Opening article by Daniel Guéguen

Please find below an article by Daniel Guéguen, associate partner at Eppa.

Taxonomy jargon, George Orwell and newspeak

Due to opposition from 10 Member States and critical comments made in the public consultation, the draft delegated act will be revised. But the Commission will have to add an educational dimension if it wants to convince the real economy of Taxonomy’s validity.

One has to read the great novelists to understand the times we live in. In ‘1984’, George Orwell wrote of three totalitarian regions that rule the world: Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceania. The leaders of Oceania invented a language as a tool of domination, known as ‘newspeak.’

The principle of newspeak is that the more you reduce the words of a language, the more you reduce the finesses of speech and the ability of people to think. Its goal is to render impossible the expression of potentially subversive ideas and ultimately suppress the very concept of criticism. That is exactly what we have with Taxonomy!

Not much vocabulary, but lots of words, sentences and phrases

When I started to become involved in the Taxonomy file, I was struck by the volume of the texts prepared by the Commission: the technical report comes to 420 pages, the draft delegated act and its two annexes are 500 pages and the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) come to 150 pages! But the more I read these documents, the less I understood them. I was clearly not the only one feeling powerless in the face of such a bureaucratic deluge. When I asked around, my contacts fell into two categories: those satisfied at not being included in the draft delegated act, and those unhappy that they were included…but nobody was able to explain to me precisely why! Some were too technical, others were too general, etc.

In effect, I was witnessing a case of newspeak: something extremely theoretical, virtual and above all, incomprehensible. I was even more dismayed when I discovered that all of these documents, including the draft delegated act and its annexes, had been published in only one language: English. Current practice is that delegated acts are not translated until after their formal adoption by the Commission. This is completely unacceptable, even more so when such an important and controversial issue is at stake. Of course, translating 500 pages into 24 languages (12,000 pages in total!) would quickly lead to a bureaucratic impasse. But a solution exists. Just be shorter, less technical, and more conceptual.

And so one is obliged to get acquainted with all these documents in English and respond in English, regardless of one’s mother tongue or linguistic skill. However, Orwell was right when he wrote that thought functions in accordance with the available vocabulary: a greater knowledge of vocabulary means a greater ability to analyse and comment, while a weak vocabulary leads to ad hoc responses with no comprehensive view of the problem.

Thus everything is set up in a way that makes any general critique of the Taxonomy draft impossible, and any criticism of the ‘details’ gets drowned out in the mass of other criticisms without any hope of changing the overall direction.

Take the problem back to basics: explain the why and the who in simple terms

Every cloud has a silver lining. The resignation of the Irish Commissioner led to the appointment of a new one responsible for financial services within the College. A journalist before her political career, Ms McGuinness will no doubt be concerned with the methodology of the file and its ‘educational’ dimension.

The Commission must demonstrate that its Taxonomy draft is not simply a virtual project but has a link with the real economy. To achieve this, many aspects have to be brought back to square one, in particular by creating transparency and a climate of trust between DG FISMA and the non-financial economic sectors. And to achieve that, we need time.

The deadline for entry into application of the first of the Taxonomy delegated acts – 1 January 2022 – does not withstand scrutiny. Regulation should be qualitative, not quantitative. It should be useful, not punitive. In this period of pandemic and relaunching the EU economy, Taxonomy is not urgent. Let’s take the time to adapt a system that is significant in its objective, but inconsistent in its details, in order to make an instrument that is practical for businesses in their long journey towards a decarbonised economy. Less words, more substance: that is the key!

Daniel Guéguen

February 2021

Article to be found in BlogActiv here

Article en version française ici

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