Have a read of this piece (see comments – link changed – a version is available here) on AP’s website about Barroso’s State of the European Union speech. It’s entitled “Top EU official seeks closer policy union” and then starts “A senior EU official called for closer political and financial unification in Europe”, before explaining Barroso’s actual job in the 2nd paragraph.

Why does this matter?

When I hear the word ‘official’ it implies to me someone whose position is on the basis of appointment, whose function is bureaucratic, and whose task is to in some way be impartial. Barroso’s job as President of the Commission is none of those things. He’s a political actor and hence using the term ‘official’ to describe him is inaccurate. Doing so puts him at the level of Secretary-General of the European Commission, Catherine Day.

My discussion with AP’s journalist who wrote the piece, Don Melvin, is here. This is not a critique of Don personally, as he’s undoubtedly complying with rules from a house style, but I would argue that those rules are wrong. In EU matters, just as in any other area of politics, words matter (as I’ve previously argued).

We refer to David Cameron as British Prime Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy as French President, so it’s high time we consistently refer to Jose Manuel Barroso as President of the European Commission.

(Article updated Thursday 29th Sept due to changes in links at AP’s website. Content remains unchanged)


  1. M.D. Spenser

    Seems to me one of the most common uses of the word is in the phrase “elected official.” Try Googling it in quotes — 3.2 million hits.

  2. Martin Keegan

    I think the notion that “official” implies that someone’s unelected or a bureaucrat might be a European parochialism.

    Americans certainly have no problem with referring to the President as a public official, and the term is neutral, not disrespectful. It is not marked for whether the official in question is elected or performs an apolitical function. It would seem to be a natural term for an EU Commissioner.

  3. Thanks for pointing that out – I have found a version of the original and have linked that now. I don’t quite understand how AP’s links work, also as some newspapers’ versions appear on their domains… Sadly I don’t think this piece of mine (and the subsequent Twitter discussion) prompted them to change their approach!

  4. Dagmawi Elehu

    They seem to have changed the story, the article linked is written by Juergen Baetz with the headline “Merkel says Greek bailout terms may be changed”. Don Melvin is a contributor to the article but the term senior EU official is not part of this article. Searching for other articles mentioning Barroso there is another article from today (“EU pushes for global financial trading tax”) mentioning Barroso throwing his weight as head of the EU executive behind the proposal, written by Pan Pylas. No mention of Barroso as a official there either.

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