London Daily

Focus on the big picture.
Thursday, Dec 08, 2022

Scientifically proven: The EU is incomprehensible

Scientifically proven: The EU is incomprehensible

An analysis of 45,000 Commission press releases shows they’re more complicated than those of other governments.

The European Commission’s reputation for using mumbo jumbo is unrivaled — and now the data backs up the perception.

The verdict is in from an analysis of 45,000 press releases: The Commission keeps it complicated — even compared to other governments.

That doesn’t just make life harder for journalists, argues the paper’s author, Christian Rauh of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. It’s also a political problem. The incomprehensible communications leave plenty of room for Euroskeptics and domestic politicians who want to blame Brussels to provide their own translations.

“Technocratic communication thus plays all too easily into the hands of those who want to construct the image of a Brussels elite that is detached from the European citizen,” Rauh writes in the Journal of European Integration.


Rauh ran the data on 35 years’ worth of English-language press releases from the Commission, examining factors like grammatical complexity and jargon.

For comparison, he also looked at newspapers, political science abstracts and communications from the Irish and British governments. While it’s little surprise that the Commission was more technical than the tabloids, the national governments also scored better on accessible language using normal words (thus eliminating the excuse that the Commission needs to sound geeky because it’s dealing with technical policy matters).

On a measure of how easy texts are to read, only political scientists scored worse than the Commission (as shown in the graphic above). And when it comes to jargon, Commission communicators outpaced even academics.

Some of this is by design, Rauh notes. Messages about “… flexibility foreseen in the state aid rules …” for example, relate to thorny talks with capitals, and “trilogues,” of course, are about talking to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU (or, to put it plainly, national politicians), and the Commission is often at pains not to publicly anger capitals while contentious issues are being hashed out in private.

Looking at the quantity of communications between 1985 and 2020, Rauh found the volume of press releases per month hit around 150 in the early 2000s, under then-Commission President Romano Prodi, with similar levels during José Manuel Barroso’s two terms.

However, the leader of the first “political Commission,” Jean-Claude Juncker, oversaw a big drop, down to about 50 press releases per month over his five-year tenure ending in 2019. (Ursula von der Leyen’s trend as Commission president seemed to be moving back up again in the analysis of press releases through 2020.)

Newsletter

Related Articles

London Daily
0:00
×