Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Back translation

The Financial Times Europe edition of 6 July leads with a story entitled “EU tax on offshore savings falls flat” (still available here and elsewhere).
Europe's 14-year struggle to tax its citizens' offshore savings has flopped, after investors in countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg exploited loopholes in a controversial savings law
(The "savings law" referred to is Directive 2003/48.)
The law was only agreed after 14 years of haggling among EU member states and after fraught negotiations with third countries such as Switzerland, which fought a successful battle to defend its banking secrecy laws.

But the directive is riddled with loopholes, some inserted by EU members to maintain their appeal to offshore investors. Others were created by loose legal definitions, while ambiguity was added with the translation of the original draft law from English to French and back to English.
Now what could possibly be the point of translating the thing from English to French and then back again? I mean, assuming they did it properly, they would surely end up with exactly the same text they started out with.

I wonder if perhaps the FT has got the wrong end of the stick on this one.

It's weird because the directive was driven by a German desire to whack fellow citizens, a substantial part of whose undeclared savings are over the border in German-speaking Switzerland. However, it would be quite unlike the EU not to incorporate redundant and confusing jiggery pokery into the legislative process, and the FT is reliable on this kind of stuff.
Yes, the FT's EU coverage is normally as reliable as it gets. But this process of translating to and fro is normally done only to expose the inadequacies of Babelfish and that they would do such a thing in these circumstances beggars belief (not that the fact that it beggars belief is conclusive of anything, of course).
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