Saturday, 16 October 2010

Full-bodied EU acquis – the bouquet of EU English

Yesterday’s blog post noted that between 2008 and 2009 the body of European Union legislation had decreased by some 2060 regulations and 80 directives: How much EU legislation in member state UK? Nosemonkey and House of Commons Library (15 October 2010).

As I said, the pure numbers tell us little about the impact or influence of EU legislation.

Since then, I thought about a few trivial or arcane details.

First of all, why did I insert the insider term ‘acquis communautaire’ after referring to the EU statute book? Second, why ‘communautaire’ when the Communities (except for Euratom) have disappeared, through the preordained ‘death’ of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and the European Community (EC) having been amalgamated into the European Union by the Lisbon Treaty? Third, why use the French term in English and other EU languages?

EU dictionary IATE

One of the excellent EU resources is the IATE website (InterActive Terminology for Europe), an online dictionary between all the official languages of the European Union. My impression is that the website is little known outside the circles of language professionals, such as translators, interpreters and lawyer-linguists, even if many officials, communicators, journalists, students and others who deal with issues of substance would need the services at times.

Why not bookmark the page?

Using French as the source language IATE offered a number of English translations, which varied according to the context. Among them were Acquis Communautaire, the body of EU law, Community acquis, body of existing Community legislation and practice, (adoption of the) acquis communautaire.

In short, there were more translations using the French term than a description in English: the body of EU law, or body of existing Community legislation and practice.

One lesson might be to use a description in plain language whenever we can.

Community method RIP

In a series of blog posts I discussed the obsolete term “Community method” recently used by leading EU politicians (here, here, here, here, here, here and here).

I ended up favouring the “Federal method” to replace the antiquated term, because it had more teeth. The European Citizen preferred “Union method”, Simon Blackley proposed the “ordinary decision process” and Eurogoblin would have been happy to stick with the “Community method” or even endured the “Union method”, as long as the word “Federal” could be kept in confinement on Ventotene, or somewhere.

Why on Earth, after so much discussion about the obsolescence of the term “Community” (except in a historical context) did I make even a fleeting mention of the word “communautaire”?

Intellectual sloth is the only explanation I can come up with. Please, accept my apologies.

“Acquis” in English and other EU languages

The “acquis communautaire” has its place in a historical context, but when we deal with contemporary issues even the French could start referring to the “UE acquis”.

If issues of word count matter, and in the playpens of Brussels insiders, the “EU acquis” (or the comparable expression in the relevant language) could replace the antiquated term.

IMHO the “EU statute book” I used was not bad as a colloquial expression, given the circumstances: the number of legal acts (regulations and directives).

However, the “body of EU law” is wider than the sum of legal acts. Therefore, I find that it is a short and good description in many cases.

The longer “body of existing Community EU legislation and practice” makes the scope clearer. Sometimes we may want to add “jurisprudence” or “case law” to the description to make it even more evident.

When we have room to explain matters to readers or listeners, we could sometimes opt for the “body of EU legislation, practice and case law” or a comparable expression in another language.

Now my next question: Is this a sane way to spend one’s Saturday morning? Please, no spam solicitations from headshrinkers (even if it would balance the extension type of cures abundantly on offer), but perhaps some people interested in languages could comment.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Speaking about languages, the multilingual blog aggregator offers you an opportunity to read up on European affairs (EU and Council of Europe) and improve your language skills.

The Euroblogger Vihar Georgiev is a productive writer on EU law and politics. In addition he is one of the relatively few Central and Eastern Europeans visible for blog readers in the old member states, and he does his share of multilingualism by blogging in English on European Union Law and its Bulgarian sister blog. He is also active on Twitter @vihargg.