The Commission HQ by night (picture Fpeters)
If anyone out there is puzzled by the complicated nature of the European Union institutions, this latest report by the BBC isn’t going to help.

Referring to the Commission as the “EC” is confusing to start with: that abbreviation came into use for the European Community when the “Economic” middle name was dropped. Bear in mind that the European Community still, technically, exists (you can find the Consolidated Versions of the Treaty on European Union and of the Treaty establishing the European Community here.

The dual use of the abbreviation “EC” could add to the confusion, although of a different kind, if president Barroso were taken to be president of the EU in place of, as is often written, German chancellor Angela Merkel. In fact, Germany holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union – Mrs Merkel herself isn’t president of anything – even if the presidency website claims “Presidency of the European Union”. (Article 4 of the Consolidated Treaty reads “The European Council shall meet at least twice a year, under the chairmanship of the Head of State or government of the Member State which holds the Presidency of the Council.”) I sometimes kick off discussions about the EU by asking who is its head of state – to provoke a wide range of interesting answers.

Thirdly, president Barroso is described by the BBC as “the European Union’s top diplomat”. If anyone is the EU’s top diplomat, it would be Javier Solana, High Representative for CFSP, or possibly Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations, or even Eneko Landaburu, Head of the External Relations Directorate-General. Whoever it is, it isn’t really president Barroso. He is the top politician, not the top diplomat.

So, an attempt by the BBC to take a shortcut makes things worse rather than better. What would really clear up the situation, of course, would be actually to clear up the situation. A unified foreign relations programme as foreseen by the Constitutional Treaty would help a lot. Maybe that idea will survive the coming renegotiation of the treaty in advance of a new ratification effort. I hope so.

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