Five More Things

I mentioned Whoops Apocalypse, the TV series, some time ago. At the weekend I finally found the time to watch the film. In this version the plot is updated somewhat to reflect the fact that it was made in 1986 — four years after the TV series — but the humour is still as dark and bitingly effective as an increasingly farcical sequence of events drags the world ever closer to nuclear armageddon.

As a satire made and set during the Cold War, the film is very much of its time and you probably need to have lived through the 1980s for some of the jokes to work. It does, however, manage an accidentally contemporary moment when the US president (played by Loretta Swit) incredulously asks: “You’re telling me that the entire population of Great Britain went and elected a deranged psychotic to the highest office of the land? Again?”

Remaining with the ongoing disaster that is British politics, N Piers Ludlow asks whether the UK ever understood how the EU works. Given that the UK has been a member of the bloc for over 40 years, the conclusion is damning, to say the least.

On a more positive note, Jo Swinson was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats this week and Timothy Garton Ash is optimistic about her chances of leading a fightback for liberal Britain. We live in hope.

Returning to the subject of films, for a moment, Marvel has revealed their Phase 4 MCU lineup and Den of Geek has the details. Ignoring the Disney+ releases — I absolutely am not going to get tied into signing up to endless streaming services — the upcoming Black Widow film is long overdue and I am really looking forward to seeing how they handle Thor: Love And Thunder. Also: Blade is coming back!

And finally, Ian Stewart’s article on social physics reminded me of a book I read some time ago, namely Critical Mass by Philip Ball. The takeaway from both is that you may be an individual but, in aggregate, we are a lot more predictable than we realise.

The Tribes of Europe

Chatham House has published a study (pdf) (via Politico) that attempts to quantify the diversity of political views across the EU. They came up with six ‘political tribes’, or broad segments of the electorate with distinct attitudes about the EU:

  • The largest tribe consists of what can be termed ‘Hesitant Europeans’. They sit in the middle on many issues, and need persuading on the merits of the EU. They tend to be apathetic about politics, are concerned about immigration and tend to prioritize national sovereignty over deeper EU integration.
  • ‘Contented Europeans’ are optimistic and pro-European. Often young and broadly socially liberal, they feel that they benefit from the EU but tend to favour the status quo over further integration.
  • ‘EU Rejecters’ are angry about politics and the EU. They are least likely to feel any benefits of membership, and overwhelmingly view the EU as undemocratic. Most feel negative about immigration and are socially conservative.
  • ‘Frustrated Pro-Europeans’ want a more integrated EU driven by progressive values. They support the idea of richer states helping poorer ones, but are more mixed about immigration than are other pro-Europeans.
  • ‘Austerity Rebels’ want a looser, more democratic EU driven by solidarity, with powers returned to member states. They tend to think that richer states should support poorer ones, and that each state should accept its fair share of refugees.
  • ‘Federalists’ make up the smallest tribe. They support a deeply integrated ‘United States of Europe’, feel that the EU has benefited them, and are the most positive about immigration. They tend to be wealthier, older and disproportionately male, with strong and diverse social networks.

Obviously, there are many ways to slice up voter attitudes, but this looks like a perfectly valid one and an interesting attempt to go beyond the slogans and ask what people really think about the EU. The key challenge, as the report’s author notes, will be to engage the so-called Hesitant Europeans — the largest and most moderate group on the list.

Satirists strike back

Today I learned that Hungary has a satirical political party and, according to EUObserver, the Two-Tailed Dog Party is the only political group that is running a visible campaign against its country’s controversial anti-immigrant referendum which is scheduled to take place in October.

Orban’s referendum, which is as cynical as Cameron’s Brexit vote was stupid, asks: “Do you want the European Union to be able to order the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without parliament’s consent?” It’s a question that pretty much dictates the answer and, over the summer, the government unveiled billboards linking migration with terrorism and criminality.

“Did you know? The Paris attacks were committed by migrants,” claims one of the thousands of blue government billboards around Hungary.

Another government billboard says: “Did you know that since the start of the migration crisis there has been a sharp increase in the number of harassments against women in Europe?”.

“Did you know that Brussels wants to deport the equivalent of a town of migrants to Hungary?” says another one.

The Two-Tailed Dog activists, who managed to managed to raise 29 million forints (€93,600) in just two weeks have responded with a billboard campaign of their own.

With a characteristically satirical twist, their billboards ask: “Did you know? There is war in Syria” and “Did you know? Corruption offences are mostly committed by politicians”.

Also: “Did you know? The people are not stupid”, and the more abstract “Did you know? What?”.

This makes the Two-Tailed Dog Party, an opposition that receives no state funding, the most visible opponents of Orban’s attempt to manipulate voters into strengthening his position when he seeks to undermine their rights.

Long may they continue.

Quote of the day: Divided we fall

[O]nly a broad regional political settlement involving all of the powers conducting proxy wars on the territory of Syria will end this bloody civil war. Given the regional complexities and vested interests at stake, it will be difficult for Russia and the US to forge a deal bilaterally. A united Europe, speaking with one voice, could play an important role in steering a path to peace.

Not only does Europe have an overriding interest in securing its immediate neighbourhood, it has recent experience of helping to deliver a nuclear deal with Iran. The Iran nuclear deal showed what the European Union can achieve when it works together with one voice and engages other global powers.

Guy Verhofstadt

Misused English Words and Expressions in EU Publications

I am indebted to The Antihippy for pointing me in the direction of Misused English Words and Expressions in EU Publications, a weirdly fascinating and often amusing report that attempts to document the ways in which EU jargon obscures rather than illuminates. You know that feeling when you understand all of the words in a sentence but none of the paragraphs make any sense? This report goes a long way towards explaining that.

I would also like to take the opportunity to reiterate the fact, which I seem not to have made sufficiently clear, that the aim of this document is neither to criticize the work of other EU employees, particularly those who are not native speakers of English, nor to dictate how people should speak or write in the privacy of their own Directorates-General. In addition to providing guidance to readers outside the EU institutions, my comments are mainly designed either for those who, for reasons of character or personal taste, would like their English to be as correct as possible or those who need, or want, their output to be understood by people outside the European institutions, particularly in our two English-speaking member states. This takes up a principle that is clearly set out in the Court of Auditor’s performance audit manual:

‘In order to meet the addressees’ requirements, reports should be drafted for the attention of an interested but non-expert reader who is not necessarily familiar with the detailed EU [or audit] context’.

This means not only that we should not be too technical, but also that we should do our best to avoid assuming that our readers will necessarily be able to decipher our in-house jargon.

Some of the highlights so far include:



This word is an extraordinary creation that manages to combine a noun of dubious pedigree (see ‘actor’ above) with a suffix (-ness), which, elsewhere in the English language, is only applied to adjectives and participles, producing a result that is both quite impenetrable and slightly childish. Even more unusually, although it is perhaps not actually an EU word as such, because it is not often found in EU publications themselves, it is used almost exclusively in publications about the EU in an attempt to express the concept of ‘the quality of being an actor’. The association between this word and the EU is so strong that, at the time of writing, if we google say ‘US actorness’, we still get a list of entries concerning the EU. Curiously, if we look up ‘Russian actorness’ or ‘French actorness’, Google thinks that we might have just misspelt ‘actress’.


‘EU Actorness in International Affairs: The Case of EULEX Mission in Kosovo, Perspectives onEuropean Politics and Society11.’


participation, involvement, active participation, active involvement.



In English, the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is generally used to describe ‘a member of any of the West Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) that settled in Britain from the 5th century AD’. Also, particularly in America, it is used to denominate white people, usually of the Protestant faith (‘WASPS’), thus excluding large swathes of the population of that country. It follows that there is no such thing as an Anglo-Saxon country, or, as in the example below, an Anglo-Saxon agency or Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Furthermore, the Anglo-Saxon language ceased to exist in the 12th century (I am ill-informed about Brussels, but the last known speaker in Luxembourg was St Willibrord, 658-73919). This term is particularly inapplicable (and, I gather, irritating for those concerned) when used to describe the Irish, Scots and Welsh, who partly base their national identities on not being Anglo-Saxons, and verges on the ridiculous when used to include West Indians.


‘The Anglo-Saxon group of agencies reflect (sic) the previous dominance of Anglo-Saxon capitalism which was not disrupted by two world wars and the specific operational issues relating to Asian economies.’


‘English-speaking’ when referring to the countries or the people, ‘British’ and ‘American’ (‘Australian’ or whatever) when referring to agencies, capitalism etc. The term may, however, be used if you are talking about something like the (presumed) ‘Anglo-Saxon conspiracy’ and you will often find it used ironically in this way in the British press (usually in inverted commas). However, it has negative connotations and should be avoided.



Bovine animals are ‘any of various chiefly domesticated mammals of the genus Bos, including cows, steers, bulls, and oxen, often raised for meat and dairy products’. They are normally called ‘cattle’ in English. However, whereas the word ‘bovine’ may be recognised by English speakers (often with the meaning ‘sluggish, dull and stolid’), the terms ‘ovine’, ‘caprine’ and ‘porcine’ would only be known to specialists.


‘Commission Decision of 26 July 2004 amending Annexes I and II to Council Decision 79/542/ EEC as regards model certificates relating to the importation of bovine animals for slaughter and bovine, ovine and caprine fresh meat’.


cattle, sheep, goats and pigs respectively.

And I haven’t reached the letter C yet.

There is, of course, a serious point to all this:

[I]nternally, it may often be easier to communicate with these terms than with the correct ones (it is reasonable to suppose that fewer EU officials know ‘outsource’ than ‘externalise’, for example). However, the European institutions also need to communicate with the outside world and our documents need to be translated – both tasks that are not facilitated by the use of terminology that is unknown to native speakers and either does not appear in dictionaries or is shown in them with a different meaning. Finally, it is worth remembering that, whereas EU staff should be able to understand ‘real’ English, we cannot expect the general public to be au fait with the EU variety.

The report is well worth reading and the associated website tells me that a 2015 version is on the way.