In the UK there is too much talk about ill-defined “EU reform” that will not make any difference. Who needs a complex new “red card” procedure when you a) never exhausted the existing “yellow card procedure” and b) could just copy the Danish approach to control your ministers in the Council? Why do we need to talk about “benefit tourism” if it does not even exist? How can we cut down all this red tape without knowing what laws you are actually talking about? Do we really need treaty change just because you want your doctors and nurses to have less rights? Here are a few ideas that would *really* make a difference in how we talk about the EU:
EU member states: Stop blaming the EU for your own ideas. Ministers in the Council often suggest stuff but once they are back in their countries they seem surprised that anyone took them seriously. And one more thing: if it is an idea that was previously rejected in your country – well, you know, maybe it is a bad idea?
European Commission: Start blaming others by putting colourful banners on the front page of all Commission proposals that reveal the origin of the proposal: “This regulation was requested by a joint initiative of the British and German governments” / “This is follow-up from the Environment Council” / “This Commission directive is the result of an intense lobbying campaign by French energy companies” / “This Commission directive was inspired by the Tobacco industry”. Call it a new “transparency initiative” – trust me, it would fundamentally transform the EU discourse.
European Commission: Hire a couple of journalists and create a “Bullshit Detection Unit (BTU)”: Each Commission proposal needs to pass the BTU test. This will reduce the amount of formulations that could be misinterpreted by other journalists.
European Parliament: Stop talking about things you can’t change. Nobody needs your own initiative reports. They only get picked up by the tabloids as proof for some new “EU law”. Similar point about the upcoming European Parliament elections – focus on policies that you can actually influence and be frank about things you will not be able to change under the current treaties.
Journalists: Just stop following this guide. It was not supposed to be a manual.
Everybody: Every time you criticise the EU for being not bold enough/ too soft/not speaking with one voice/ too business friendly / not business friendly enough – try and suggest an actual policy. But first try and think for one moment whether it is an EU competence and if you could get all 28 countries to agree on it.
If an important decision is to be made [the Persians] discuss the question when they are drunk and the following day the master of the house…submits their decision for reconsideration when they are sober. If they still approve it, it is adopted; if not, it is abandoned. Conversely, any decision they make when they are sober is reconsidered afterwards when they are drunk.
Foreign policy is all about language. Everyone seems to enjoy these carefully constructed sophisticated statements full of poetic brillance and subtle references mixed with highly complex and technical terms which usually hide the fact that the substance is rather slim. If you got lost there here is an example:
If you are a small country you probably “punch above your weight” and if you are not on the “axis of evil” you are probably “one of our closest and strongest allies”. Learn from the master of political rhetoric:
I was listening to Sony Kapoor the other day who complained about bad summit outcomes during the euro crisis. Actually it was a chilling talk as he basically confirmed that nobody in EU governments or EU institutions seems to have a clue about finance and economics – let alone the political will to look at the underlying problems of the crisis. And curiously we are faced with the following situation: Seemingly incompetent people meet for diner and negotiate about highly complex matters throughout the night – with a press conferences at 4am or 6am… And it seems obvious to me that decisions that are taken at 2am are not necessarily the best decisions – so are we really surprised that the outcomes are sub-optimal?
Here is an idea:
Get rid of evening summits and endorse normal working days – start in the morning with a working breakfast followed by a morning session and a working lunch. Negotiations can continue in the afternoon. Forget about the diner – go to the pub instead for a normal night out. It might also do the trick to create a team spirit among EU leaders!
The issues at stake at the moment are far too important for negotiations after a busy working day – you really need the whole day! This would also improve coordination with national capitals as experts in ministries and parliamentary committees would be at the disposal during summits. And there would be no more press conferences at 4am – good news for all journalists and bloggers…
Last week, Oettinger participated in a debate about the controversial rail project “Stuttgart 21″ – a multi-billion euro project that he supported while being PM in Baden-Württemberg. The latest revelations even showed that Oettinger made sure that the public and the parliament were not informed about significant price increases of “Stuttgart 21″! (If you live in Baden-Württemberg make sure you vote in the referendum today to stop the project!)
Anyway during the aforementioned debate Oettinger said the following in German (while keeping a straight face!):
“Sie sagen, alle(s) seien Kopfbahnhöfe. Stimmt doch gar nicht! Strasbourg – Durchgangsbahnhof. Karlsruhe – Durchgangsbahnhof. Es stimmt, Paris ist ein Kopfbahnhof. Gare de l’Est. Warum? Weil es westlich von Paris keine Menschen mehr gibt, sondern (nur) Kühe und Atlantik. – Stuttgart, aber Stuttgart ist mittendrin.”
“You say there are terminus stations everywhere. That is not correct! Strasbourg – through station, Karlsruhe – through station. It is true, there is terminus station in Paris. Gare de l’Est. Why? Because west of Paris there are no people, only cows and the atlantic. Stuttgart however, is right in the middle.”
His remarks not only inspired a car rental company to advertise trips to Bretagne and comedians teaching geography lessons, it also calls into question Oettinger’s professional values and diplomatic abilities. As a EU Commissioner it is not acceptable to ridicule certain EU regions (Bretagne, Normandy) or even countries (Great Britain, Ireland are also west of Paris). And his limited understanding of French geography is also not acceptable for a German Commissioner.
A man in a hot air balloon over the Belgian countryside realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. Descending a bit more he shouted, “Excuse me, can you help? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago but I don’t know where I am”. The woman replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above the ground, between 40/41 degrees latitude, north, and 59/60 degrees west, longitude”.
“You must be a middle-grade Commission Official!”, said the balloonist. “I am”, replied the woman, “I’m a Grade A*8. How did you know?” “Well”, answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct but I have no idea what to make of your information and the fact is, I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you have delayed my trip.”
The woman below responded, “You must be a Senior Commission Official!”. “I am,” replied the balloonist, “But how did you know?” “Well,” replied the woman, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault”
Everything you need to know about diplomacy. I just found a hilarious one pager on “Terms used in multilateral negotiations and what they usually mean” – In fact I found it in my cupboard in a file that is 5-6 years old. After some googeling I found a very similar version in a 2009 book called “The Weak Send Rocks, The Strong Send Rockets (affiliate – link)” – although this is not the original source I have embedded the chapter below (which according to the author is “unprotected from copyright”). If you work in EU politics or indeed any diplomatic environment you will recognise most of the terms… and you might even agree with the various “explanations”… Continue reading
Günther Öttinger famously declared a few years ago that English will become the global working language (“Englisch wird die Arbeitssprache”).So, his job as the EU commissioner for energy is certainly a great opportunity for him to use his English skills… But just watch for yourself:
Nächstes Jahr sind mal wieder Europawahlen – ja genau, diese komischen Wahlen, bei denen relativ unbekannte Kandidaten antreten, die Wahlbeteiligung niedrig ist, und bei denen die Wähler traditionell ihre eigenen Regierungen abstrafen.