The Corner

Van Rompuy: Speaking out of Both Sides of his Mouth

If you want to understand why the president of the EU Council, the sinister Herman van Rompuy, so richly deserved the insults recently hurled in his direction by UKIP MEP Nigel Farage, this Daily Telegraph story is a good place to begin:

“Asymmetrical translation” is an new European Union phrase coined by its President to spare Gordon Brown’s political blushes. Herman Van Rompuy came up with the idea, early on Friday morning, after a Franco-German call for an “economic government” horrified the [British] Prime Minister. “We consider that the European Council should become the economic government of the EU,” said the Franco-German text. To get around the G-word, “ideologically unacceptable” to Britain, but insisted on by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, Mr Van Rompuy came up with a novel solution to keep everyone happy. As a result, the French version of the binding summit text, agreed on Thursday, used the original words “le gouvernement économique”. To spare Mr Brown’s feelings, the English text used the more innocuous and less controversial term “economic governance”.


“There is no fundamental difference of view, but rather a sensitivity to certain words which has led to an asymmetrical translation,” remarked the EU president. A British official tied to explain it: “Governance is about the way you do things, government is about new institutions or structures.” Another senior EU official noted that linguistic tricks were a specialty of Mr Van Rompuy, the former leader of Belgium, a country divided by bitter political disputes between Flemish Dutch and Walloon French speakers.”I find it effective in a Europe with different political cultures. The words government or governance can be used for the same thing. We all know what is meant politically,” he said.

We do indeed.


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