In an otherwise good quality article about former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt’s role in determining the EU institutions response to bailouts by Joshua Chaffin there is nevertheless an issue – the terms the FT uses to explain the EU:

Mr Verhofstadt, the energetic and outspoken leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats in the European parliament [my emphasis]

Strictly Verhofstadt is leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group in the European Parliament (ALDE). As fellow FT correspondent Stanley Pignal states on Twitter, the FT is not intended to be for a Brussels bubble audience. Very true. But I would also hope that FT readers would hope to have correct reporting, and I have much higher hopes for the FT’s reporting than I do for any other UK broadsheet – hence this blog entry.

Reading the line above for someone not versed in the basics of European Parliament politics connects him to the Liberal Democrats, the UK party, who are indeed a member of the ALDE group. But Liberal Democrats and ALDE are not the same thing.

OK, maybe this is a minor case, but there are words to the same effect – simpler than ‘ALDE Group’ – that nevertheless would have been more correct: ‘Liberals and Democrats’ or ‘Liberals and Democrats Group’ for example.

However this is not the first time the FT has used such terms – they routinely referred to Blair’s rumoured candidacy for President of the European Council as ‘President of the EU’ – see this piece and all these titles. The Economist notably takes another line – to use the correct terms, and to assume that readers will inform themselves if they don’t understand.


  1. Aymeric L.

    I don’t see much problem with “leader of the centrist Liberal democrats”. The UK is the only EU country which has a liberal democratic party, for the 85% other Europeans or so, there is no confusion possible.
    Do French complain that the socialists, social-democratic, labour and democratic MEPs are often referred to as the “Socialists”, even though the official name was PES group and is now S&D?

    The official group names should be avoided, that’s for sure, I don’t know how people still stick to them and expect everybody to understand European press. The same sorts of abbreviations exist in the French assembly and senate (RDSE, CRC-SPG, UC, “Democratic and republican left”), but journalists use party names instead, even though not all group members belong to the main party. But that’s good so.

    “Liberal democrats” is clear and simple. Moreover, adding “centrist” is a convenient way to underline that these liberal democrats are not exactly the same as the ones sitting in Westminster.

  2. @Ingvild – I agree 100% about the wider point… Alas the ill-fated European Constitution would have partially addressed these issues, but that was one of the issues that fell by the wayside in the Treaty of Lisbon.

    I don’t deny that some simplifications are necessary, but these should not introduce new errors or ambiguities.

  3. Ingvild

    With your caveat that the abbreviation ALDE need not necessarily be used, I agree. Using national political designations for EP people, especially from other countries, will cause some confusion. But I do agree with Pignal’s larger point about the disconnect between the Brussels bubble and the FT’s larger audience. Whenever anyone I work for goes to Bxl, I routinely give them a tailor-made glossary of DG abbreviations, party group names and the like, and I do find it just a little bit depressing that I have to. All political systems have in-group language, of course. But in Bxl it seems to be the only vocabulary for many of its participants, which it really isn’t in national legislatures to the same extent. Being able to communicate outside of the bubble ought to be second nature to politicians.

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