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Government communication plays a key role in democratic societies as it helps public understanding of government policies and raises awareness of the roles and actions of decision makers. Within the European Union (EU) polity, communication plays a crucial role for citizens' support for the European integration process. Despite the increasing relevance of communication about major activities of the EU, studies on the EU institutions' communications are scarce, and very little is currently known about the external communication of the Council of the EU. Focusing on the media relations activities of the Council, this paper investigates the communication practices and roles of press officers working in the Council's General Secretariat as perceived by these government communicators themselves. Qualitative interviews with the press officers, analysis of Council documents, participation in their work processes and observations of their professional behaviour were used to establish the empirical basis of the study. The findings highlight the apolitical and reactive nature of these European civil servants' communication activities and identify some of the institutional and political challenges that they face in the performance of their professional duties. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.