Don't say 'Europe Must Invest in XYZ'

“Be even more suspicious […] of all those who employ the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ without your permission. This is another form of surreptitious conscription, designed to suggest that ‘we’ are all agreed on ‘our’ interests and identity. […] Always ask who this ‘we’ is” – Christopher Hitchens in Letters to a Young Contrarian.

It is so easy to write “Europe must invest more in AI”, but it is a red flag that reveals sloppy thinking on two levels. Firstly, “Europe” is a land mass, perhaps a continent, possibly a state of mind, but as such it does not “do” anything. Maybe the EU does something, or perhaps people living in Europe do something. Or it could be that we mean that European companies should get on with it. But “Europe” does nothing.

Diagram of various European bodies, showing which country is part of what group, like council of Europe, EU, EFTA etc
By Wdcf - Own work by uploader + Nuvola flags, CC BY 3.0, Link

Inspired by the much missed Christopher Hitchens, always ask who this Europe is. Because suggesting that “Europe” should do something could conjure up ideas in the reader that (say) the European Commission should make it happen, but in reality the author has left this to our imagination.

If “Europe” is to do better with AI, by all means do spell out who is going to make this happen, and how. (EU) Subsidies? Laws that mandate forming a strategy? Removing hurdles, onerous legislation and sending encouraging letters to companies and hoping for the best?

These calls for Europe to invest in something suffer from a second problem. To many people this suggests that money will be spent to make something happen. But it turns out that in political and government circles, investing also means writing papers and policies. And this is technically true, it is an investment in time and effort.

But the outside world might be underwhelmed if your “investment” turns out to have consisted of lots of meetings and reports, and not of actual euros being spent.

So I urge you - if you are poised to write that Europe should invest in something, don’t leave it at that. Should the EU do something? Should “people in Europe” magically change their priorities? Should we get European companies to change their strategies? Don’t leave it hanging in the air.

Secondly, when urging Europe to invest in something, also consider how confusing that word is. Don’t say “Europe should invest in secure communications”, write out that the European Commission should procure a secure email solution that does not fall under US spying legislation. (Also, they should definitely do this!).

Finally to readers/reviewers of these imprecise statements on what Europe should do, consider it a red flag that the author might not know either who actually should be doing what, or is suggesting something completely different than you assume. Ask for details!