The wonderful art of eloquent vagueness in Europe

Berlaymont building

Berlaymont building

After fifteen years in Brussels, I am still amazed about the ability of EU politicians and civil servants writing their speeches or consultation papers at saying nothing, but at length!

I had never been able to pinpoint the exact expression covering this art, until today. Speaking to an ex-Commission official about a speech by a Commissioner given yesterday, we both agreed that it was wonderful at saying not much, committing to even less, and basically giving in only ever so slightly to every side of the debate. But through that agreement, he made me discover the technical term covering such a masterful result: the concept of “eloquent vagueness”, or let’s call it EV from now on (not to be confused with the European Voice, the other EV in Brussels that sometimes practices eloquent vagueness too but not always).

EV is all over the place in Brussels (though in some cases, it’s only V, the eloquence being difficult to spot). It’s in the questions in a Consultation which make you wonder if the official that wrote was under the influence of illegal substances…It’s in the responses we lobbyists draft in which “We acknowledge (…) applaud (…) whilst regretting (…) and strongly believing (…) even though…”. It’s in the press releases of every EU institution (though there, I’d go for a simple V most of the time), in the oral interventions at the European Parliament, in the discussions at every corner…More than an Art, it’s a second nature of the inhabitants of the EU bubble.

Funnily, if you Google “eloquent vagueness”, the first result obtained is an entry on Wikipedia about Edgar Quinet (February 17, 1803–March 27, 1875), a French historian and intellectual, described in the the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica as follows: “His pervading characteristic, therefore, is that of an eloquent vagueness, very stimulating and touching at times, but as deficient in coercive force of matter as it is in lasting precision and elegance of form.” Now, why am I not surprised the concept is linked to a Frenchman?

The problem with EV is: as comfortable as it may be, it produces nothing…layer after layer of vagueness you end up with…a “mille-feuille” of vagueness and a serious feeling of frustration. Combine it with “political correctness” and you end up with less than nothing.

So I would like to encourage speech writers of Commissioners, spokespeople at press briefings, MEPs standing up in the hemicycle…all these wonderful people to stop the “eloquent vagueness” wave that has been overwhelming us for ages and go for something else…maybe “blunt convictions” could be an interesting alternative? Or even “funny bullsh*” would be an improvement!

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