EU “maximises its bottom-up cohesion going forward”

April 26, 2010

All institutions have their gibberish and jargon, but the European Union really does take the biscuit sometimes.

Whether it’s endless acronyms that tumble out of press officers’ mouths without the faintest irony, or stock phrases that ministers, commissioners and assorted lower-level officials just can’t stop themselves from using, the EU and its institutions have given rise to a plethora of empty or confusing verbiage.

At a briefing by the European Defence Agency on the sidelines of a meeting of European foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday — known in the lingo as a GAC/FAC — an official produced the following phrase to describe efforts to create a new security body: “We want to adopt a pragmatic, output-oriented, bottom-up approach.”

Having a “bottom-up approach” is currently de rigueur, with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now a Middle East envoy, repeatedly using the phrase in recent weeks to describe efforts to build-up Palestinian institutions and the economy. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, likes to use it regularly too.

In fact, Ashton has several phrases she tends to fall back on, including a frequent wish to “move forward on the ground”. At one press conference last month she declared: “The watchwords ought to be: maximizing synergies, avoiding heavy procedures and strengthening our collective impact on the ground.”

Acronyms are another favourite. One page of the 15 pages of conclusions from the foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday included the following series of acronyms: EUJUST LEX, EUPOL COPPS, EUBAM, AMISOM and SHADE, the last of which stands for Shared Awareness and Deconfliction.

A press officer at the same gathering expected to be understood when he said “the CSDP conclusions will reaffirm the EUTM and support for the TFG”, which essentially translates as: “The common security and defence policy conclusions will reaffirm support for the European Union training mission (in Somalia) and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia”.

The French, strong defenders of their own language, are not immune to this hackneyed gobbledygook. One minister on Monday said with all seriousness: “What we need is a forward-looking road map that leads to concrete output on a series of topics.”

However, perhaps the least meaningful and most impregnable phrase of the day goes to a military official discussing plans for a project to share intelligence on countering improvised explosive devices.

“We need,” he said, “a deployable, level-two exploitation capability.”

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