Newspeak, the €142 billion budget and the EU’s “communication problem”

The European Union has a “communication problem”. This is allegedly caused by things like the fractured nature of European public opinion, the dull work of Brussels or maliciously sensationalist journalism. No doubt these are often the problem, but I would add another factor: Intentional obfuscation by European institutions.

Case in point, there is little more fundamental to any organization than its budget. Given that the EU is meant to serve and is paid for by the public, one would think it would make some effort to give an account to the layman taxpayer of its spending. Not so. If someone outside the Brussels bubble types “EU budget” into Google he arrives here at the Commission’s webpage describing said budget.

So far, so splendid. But what information has the Commission deemed useful to share with our unsuspecting citizen-taxpayer? This hideously uninformative pie-chart:

In the real world, over 40% of the EU’s budget goes to the Common Agricultural Policy (farm subsidies), another third for Regional Policy (infrastructure and other projects in poorer regions) and the rest on the negligibles.

But no. Instead of basic facts, the Commission presents nearly half the budget as going to “Cohesion & competitiveness for growth and employment”. What in the devil is that and who could be expected to be against any of those words? I, covering the EU every day, am not able to tell what real part of the budget that title is hiding.

“The EU as a global player” is a somewhat more acceptable euphemism, presumably because “foreign policy” is verboten due to the Brits. A shame though as I imagine nice things like humanitarian and development aid fall under this.

The citizen walks away with this only intelligibly visual piece of information having learnt that the EU budget is divided as follows:

  • 1/2 for buzzwords
  • 1/3 for “direct aids and market-related expenditure” (???)
  • 1/10 for the countryside
  • 6% for bureaucrats
  • 6% for strutting about the world stage

Fantastic. Now, you might protest that a pie-chart is an attempt at simplification and vulgarization. Obviously it fail on both counts, but even those will to dig through some number will be disappointed. The Commission presents this detailed table of the budget:

Note that many of the headings have changed but “farm policy” and “regional policy”are still nowhere to be found. None of the big budget items have actually descriptive headings, instead we have “competitiveness for growth and employment”, “cohesion for growth and employment” and other Orwellian nothings. Thus, our citizen-taxpayer will leave the website still knowing nothing as to how much Europe is spending in his name on agriculture, nuclear power or what have you.

Speaking of Orwell:

Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.

One difference is that, in EU-speak, the range of thought is reduced and all made wholesome by definition through verbosity rather than virtuous concision.

P.S.: This post was prompted by similar headings used even in leaked internal Commission documents detailing a draft €80 billion to be spent on the “Horizon 2020” research budget.

P.P.S.: The EU can produce an intelligible brochure on the budget. I don’t know why good communication is reserved for .pdfs and glossy pamphlets rather than the top Google ranking page.

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5 Responses to Newspeak, the €142 billion budget and the EU’s “communication problem”

  1. I agree that this effort to “market” the EU budget and sell it to citizens is actually a failure of communications. People want to know how much money is being spent on agriculture, transport infrastructure, support to poor regions, scientific research, aid to developing countries … but none of this information is easy to find on the official EU websites.

  2. Sergio says:

    Thanks for this post… and for having found the brochure! Clearly EU-communication has a problem to give access to the information she already has. Transparency! Well, I’ve read the new EP-site should be online tomorrow, hopefully it will be a progress!

  3. The post, for an Information Pasquination Officer, was advertised in the EU’s Official Journal on Friday (1 April) and comes with an annual salary of €1.6 million and a large blue hat with 12 saggy peaks, each one topped with a golden star.

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