Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Europe, or making an offer we don't understand. (Updated)

An African diplomat, that will remain anonymous, once said: 'Some countries make us offers we can't refuse, Europe makes us offers we do not understand'.
There. I think it says it all. Why everything coming out of the institutions needs to be so complicated, unfathomable - used difficult word on purpose!- and ultimately...boring? Read the acronyms, the press releases, the titles of legislation, and watch the websites and the videos. I realise that is a big generalisation but pretty close to the truth....Why, I ask?

A couple of possible answers:

IGNORANCE. The European institutions do not care much about communications and do not know how to do it, because many of the people working in communications do not have the expertise. (Ah, as you have been so effective as an expert on competition policy, how about working in communications for a while?)

ARROGANCE. The European institutions actually do not want to be understood; a 'keep them guessing' or 'it's complicated' attitude. The idea is that making things simpler and understandable means diminishing their importance, devaluing the serious work being carried out by its officials.

While there is something to be said for both answers, especially the first one, I think that there is another, more subtle one, that is probably at the root of the problem:

GENETICS. The European Union's DNA does not allow directness and simplicity: the history of the EU is full of grey compromises that cannot be totally clear; a careful desire not to offend anybody and a lowest common denominator way of making decisions and communicating them.

There are countless examples of this make-up, if you have the strength to go through the material.

Some time ago I had a look at the webcasts portal of the European Commission to check out the latest podcast. On the left here, the screen shot I took then: would it make any sense to anyone that does not work here in Brussels? Gosh, I am really upset to have missed the.. CALL FP7-SME-2012 - Evaluators' one! You will say, it is not fair to go and pick only on the difficult acronyms, incomprehensible wordings and so on. And maybe you are right. There has been some improvement: for starters, those webcast titles seem to have gone - maybe they read my post? - and the whole of the European Union website ( has been trimmed and it looks much better than it used to; the words and sections are easy enough to understand; but it is SO full of words and only words that after 2 minutes one switches off.

And ask anybody who has actually been trying to find something specific, well, good luck, you probably won't be able to talk to them as they are still busy looking! And I am told that EU officials themselves use Google to find EU documents in the Europa website. If you enter the main newsroom site of the EU and you want to have a look at the latest videos, the first one appearing is called: "Adoption of the A items, Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, (audio) 999999999999 - Council of the EU and European Council": not a great title, you will agree, but then again, we are not in the entertainment business; you decide nonetheless to click on it, what pictures will you see? Well, one: a still picture (the title did say it was an audio piece - but then why under the 'Videos' section?); and what will you hear, if you are still keen to continue? You will hear - for roughly 8 minutes - the voice of a translator starting to talk about phosphates and household detergents (sorry, is it just me not understanding the connection with the beautiful title?). Of course, maybe one needs to hear the whole thing and something will start making sense...but will anyone have the will to do it? Need I say more? Sometimes I despair.

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