September 21. 2023. 2:32

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The Brief — Commission’s Newspeak

“War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” And trade restrictions are trade benefits, according to the latest from the European Commission this week – a move which rivals the fictional language known as ‘Newspeak’ in George Orwell’s timeless classic ‘1984’.

If you are a reporter covering the EU bubble in Brussels, you are probably used to the good old communication tricks by the EU executive.

For instance, the Commission’s policy of ‘not commenting on leaks or rumours’ has become as legendary and proverbial as the ‘Glomar response’ in the US – the ‘we can neither confirm nor deny’ reply our colleagues across the Atlantic hear on a daily basis.

Another favourite trick on this side of the Atlantic is the ‘quiet publishing’, aka the presentation of controversial or unpalatable announcements in the dead of the summer or, as has increasingly become a favourite, late on Friday afternoon.

But all of this is nothing compared to a new, much more worrying trend: the Commission’s Newspeak.

In Orwell’s fictional totalitarian state, Newspeak was the official language promoted by the government (Big Brother), which, in Orwell’s words, was “designed to diminish the range of thought”.

On Monday evening, the Commission released an ‘Avis aux médias’, entitled ‘EU extends trade benefits for Ukraine’, with a lead referring to “the suspension of import duties, quotas and trade defence measures on Ukrainian exports to the European Union”.

Was this the real news? Not at all.

The EU Council already adopted the extension of trade benefits on 25 May after the go-ahead of the other co-legislator, the European Parliament, on 9 May.

The justification to angle the press release in this way was that this decision technically entered into force on 6 June, but – as anyone even remotely following the issue can attest to – this is a relatively minor development.

Scrolling down, however, you find the actual news buried in the text: That the Commission has decided to prolong controversial temporary trade restrictions on select agricultural goods from Ukraine granted to five ‘frontline’ EU member states until September, a move whereby the executive is siding with EU farmers over Ukraine.

But, in Commission Newspeak, this prolongation becomes a ‘phasing out’, while trade restrictions become ‘trade benefits’.

In short, the Commission’s communications have increasingly become less about communicating and more about spinning their line.

Take, for example, attempts from the Commission spokesperson service to subtly ‘correct’ a EURACTIV article on agrifood, before publicly denouncing the article for ‘misleading’ readers – another move not completely out of character with Orwell’s ministry of truth.

As Orwell himself argued, imprecise, empty (and misleading) political language is used “largely [in] the defence of the indefensible.”

Which is precisely why this kind of Newspeak should concern us all and why we cannot allow incidents such as this to be lost down the memory hole.

And more widely, this also shows the need for specialised, independent journalists with the bandwidth to dig beyond the surface level in search of news.

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The Roundup

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday €189.3 billion for the 2024 EU budget, including almost €4 billion for the repayment of EU borrowing, which will need to be negotiated and agreed by member states and the European Parliament in the coming months.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz went on a communication offensive this week, defending his approach to European affairs, following criticism over his leadership style.

As recent research conclusions and MEP complaints showcase the European Commission’s Regulatory Scrutiny Board’s (RSB) alleged bias and lack of transparency within the EU legislative process, the European Ombudsman is set to investigate.

US tech company IBM announced its plan on Tuesday (6 June) to open the first European quantum data centre in Germany, which should become operational in 2024.

New EU rules for train passengers that entered into force Wednesday (7 June) exempt operators from compensation obligations for delays and train failures under certain conditions, drawing criticism from German consumer groups.

The European Parliament is debating removing the strategic technologies term in a draft EU regulation aimed at promoting industries that will drive the green transition, with some lawmakers divided on the approach.

A veritable parade of overseas CEOs, including Tesla’s Elon Musk and Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon, have made their way to a reopened China in the last few months.

Don’t miss this week’s Health Brief, on machine learning in a healthcare setting, and the Health podcast’s coverage looking at the effects of psilocybin on depression.

Look out for…

  • Vice-President Margaritis Schinas participates in a round table discussion on mental health on Thursday.
  • Commissioner Ylva Johansson in Luxembourg participates in Justice and Home Affairs Council, Thursday and Friday.
  • Commissioner Nicolas Schmit participates in event Making Skills Count in Brussels as part of the European Year of Skills.

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