A little in-out cohabitation

Europe/ new generation of jargon
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The Independent Online
ARE YOU embarrassed by your conversational mistakes when talk in the pub turns to the European Union? Do friends laugh when you use outdated metaphors to describe Nato?

The arcane language of Brussels, impenetrable even to insiders, is going through a change. New phrases are emerging; old ones are dead in the water. Over the past year, the metaphors of architecture and transport (the "pillars" of the EU, the European "train") have become about as fashionable as shoulder pads. The new vocabulary is much more concerned with relationships; it sounds like 1990s management jargon.

The reasons are simple. Firstly, as the prospect of maybe a dozen more members increases, it is evident that the EU has to find a way to accommodate different configurations of countries. This used to be called "variable geometry", but that sounds a bit hard-edged. No one wants to become the European hypotenuse. So instead, everything has become touchy-feely.

Ironically, this is especially the case in foreign policy and defence, where the euphemism has long held sway. The other important area at the moment is monetary union, where it is clear that some countries will make the grade and others won't. No one wants to make this sound like failure, hence the new crop of woolly locutions.

Using the old phrases is decidedly infra dig. Anybody who talks about "catching the Euro-train" is instantly revealed as a relic from the 1960s. Try referring to "the European family" instead. Think caring, think nurture, think soft linen suits in natural shades. Here are a few handy phrases of Eurojargon as she is spoke, 1995-style.

In-out cohabitation The problem of organising relations between states that join a single currency and those that don't. This will create monetary and financial problems, but also political ones - will the hard-core few be in a privileged position to make decisions? Example: "In-out cohabitation raises problems of cohesion for the European family." This means: either Spain gets more cash, or there's going to be another nasty row about fish.

Coalition of the willing Those that can, do. A phrase used in European defence to describe the idea that if a group of countries want to go ahead with an operation, they can, and nobody can stop them. This is a nice way of describing "hard core" Europe where big countries run everything, but it sounds more cuddly than "hard core".

Architecture Very 1980s - avoid. Lots of sterile debates went on before the Maastricht treaty about how to link all the institutions together. This is now deemed passe. Instead, "evolution" is in. The new orthodoxy is that things will develop naturally over the years, man. This is just as silly as the view that a bunch of bureaucrats could sort everything out with a set-square and a Rotring pen.

Constructive abstention Shut up and go away. If a country is unwilling to participate in a military operation or foreign policy initiative, it should abstain rather than block it. Again, this is a nice way of describing how the EU plans to have a hard core Europe but call it something else. (qv Coalition of the willing.)

Reference scenario The plan being drawn up by the EU that will explain how it will create a single currency. It can't be called a plan because that would sound too definite. This adds to the huge stock of EU phrases which mean "we can't decide and we don't know what to do". A useful phrase for everyday life (eg "What do you propose do to about your overdraft?" "I am drawing up a reference scenario").

Structured dialogue A dull meeting. The east Europeans can't join the EU yet, but they are allowed to come along after meetings have finished, the coffee has gone cold and the brandy has run out. Then they have a "structured dialogue". Structured is a buzz-word in the City as well, but means something different there. A "structured facility" is a financial deal no one understands until the price of coffee goes up two cents and the bank repossesses your car as a result .

Strategic consent Without which the UN peacekeepers cannot operate in Bosnia. This means that unless the Bosnian Serbs play ball, stop taking hostages and blocking aid convoys, the UN must go. Might also have wider usage for other people stuck in a hostile place under heavy fire ("After she punched me in the nose, I left as I no longer felt I had her strategic consent").

Withdrawal in non-benign environment Retreat under fire. The euphemism for what Nato will have to do if the UN peacekeepers are attacked and need to be evacuated very quickly. Has many applications, especially in the current circumstances of the Conservative Party.