IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

ABCs of Euro crisis have citizens asking WTF?

From a rescue fund called the EFSF to another known as the ESM, by way of a SPIV trust and an FTT levy, the acronyms and other labels generated by the European Union's fight to contain its sovereign debt crisis range from the arcane to the bizarre.
/ Source: Reuters

From a rescue fund called the EFSF to another known as the ESM, by way of a SPIV trust and an FTT levy, the acronyms and other labels generated by the European Union's fight to contain its sovereign debt crisis range from the arcane to the bizarre.

As pressure escalates on the EU to solve the chaos, so does the tome of technical jargon for programs aimed at regaining stability. But often the capital-letter-laden alphabet soup ends up causing more confusion than it's designed to resolve.

The EU's increasing power, from a new diplomatic corps to a push for more oversight over national budgets, also raises questions over whether it uses jargon to communicate internally, or whether it uses the mystery to its advantage.

"Euro zone leaders do partly rely on the lack of understanding of ordinary taxpayers to push through these crisis measures and distract attention from their shortcomings," said Raoul Ruparel, an economist analyst at the eurosceptic Open Europe think-tank in London. "They gloss over these terms like NPV, net present value, but these are crucial details," he said.

For example: when the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) expires, the permanent ESM (European Stability Mechanism) will enter into force, but not before a deal on PSI (private sector involvement) in more aid for Greece.

At the same time, politicians working on avoiding more crises are drawing up revisions to MiFID, which will essentially usher in more regulation of financial markets. But there is also MiFID II in the works and proposed revisions to MAD.

The EFSF and the ESM should not be confused with their smaller partner, the EFSM — while the biggest fight could be over the MFF, the EU's long-term budget, and all that after Basel 2.5, the CRD capital requirements law and a crackdown on CRAs.

"I nearly lost my mind working through Basel," said one European banker, referring to the set of global banking supervisory rules that the EU implements across the bloc.

One summit has become a byword for EU officials to reduce a complex emergency debt package into a single phrase: July 21.

Sometimes that date has been twisted into a more unintelligible reference. "The point now is to implement a decision of the 21st of July-plus," Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said in Brussels in late October.

Even sophisticated money managers struggle with the EU's internal workings. Some investors worried that an October 26 summit had been canceled when they heard of a procedural decision to scrap a meeting of EU finance ministers, known as Ecofin.

Hours after the summit went ahead, journalists jeered European Commission officials as they struggled to disentangle NPV from "notional haircuts" — a crucial element of an agreement designed to contain the worsening crisis.

Already losing popularity among Europeans over its clumsy handling of the debt crisis, the EU risks further alienating its citizens with the latest tide of opaque and convoluted jargon.

In the EU's latest survey on attitudes to the 27-nation bloc, less than a third of Europeans said they know what is going on at the European Parliament. Asked if they had heard of euro bonds — a proposal to issue debt jointly by the 17 nations in the euro and which could take budgetary powers away from national parliaments — 57 percent said 'no', the poll found.

The phrase generates equal but different confusion in debt markets, where 'eurobond' has long been shorthand for a type of international bond.

"The fundamental issue is that people feel almost nervous and anxious about the EU and that translates into insecurity and hostility because they don't understand how the place works," said Paul Adamson, editor of the online European affairs magazine E!Sharp and a campaigner against EU jargon.

Bureaucracies from the U.S. military to multinational companies are renowned for their jargon. But the EU's highly complex institutions are steeped in specialized language — dubbed eurospeak — with a tradition of naming policies after the places and people connected with their creation.

Schengen is no longer just a quiet Luxembourg town but a passport-free area; Gymnich, the name of a German castle, is now code for a meeting of EU foreign ministers. Officials responsible for preparing weekly talks between EU ambassadors are known as the Antici group after their Italian founder.

Jargon has grown as more countries have joined the EU to encompass its 23 languages: EFSF becomes FESF in French, FEEF in Spanish, ERVV in Finnish and SECA in Irish Gaelic.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the Commission, said in late October that the bloc's complexities are "the single biggest complaint I receive everywhere I go in Europe."

One effort to bring Europeans closer to their officials and representatives is the newly-opened European Parliament visitors' center, built to rival the visitor center at the U.S. Congress in Washington. But beyond the razzmatazz of hi-tech, interactive displays and role-playing games, the debt crisis goes quietly unmentioned.

"We know there's a crisis because we live it every day," said Maria Jose Garrido, a lawyer from Madrid outside the visitor's center. "It's not going to go away just because you don't talk about it clearly."