A short guide for bloggers and journalists that write about EU affairs and are exposed to “Eurojargon“.
Not only acronyms are an art form but also normal EU terminology can be tricky. Language plays an important role in constructing a certain image of the EU and journalists and bloggers should be aware of that. The correct use of terms is a necessity for understanding political processes in the EU and a basis for every interpretation of “the beast”. The following list is a first step to clarify some confusing terms. So let’s start with some basic terms which caught my eye in the last weeks:
- The right term is “President of the European Council” – not EU president, not President of Europe, not Council President. The European Council is one EU institution and its president only presides over this particular institution. (Obviously the European Council should not to be confused with the Council of Europe or the Council of the EU!) Journalists should also mention the (unfinished) job description and the possible lack of power of the post when writing about certain personalities… Anyway, another fact is that probably every other top position in the EU has more power that this new European Council President.
- The (6-month) rotating presidencies of the Council of the European Union will not be abolished with the Treaty of Lisbon, they will merely be transformed. The rotating presidencies will still be in charge of all Council of the EU meetings (which is another institution!). The ‘European Council President’ will only chair the ‘European Council’ (“EU summit”) which happens 4 times a year. The only thing that the rotating presidencies will not be able to do seems to be connected with foreign policy, as the new “President” and the new “Foreign Minister” will set the agenda there. So, I guess the danger is that the media might ignore the (less political) rotating presidencies in the future!
- The Council of the European Union (the institution with the rotating presidencies…) consists of national ministers (shocking!). Depending on the policy area, the respective national minster (or ambassador) has a veto during the EU decision making process. Journalists and Bloggers often forget that national representatives are at the heart of EU decision making. EU bashing from national politicians that were present in the respective Council meeting should be exposed more regularly! And don’t think that the various national ministries are not involved from a very early stage of a EU policy initiative… So, any article with a headline like “EU imposes [law x] on [member state y] ” is wrong and misleading!
- “Brussels” is a city and not a political system. However “Brussels” seems to be the term for all journalists that (sometimes deliberately) do not care about which EU institution is actually involved. Often used as a substitute for the EU as a whole. Most of the time however, news labeled with “Brussels decides…” involves only decisions by the European Commission or the Council of the European Union, usually neglecting the influence of the European Parliament. “Brussels” as a term comes with a notorious EU-skeptic connotation. So be aware of it if you use it in an article. So, better check which institution you mean and at what stage of the policy making process a certain proposal is!
- Federalism – If you think federalism equals centralism which leads to some sort of EU super state, think again and get your facts straight:
Federalism is the theory or advocacy of federal political orders, where final authority is divided between sub-units and a center. Unlike a unitary state, sovereignty is constitutionally split between at least two territorial levels so that units at each level have final authority and can act independently of the others in some area. Citizens thus have political obligations to two authorities. (more)
I know federalism is a controversial term in the UK and I think most of the confusion comes from a wrong understanding of the term. (the infamous “f-word”…) Generally, people that live in federal states seem to have a better grasp of the concept (examples: Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, USA). The thing is that a federal system is only a description for a structure (and not necessarily an ideology). The problem is not whether something is federal or not, the real (ideological) problem is what should be decided on which level. A lot depends on the distribution of authority. But this distributional debate should not be called ‘federal’.’ [Anyway, on a EU level it seems that the debate between intergovernmentalism and federalism is pretty much outdated and new multi-level governance (MLG) or network approaches are more useful to explain EU politics. - OK, this is rather academic - but also journalists should be aware of these debates to be able to report EU politics more clearly!]
More explanations for EU-Jargon can be found here. If you are not sure how to translate a certain piece of EU terminology in your native language why not check this database (which is called IATE – Inter-Active Terminology for Europe)? Buying a EU textbook could also be a good idea…
…to be continued…