to look for an Italians circle or associations: they come to you.

I have many Italian friends and my best friends are Italian because we have the same language and culture, we laugh of the same jokes, we love the same food and food is a powerful factor to keep people together!

Is there any “Italian” in your daily life?

Yes, even if my boyfriend is French and my colleagues are all foreigners, I still have my Italian friends and Rai Uno, Rai Due and Rai Tre. I have also brought my Saeco coffee machine to all the offices I’ve been at in Brussels: I changed several jobs, and in every place I went I offered to buy a Saeco in Italy, then I took care of bringing it back to Brussels. When I go back to Italy I bring pasta, tomatoes, I bring everything: it’s like a kind of emotional link that you don’t want to lose, even if in Brussels you can find basically every ingredient or restaurant to eat Italian food.

What’s your plan for the future?

Well, my dream at the moment, professionally, is to become the social media coordinator of the European Parliament, because I like it very much. I think there is a long way to go because the institutions are slow and a lot of things have to change: I’d like to be a motor of change in this sense.

I want to go on with a career in the Parliament because you can change the type of job you’re doing several times in your life and this is perfect for me. So, I see my career here but then I dream of my retirement in the south of Italy with a B&B or just a vegetable garden: I’m learning about that because I have a garden at home and I love trying to grow my vegetables, even with the difficult climate that we have in Belgium.

Any chance you will go back to Italy before retirement?

I don’t know, it’s not too late…maybe if I have the chance, but not to work in a political or institutional environment: I would like to do some activity related to tourism in the South of Italy: I’m from the South, so I want to go back to the South and bring somehow an added value to my land.