Thursday, July 21, 2005

Another jolly for the fragrant Commissioner

Her fragrancy, Margot, the Commissar for Truth and Reconciliation is really on the job. Her idea of “communicating Europe” to the long-suffering people of the European Union is to jet off on another little holiday …. Ooops … I mean, another fact-finding mission … to Sri Lanka.

The place, she tells us, is in trouble. And if it wasn’t before her visit, it is now.

She went to look at how the post-tsunami reconstruction was proceeding. Not very well, apparently, though she does not quite say that, being careful not to be rude to her hosts, the Sri Lankan authorities.

Instead, she waffles (there’s a surprise):

“Food is still being handed out once a week in too many places where housing and rehabilitation work is delayed. That involves a risk of creating a dependency culture among people who should be able to support themselves. Everything put in the soil grows quickly in this tropical climate…

But the political culture is so different from ours, including remains of cast and class-categories, that it becomes almost impossible to understand. And it seems too easy for the political establishment to forget about all those people who lost everything to the ocean on Boxing Day 2004. The logic of certain political positions and decisions escapes us Europeans…”

Would that mean that large-scale aid is not such a great idea, as it prevents proper reconstruction and development? Who can tell?

Is that second paragraph a tiny little hint at the colossal corruption that has bedevilled Sri Lanka in general, and the distribution of post-tsunami aid in particular? Maybe. Or maybe being European by culture I cannot see “the logic of certain political positions and decisions”.

Mind you, I find it difficult to understand the logic of having a highly paid Commissar together with an extended staff of minions and hangers on, whose job it is to explain the joys of the European Union and its constitution to us, numskulls, but who prefer to spend our money to gawp at people who have lost everything in a natural disaster.

On second thoughts, looking at pictures of Sri Lanka and remembering its climate, I understand all too well.

The fragrant Commissar is off on her real hols, this time to see her family in Sweden. She will do her blog when she gets back, though she does not exactly do her blog all that assiduously when she is not on holiday. No entries between July 8 and July 20? But, of course, she is frequently travelling on some other trip, which is definitely not a holiday but just happens to be in a very nice part of the world.

One more thing before the hols, though: new measures have been announced to sharpen the Commission’s message and to banish “eurojargon”. Of course, some of us think, the message probably needs changing but that is too radical for our Margot and her colleagues.

With her usual aptitude for the meaningless phrase, the fragrant Commissar explained to the Financial Times:

“We have not been efficient enough in communicating the EU. We have not invested in listening.”

I love the idea of investing in listening. A vision of a giant hearing aid with the ring of stars on it looms before one. And all to hear one tiny word of two letters.

To those of us who have been watching the EU and its attempts to communicate the message, this latest one seems vaguely familiar:

“Among the measures are plain-language summaries of the benefits of European policies and a rapid rebuttal unit to counter false claims.

This team would be able to fend off outlandish stories about the effects of Brussels regulations, which have famously included claims that smoky bacon crisps faced a ban, or cucumbers had to be straight.”

Don’t know about smoky bacon crisps but before they rush into rebutting the one about cucumbers, they might like to have a look at Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1677/88 of 15 June 1988 laying down quality standards for cucumbers, which says, inter alia:

“Cucumbers are classed into the four classes defined below:

(i) 'Extra' class

Cucumbers in this class must be of superior quality. They must have all the characteristics of the variety.

They must:

- be well developed
- be well shaped and practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of length of the cucumber)
- have a typical colouring for the variety
- be free of defects, including all deformations and particularly those caused by seed formation.”

It then goes on to describe and define all the other classes of cucumbers.

While we are on the subject, I may point out that there are many pages of regulations on various fruits and vegetables, including those famous bananas.

Why nobody in the fragrant Commissar’s cabinet bothered to find this out before giving out information to their favoured newspaper, the Financial Times and, furthermore, why the journalist of that newspaper could not be bothered to do some elementary checking, remains a mystery.

There are other aspects to this new initiative:

“The EU executive is also planning to recruit communications specialists and encourage its staff to speak more openly to personalise policies.”

And we all know what happens to staff that speak out more openly. Just ask Marta Andreasen or Dorte Schmidt-Brown.

It would seem that even the FT journalist remained somewhat sceptical:

“However, despite the pledge to cut back on the sometimes baffling eurojargon, old habits clearly die hard. The plans include phrases such as "horizontal issues," "policy outcome" and "evaluation function."”

Personally I think that the evaluation function of the various horizontal issues will at the end of the day influence policy outcome. What’s so difficult about that?

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