K-I-S-S Rule for Europe

By Steven Hill, Social Europe Journal, March 23, 2012

In the United States, political strategists have an expression called the “K-I-S-S Rule,” which is short for “keep it simple, stupid.” As European leaders confront the twin challenges of erecting a United States of Europe and retaining the support of its many peoples who are naturally anxious over such a major change, the K-I-S-S Rule should be invoked whenever possible.

A lot more effort needs to be expended to demystify the institutions of the European Union and help the average citizen feel less befuddled by them. For example, whoever came up with the names of many of the EU’s leading institutions surely did not give much thought to the K-I-S-S Rule. They created an alphabet soup of monikers that leave even Europhiles scratching their heads.

European Council, Council of the European Union and Council of Europe???

So we have the European Council, but that’s different from the Council of the European Union – which sometimes is just called “the Council” and other times is referred to as the Council of Ministers — and that’s not to be confused with the Council of Europe. Are you still following me?

Here’s a couple of test questions for you: which of these bodies acts as one of the two legislative chambers of the European Union, sharing that duty with the European Parliament?

And which of those bodies appoints the President of the European Commission, which is not to be confused with the European Council, which also has a President?

I wonder how many Social Europe Journal readers and writers – which is one of the most informed audiences in the EU – would answer those questions correctly? It’s so confusing that Wikipedia includes the following disclaimer at the top of its entry for the Council of the European Union: “Not to be confused with European Council or Council of Europe.” There are similar disclaimers for the entries about the other institutions as well.

Couldn’t they at least have come up with names that are distinctly different enough to give the average person a fighting chance of being able to remember which is which? If most people can’t keep the names of these organizations straight, it’s hardly likely they will be able to remember what any of them do.

Bonus questions: how many voting members does the Council — otherwise known as the Council of Ministers or the Council of the European Union but not as the European Council — have? And what is the difference between the president of the Council, the president of the Commission and the president of the European Council?

Aren’t you glad you aren’t required to answer these as “security questions” to access your bank account?

And how about the title created for the position that essentially is the foreign minister of the EU –High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.” Wow, that’s a mouthful. Try putting that on your business card. I’m sure Lady Catherine Ashton, when she introduces herself at international summits, has to make certain strategic choices, as in: “I’m the High Representative of the Union for… oh, heck with it, just call me High Representative.”

Seriously, who comes up with these names and titles? Who had the naming rights? This kind of thing is so basic, and yet somewhere along the line the founders of the European Union completely blew this one. They violated the K-I-S-S Rule.

And that’s really a shame, because these are important institutions. They are doing important work, and they are assuming more and more powers and responsibilities, especially in response to the ongoing eurozone challenges. And yet the average person in Europe can not even remember the names or keep many of the names straight, much less what they do, in order to help them to understand lines of authority and responsibility, and how they personally are impacted by this alphabet soup of confusion.

Getting the Branding right

Europe faces many challenges that will take years to resolve. Compared to the United States, where government paralysis and partisan polarization have sandbagged any forward motion, Europe today is a whirlwind of change and reform. For the average person it’s a very unsettling time, so Europe’s leaders don’t do themselves any favors by not giving more thought to what they name things.

While this may not seem as important as preventing sovereign defaults, or designing a transfer union, or figuring out a new financial backstop role for the European Central Bank, these are not trivial matters. It’s a question of branding for the purposes of clarification and helping the populace of Europe feel more comfortable and knowledgeable.

So allow me to propose some essential rules. First, you can only use the same term one time, such as “council” or “president.” This one’s kind of basic, it’s like giving everyone on a team their own individual number. On the Miami Heat, there is only one number 6, and that’s LeBron James.

So you can’t have three presidents. Call one a premier and the other a regent, jefe or grand poobah, but only one can be called president.

And the Council of Europe has used the “council” name the longest (since 1949) so I’m awarding them the naming rights. The European Council and the Council of the European Union (a.k.a Council of Ministers and “the Council”) will have to devise different names.

But don’t worry, there are lots to choose from, just look at all the possibilities, even a bunch that begin with the letter ‘C’ if that’s your fetish:  congress, cabinet, conclave, confab, congregation, convocation, chamber, committee. If you want to get really original and use a name that begins with something other than ‘C’, there’s assembly, diet, directorate, powwow, senate, synod.

How about trying the Conclave of the European Union? Too close to a gathering of cardinals for you? How about Powwow? OK, you don’t have Native American roots…how about Synod? Or Senate? How about if we let Eddie Izzard or John Cleese choose it for you, I’m sure they will come up with a memorable name.

Dear major European leader, you might think you have more important things to worry about. I suppose you are correct, but not entirely. Because if you can’t get the names right, it’s not likely you will be able to design what these institutions are supposed to do. Remember, K-I-S-S.