Sunday 9 August 2009

EU Commission documents and language: A citizen's perspective on the i2010 strategy report [updated]

Let's face it: Many bureaucracies have a problem with language, and the EU Commission is no exception.

But it is still stunning when you read - or try to read - official Commission documents and you can play bullshit bingo with words or phrases that have absolutely no meaning.

Try to read the "Europe’s Digital Competitiveness Report - Main achievements of the i2010 strategy 2005-2009" and, just by reading it, try to find out what has actually happened in the EU over the last years regarding ICT.

Try to understand, what clear goals have been set, which ones were achieved by which means and which are the obvious shortcomings as well as the responsible actors for this shortcoming.

What you get instead are sentences like this one: "The two Roaming Regulations aimed to create a European domestic market for consumers and businesses." But did they achieve anything? The sentence just states a goal, it says nothing about the real impact.

The other "successes" mentioned are "[a] new regulatory body" or the "eYou guide" which is needed to explain EU legislation, which means that it is so complicated no one can understand it. We learn that "[t]he EU is also a potential leader in the future internet", which means everything or nothing.

Or we hear about the incredible news that "[t]he use and the development of ICT are also increasingly embedded in production processes throughout the economy", as if this was the success of the i2010 strategy, although not stated in such a way, and not the simple result of global competition and the general change in technology.

I could continue, but the document is not worth it. This is not a clear analysis of what has been reached, what can be reached, and what will never be reached, but a seek-and-hide game for bureaucrats.

When you take a look at the accompanying Commission staff working document, you enter a different world. The Executive summary is able to say on a little more than two pages more or less the same nothingness as the nine pages of the Commission Communication - but in a language that is readable and understandable.

However, this is just a Commission staff working document, which probably means that it will not be translated, or only later if at all (Commission officials, is this correct?).

In any way, while the Communication might still be noticed by some people, a working document will be noticed by even fewer people, and who will even start to take a look at a document of 112 pages...?!

So what a larger public will not read are clear assessments like this one:
"The search engines, social networks and web mail services that are shaping the Internet are of US origin. The 2008 Scoreboard does not identify any single major EU firm providing Internet related utilities (email, search engines, social networks). Two firms, Google and Yahoo, account for 88% of R&D carried out by Internet companies. Their R&D spending is in line with revenue performance over the relevant period."
In other words: The EU is far away from being a leader in a number of areas, and all the money spent so far has not changed this. The i2010 strategy is a nice facade for some lighthouse projects, but it has no impact on the EU's ICT development that is lagging behind the world leaders.

And we are not only lagging behind, we also hide this in unreadable documents while keeping the readable Executive Summaries for the experts. Congratulations, European Commission!

Update (26 August): I have seen in the Legislative Observatory of the European Parliament that the Commission staff working document has also been transmitted to the Parliament.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, I fully agree.

And imagine how much less EU consultancies would earn if the documents would be comprehensible. That's their core business: translate commission bullshit-lingo into something vaguely legible.