It is sometimes difficlt, for the common and ordinary citizen, to understand what the European Union (EU) does. The language used by EU institutions, for example in legal texts, is somewhat obscure and unintelligible, and should be made clearer and simpler. This was established at a seminar arranged by the Swedish Presidency, which took place in Stockholm on Tuesday. The participants also underlined that the work on increasing access to official documents must continue.
The seminar ”Transparency and Clear Legal Language in the EU” attracted around 100 participants. Included among the participants were Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask and First Vice President of the European Commission Margot Wallström. Beatrice Ask pointed out that openness and plain language are interconnected – if EU documents are too complicated to understand, then accessibility is of little significance.
”Don’t get me wrong. The law is complicated – especially at EU level. Sometimes legal texts need to be complex. But complexity doesn’t preclude clarity. Clear language benefits everyone”, Ms Ask said in her speech, continuing:
“If people understand the law, it is easier for them to do the right thing.”
EU Commissioner Margot Wallström, responsible for communication, has over the past few years worked to bridge the gap between the EU and its citizens. In her speech at the seminar in Stockholm, Ms Wallström brought up the Commission’s initiative that all major legislative proposals and reports must be accompanied by brief, easily comprehensible summaries.
”There was some resistance at first, as with many new ideas. But now the word is spreading – the clear word is spreading. And many have realised that the benefits extend far beyond strategic and priority initiatives,” said Ms Wallström.
EU transparency was discussed intensively throughout the day. Both Ms Ask and Ms Wallström emphasised that much has changed for the better in the EU system, but that much remains to be done. Beatrice Ask stated that informative leaflets can never replace access to documents for journalists, for example. In turn, the EU websites can be improved and simplified.
During the day, there were also speeches by the European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros, the European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx and Swedish Academy member Professor Sture Allén. The Swedish tradition of transparency in public services received special attention during the seminar.
In his speech on Tuesday afternoon, the EU Commissioner with responsibility for multilingualism Leonard Orban returned to the issue of linguistic clarity.
”In the EU institutions, economists and lawyers abound, well known for their fondness of jargon. The EU institutions need to make a conscious effort to cut this jargon, and speak the language of the citizens”, said Mr Orban.