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.


  1. Ralf,
    I didn't contribute yet to this debate. After all I am not a lawyer! ;-)
    However, reading your latest blog I realise I also talk often about the "acquis" and "community methods" when talking to groups of visitors.
    Community method is first pilar (or better was) and the policies in there are called... "Common" Policies, such as the CAP. But also TRADE in the area of foreign policy also known as External Relations.
    I also describe this as things we do "in common" within the EU, in contrast to things done intergovernmental (2nd pilar), such as the bulk of the CFSP.
    "Common" and "community" here are used in the true sense of the word (not some legal meaning) for me!
    Gemeinschaftlich, en commun, gemeenschappelijk, etc..
    Although the "Community" in legal terms doesn't exist anymore, now a "Union", we do things "in common" not "in union", no?
    Preluding a bit more on this, one can ask how much in the EEAS will be done / is done "in common" and "intergovernmental". This is clearly the battle ground at this moment between member states (intergovernmental) and the EP (in common). With the Commission as strange in/outsider, itself carrying double hat (Ashton is ALSO vice-president of the Commission).
    Enough for now. Sunny Saturday is waiting for me!!

  2. I've a feeling that acquis communautaire is more widely known than the Community method, simply because it is mentioned to the public when talking about enlargement (even if a definition has to be tagged on). I would definitely be in favour of keeping "acquis" in the expression. The English versions are cumbersome, even if they give a clearer explanation.

    From an English-speaking perspective, we should be quite comfortable with another French expression (or really, a modification of one we currently have). Plus, French sounds better! So my vote is for "acquis", which is changable - Union acquis, EU acquis, the acquis. I think it nicely encapsulates the idea you're trying to get across.

    And everyone knows that Eurobloggers have a glamourous rock-and-roll lifestyle, as Nosemonkey proved. We'll probably have to tone it down a bit so hotels will stop turning us away. ;)

  3. Dick,

    Thank you for commenting. Anyway, the post was more about languages than law.

    Even if Latin 'communis' and 'communitas' have the same roots, I see them as distinct branches of the same tree.

    The 'Communities' have all but disappeared, so I think we should get accustomed to terms in line with the European Union, as presented in the Lisbon Treaty (without different pillars, formally).

    I believe that you are not the only one wondering what the EEAS will become, but that won't be decided until you have been able to enjoy your sunny Saturday.

  4. Eurocentric,

    I used 'bouquet' in the headline as a reminder of how prone English speakers are to use certain French expressions, despite centuries of sibling rivalry.

    With regard to 'acquis', you are almost a Brussels insider, having studied EU law and politics and now continuing this pernicious path on foreign soil.

    I did not quite catch the relevancy of your remark about Euroblogger lifestyles, but with the bundles of money we independent EU bloggers make there is no risk that any reputable hotel is going to accept us anyway, if not as staff members.


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