Overproduction Crisis in Brussels

This wouldn’t be the first time. Now, however, it’s not milk or potatoes that are at issue, but words.

An acute difficulty of excess verbiage has lead Neil kinnock to crack down and order that in future no Commission report should be more than 15 pages long, except in undefined rare circumstances. This compares with the present average of length of 32.

The reason for this change unfortunately is not the arrival of sound sense, but rather that of 10 new members.

Officials at the European Commission produce a mountain of jargon-laden reports every year, some of them incomprehensible in any language.”

I’m not sure if verbal apoplexy is a fatal condition, or merely chronic: I shall have to check.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, The European Union by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

2 thoughts on “Overproduction Crisis in Brussels

  1. He he he… It won’t help. The new 25 member EU means more and more documents being written in English – primarily in English – by people who are not themselves native anglophones. Composition in a second language is almost always excessively wordy and awkward. It’s no great shakes to translate that sort of crap either.

    It’s time to start looking at a different approach to the EU’s text production problems and maybe to its reporting structure in general. Just fixing a page limit will not get the desired result. The EU needs to start looking at controlled text production techniques, and hiring professional writers instead of assuming that eurocrats are actually competent communicators.

    Brussels’ translation problem is – depending on how you look at it – so far beyond the point where it merely “risks becoming severe” that premptive measures are already a decade out of date; or, there is really no problem at all. The EU that continues to function fine with a 60,000 page translation would continue to function just fine with a 300,000 page backlog. People still manage to communicate. And, the EU’s translation budget comes to 4 euros per European per year. If it was 10 euros it would still not represent a very significant cost on the EU scale.

  2. As someone who, for job reasons, has had on occasion to read through EU policy papers in English text, I can only cheer on Commissioner Kinnock’s order limiting the size to 15 pages, whatever the emerging stresses on the corps of translators in Brussels.

    I’m among the first to complain about populist pressures to precis complex issues down to something that can be written on the back of a postage stamp or two for easy assimilation. The trouble with much of the truck loads of policy paper emerging from the citadel in Brussels is that the official papers are often too discursive and full of waffle, presumably, with the undeclared intent of befogging readers. At least, that is the charitable explanation.

    Those who know the literature on international relations and the arts of diplomacy will be aware of the phrase: “constructive ambiguity”, that euphemistic tag for a literary device of rendering difficult issues into obfuscating prose in the hope and expectation of increasing the likelihood of gaining agreement on contentious questions. Well, Brussels policy papers are suitably full of “constructive ambiguities” to enable officials to say, “Yes, commissioner (or minister), but that is covered in the fourth line of para 184, on page 23.”

    On re-reading, it turns out that the said line does indeed relate to the eventuality or principle of concern but in such mind-numbing, obscure prose that a pin-head of angels could debate the true meaning for eternity without reaching a consensus. And so it goes on – and on. I can only assume Eurocrats, as perennial optimists for their cause, nurture the permanent delusion that officials in member state government departments are incapable of recognising what is going on. Not so. What happens is that they have to waste much pressured time in analysing and deconstructing these papers in order to brief their principals about potential pitfalls. And that does not infuse most of them with unconstrained joy at the prospect of ever closer integration in Europe.

    It really is a valuable education to compare the styles and exposition of policy papers from the British civil service with those emanating from the Brussels citadel. For a taster, try this recently leaked paper on the Iraq conflict from Britain’s foreign office: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,2761-1120147,00.html

Comments are closed.