Baghdad in Brussels

First, I need to state clearly, I strongly support a lot of ideas of the EU and strongly admire it as an institution until about 10 years ago. I once attended a lecture by a distinguished sociologist (more interdisciplinary than that, but that’ll do for now) who claimed that the EU had done more to eradicate poverty than any other organization in human history. Great!

But over recent years I’ve come to think of it as having gotten lost – it has become ever more awkward and rigid and is no longer relieving poverty but enforcing it through useless austeriy programs (that everybody knows dont’ and can’t and won’t work). I’d hoped that Brexit might prove a shock to the system and inspire the EU to actually think of what citizens and residents (like me) think of it and reinvent itself, but… nope.

Anyway, over the last few years I’ve been involved in an annual project that involves translating selected academic articles from Polish into English. Mostly I enjoy this as it pays pretty well and the articles themselves are mostly interesting (this is by no means a given in translation – I’ve translated some incredibly tedious stuff….).

Unfortunately the translators have to choose which articles to do from a list of titles without having access to the articles themselves.and it’s possible to get burned – choose a promising sounding title and end up with something that’s actually pretty tedious.

And that’s just what happened to me this year. One article was about possible reforms of the EU and what these could mean for Poland – wow! Custom made for me.

And…. oh. my. god. it. is. the. most. horrible. thing. ever I’m slowly crawling through it like one of those dreams where you have to escape some peril and your legs won’t move… The author seems to take EU publicity at face value and the article so far is an analysis of a bunch of EU produced documents on future developments in finance and defense etc.

And it’s the most alienating thing ever. There is a multitude of similar sounding units inside and affiliated with the EU with confounding and similar names (it’s important to keep the European Council, the Council of Europe and the Council of the European Union straight).

Also EU jargon in any language is mystifying and impossible to predict. I’m spending massive amounts of time chasing down the English versions of EU documents to get terms and names straight and it’s incredibly frustrating. For example, at one point the Polish version uses the word pion (which might be translated as sector, or section or department or division depending on the context). After a long and frustrating slog of looking for the English version of the Polish version that the author used I find that in English it’s called….. window?!?

But that’s not the worst of it. I’ve had to download the English versions of a bunch of EU documents and I’m reminded of the American failure in Iraq…

Let me explain. Back when the American occupation was going through failure after failure, one analysis made a point. Those responsible for trying to figure out what to do on the ground never had any concrete ideas. All they had were powerpoint presentations. But it’s one thing to say “win the trust of the local population and use this to build local institutions” and something very different to come up with concrete proposals on how to do that and they were stuck at outlining steps with no content or idea about how to translate them into anything useful at ground level.

And that’s what these documents are, they’re all about strengthening cooperation in this field or harmonizing legislation in that field and and jointly funding some vast new bureaucracy that will have to be supervised by some new board that generates thickets of new impenetrable jargon and new reports that endlessly say very little. It’s the closest thing to duckspeak I’ve ever seen in the real world.

Interestingly nothing has convinced me that the EU is ultimately doomed to failure than documents on the bright future of the EU that the EU itself produced and endorses.

I don’t think this will happen in the next few years, but the system is clearly untenable and incapable of doing much more at this point than writing new reports on how invincible it is, as long as there’s increased cooperation and strenghtening of mutually agreed upon funding mechanisms for creating a new council that will advise EU bodies on ways of creating new reports….

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