The Brief – When words fail…

Almost as wearisome as the endless, and largely futile, trips by Theresa May and her minions to Brussels is the jumble of obscure, and sometimes, misleading jargon used to describe the Brexit process.

Reporters find themselves negotiating a minefield of backstops, roll-overs, hard borders (or the avoidance thereof), no deal scenarios, and divorce payments.

Most of these phrases were invented to make the highly complicated stuff at least semi-comprehensible to sensible, normal people who aren’t very interested in politics. But by attempting to simplify, political leaders and reporters can end up confusing and misleading the public.

The most egregious is probably the ‘deal or no deal’ phraseology. This makes the Brexit negotiations seem like an everyday decision of whether to buy a car or a new TV.

Except that, in this case, the UK does not revert to the status quo if it chooses not to deal. Even those Brexiteers who want ‘no deal’ admit, albeit quietly, that ‘no deal’ means short-term economic disruption.

Similarly misleading is the £39 billion ‘divorce bill’. This has been reported, at least in the UK, in a way that makes it sound like the payment is a question of British goodwill, or a division of assets between two parties.

It isn’t. EU spending is based on a contract with member states and the UK will have to pay what it had committed to, with or without a Brexit deal being agreed. If it holds out on the cash, the EU and UK will probably end up in international arbitration, and the UK will lose.

A blog by Conservative MP Craig Mackinley on the Brexit Central site earlier this week was a case in point of the lack of basic understanding that this misleading phrase leads to.

Mackinley appeared to be genuinely shocked that the EU would demand the £39 billion “divorce fee” regardless of whether the two sides agree on a Withdrawal Agreement, “else future relations would be forever soured”. Well, yes. If a party reneges on a contract, that tends to be what happens. Yet dozens of UK MPs think like him.

Reporting of the eurozone crisis fell into similar traps. The misleading description of ‘bailouts’ that were, initially at least, high-interest loans re-enforced the perception of fecklessness and greed in the likes of Greece and Ireland when, in fact, over-exposed German, French and British banks were among the main beneficiaries of the emergency loans.

Untangling more than 40 years of legal and economic integration was always going to be a long and complicated process.

Having barely had any serious or honest public discourse on the EU and its functioning in a generation, Britons have subjected themselves to a crash-course in EU law. And we’re not convinced they have grasped the concept.

Reporting Article 50 talks in a way that is accessible to those outside the ‘Brussels bubble’ is almost impossible. We have to use phrases that simplify. But politicians and journalists must recognise that, if simplifying means misleading, they are doing more harm than good.

The Roundup

by Alexandra Brzozowski

Crunch time! EPP’s Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber, should stop fantacising about a “financial coup d’état” in Greece and abandon scenarios to overthrow Greek PM Tsipras, Socialist leader Udo Bullmann told EURACTIV.

Nord Stream 2 was in dire straits after the French U-turn. The surprising back-and-forth moves on Nord Stream 2, could be explained by France’s effort to secure German and Dutch support in a completely different dossier.

In the world of other diplomatic misgivings, the ‘yellow vests’ have lit a fuse between France and Italy.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence fuels the INF debate, saying Washington should destroy its MK-41 missile defence launch systems deployed in Romania in order to return to compliance with a Cold War-era nuclear pact.

The Arctic has so far been largely conflict-free. If this ever changes, it will probably be the result of a spillover from other parts of the world, an Arctic expert suggests.

Ahead of a crunch meeting between EU ambassadors, EURACTIV Slovakia sat down with Green MEP Julia Reda to chew the fat over the controversial copyright directive.

UK PM May has promised EU lawmakers that she had no plans to remove the controversial Irish backstop from a final Brexit deal. But prospects of the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU on 29 March remain bleak.

Negotiators are hoping to break the back on talks for the successor to the Cotonou Agreement, which expires in May 2020.

Energy consumption in Europe rose for the third consecutive year in 2017, pulling the EU further away from its 2020 energy efficiency objective, according to official figures.

In our latest edition of Tweets of the Week, EU’s Tusk says Brexiteers are in for a world of pain, it’s EU Industry Days again and Margrethe Vestager is not on the train.

Look out for…

Brussels goes Strasbourg again next week for the plenary session featuring Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, who will deliver his Future of Europe speech in front of MEPs. 

Next week marks 100 days until the new European Parliament is elected.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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