A long, turgid and verbose document

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Aug 6 2005, 05:30am hrs
If April is the cruellest month (vide the Anglo-American poet TS Eliot), then August is the sweetest. For, the 20,000 (b)eurocrats who run the 25-nation European Union (EU) it is the month of shantih shantih shantih (to borrow from TS Eliot). Hands that have been busy drafting rules and regulations are equally busy, but rubbing suntan oil on sun-burnt skins.

Yes, this is the month when the EUs institutional machinery shuts down for good, a growing number of Eurosceptics would add, hopefully. Would the sudden disappearance from Brussels of this army of European civil servants that runs the EU make such a difference Perish the thought especially right now, when the Action Plan for an India-EU strategic partnership calls for more intensive media coverage and enhanced journalistic exchanges.

Still, it would help if the authors of the Action Plan (Indian and EU civil servants) were to reflect on at least one of the reasons why French and Dutch voters voted down the first-ever EU Constitution. It is simply too verbose. Well, so is the Action Plan. Quite understandably, of course. Each of the 50 civil servants, who reportedly has had a hand in drafting the document, had to defend his or her turf.

Another reason for the Action Plans verbosity is that it will be endorsed by Manmohan Singh and Tony Blair when they meet in New Delhi for the annual India-EU summit on September 7. No one expects either of them to have read the document before giving it the thumbs up. But its authors clearly believe that the two prime ministers will be impressed by a document that is in the best civil service tradition, whether Indian or European long, turgid and verbose.

In a word unintelligible. In English, and no doubt unintelligible also in Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian or any one of the numerous official EU languages. Does it matter, given that the India-EU Action Plan is, in fact a memo between Indian and European bureaucrats It matters, to begin with, if the two sides want more intensive media coverage of their doings.

It matters, if those responsible for developing a strategic partnership between India and the EU want European and Indian citizens to take an interest in what they are doing and to back them. The civil servants must show that what they are doing matters to ordinary people, to people striving to make ends meet or wondering which model of car to buy.

Here, then, are a few basic rules for the movers and shakers in New Delhi and Brussels.

Rule 1: Keep it short. Blame television for it, if you like, but most of us have an attention span of half-a-page when it comes to the written word, especially when formed into official pronouncements.

Rule 2: Keep it simple. In your interest, I managed to procure copies of the India-EU Action Plan while it was still on the drafting board. Again, in your interest, I was quite prepared to betray my promise to keep its contents secret, until the Action Plan had received prime ministerial endorsement. There has been no betrayal simply because I couldnt make head or tail of this top secret document, which will determine how relations between India and the EU develop over the next 10 years, which is the life span of such documents.

Rule 3: Spread the good news from day one. Why on earth is it necessary to be secretive about a joint decision to promote more intensive media coverage Or about plans to encourage Indian students to do graduate work in EU universities Official pronouncements invariably stress the fact that India and the EU are the worlds largest democracies and quite rightly, too. What easier way to snub Indias great rival China!

But, then, suit the action to the word democracy and be transparent, i.e. open. Both Indians and Europeans know that their interests differ on numerous matters. More to the point, they probably can help overcome those differences. The India-EU Round Table was set up to give civil society an opportunity to make recommendations to the Indian and EU prime ministers at their annual summits. But it, too, has fallen a victim to bureaucracy.

Who among the readers of this newspaper knows that 43 years have passed since India established diplomatic relations with the forerunner to todays 25-nation European Union the six-nation European Economic Community Those four decades have witnessed innumerable meetings, at every level from foreign ministers to top civil servants to experts. The meetings have resulted in a paper mountain minutes, reports, declarations, even agreements.

All of it to general indifference. Surely, the way forward is to scrap the verbose Action Plan and ask Manmohan Singh and Tony Blair to physically sign a one-page statement, listing three ways of making relations between India and the EU meaningful to Indians and Europeans.