Friday, September 19, 2008

I've a question about Sarkozy's EU-Ukraine Summit quote.

Taras of Ukrainiana has translated Channel 1+1's voiceover translation here:

[...] French President Nicolas Sarkozy: This association agreement [to be signed in 2009] does not close any paths, nor does it open any paths. That’s all we could give. [...]

Kyiv Post has a similar translation:

[...] In a cautious statement at the EU summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating presidency, said: “The association agreement neither opens nor closes any route [for Ukraine].” [...]

And so does Deutsche Welle:

[...] The "association agreement" that emerged form the summit offers Kiev enhanced status in its dealings with the EU. But it does not say anything about whether Ukraine could possibly join the bloc some day. Indeed the agreement, as Sarkozy stressed to the press, "neither opens nor closes any route." [...]

Financial Times, however, provides a quote that carries a different meaning:

[...] “Be clear that this agreement shuts no door, and maybe it opens some doors. This is the most we could offer, but I believe it to be a substantial step,” Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, told reporters. [...]

The Times offers what seems like only part of the original sound bite:

[...] “This accord does not close any avenues,” Mr Sarkozy said. “It is the maximum that we could do and I believe that it is already an essential step.” [...]

And so does BBC:

[...] He underlined that the accord left the path for future membership of the 27-member state bloc open, saying: "This association accord does not close any avenues." [...]

The Wall Street Journal has cut the original quote even more:

[...] At a news conference with Mr. Yushchenko and EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Mr. Sarkozy summarized the EU's position toward Ukraine as "this is the maximum we can do." [...]

And so has

[...] "It was the maximum we could offer, but I think it was a substantial step," Sarkozy told a press conference after hosting an EU-Ukraine summit in Paris today. Yushchenko said the EU's "message is full of hope and holds much promise." [...]

The Irish Times provides more of the original - and, at the same time, less:

[...] Asked whether he favoured Ukrainian accession, Mr Sarkozy hid behind his role as acting president of the EU Council. "I am not speaking as president of France," he said. "I am speaking in the name of the EU. The name of this is an association agreement . . . The EU has not authorised me to make any other decision or any other announcements . . . Within the council there are varying positions. My concern is European unity. This is something we explained to our friend, the president of Ukraine. This was the most we could offer, but I believe this to be a substantial step." [...]

The French Embassy in the UK has posted a rather detailed transcript, but their translation echoes that of the Financial Times (or is it the other way around?):

Q. – You talked about Ukraine’s European orientation. I’d like to know if this European orientation goes as far as considering Ukrainian accession to the European Union in the short, medium or long term. Can you tell us what you yourself think?

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you for allowing me reply totally freely. I’m not talking as the French President, I’m not talking in my own name, I’m talking on behalf of the EU and so I’m saying what the EU’s position is. The EU’s position: to negotiate an association agreement, making it clear that this association agreement closes no avenue, and even opens some up. (…) The EU wanted, as President Barroso said, at this specific moment in the region’s situation, to reaffirm the community of values, community of history, Europeanness in the cultural sense of the word with Ukraine. The EU hasn’t authorized me to take other decisions or make other announcements. But the words mean something; it’s the first time such vocabulary has been used. That said, within the Council, there are different positions and President Barroso’s concern, like mine, is Europe’s unity, it’s in fact what we explained to our friend, the Ukrainian President, that it was as far as we could go. But I believe it’s already a substantial step.

So my question is: what did he actually say at that press conference? Does this agreement open some new doors or not?

Has anyone encountered the original recording of Sarkozi's remark? I did a quick search but couldn't find anything, and even if I did, I don't know French, so there is no way for me to figure that out. Please help!


  1. Hi, this is Genia the car and cellphone hater!

    Those translators! Working at full speed and mixing up everything. Kyiv post,voiceover and Deutesche Welle had it wrong.
    I have juste checked the French Embassy corresponding French page : 1st point : ...cet accord d’association ne ferme aucune piste, que même il en ouvre.
    même means even and cannot be translated by nor. So it reads : This association agreement does not close any route, it even opens some.

    I must say I am impressed by the research you went through.

    Does this agreement have any substance at all? To me it seems very vague indeed. Just a warning aimed at Moscow???

    Take care

  2. Thank you for a job well done, Neeka!

    And thank you for translating the original Sarkozy quote, Genia!

    It pays to know firsthand sources, just as it takes time to see the route openings mentioned by Sarkozy.

    In the meantime, I’ll post a correction on my blog.

  3. Neeka, I think you missed the point. The point is that an Association Agreement is a necessary step on the way to becoming a candidate for EU entry, and progress into the EU depends on how well Ukraine does along the way, on the "tasks" set out in the Agreement.

    Eventually countries negotiate an agreement with the EU to join. So it doesn't really matter what Sarkozy actually said now, as long as Ukraine gets on with the process agreed in the Association Agreement. Have a look at the EU Commission website to see which country is where in the process and what each has to do. Mostly what is keeping Ukraine out of the EU is the need to adopt about 80,000 laws as well as creating convincing institutions to enforce them. Given the current Ukrainian approach to respect for the law and corruption, this will take a few years yet.

    But where there's a will there's a way.

  4. Regardless of the translation --

    The fact of the matter is that Ukraine has an association agreement with the EU, which is a substantial and encouraging step in the right direction.

    However, as in many cases, and understandably enough, the EU does not want to be locked into a decision on full membership that will have to be made in the future.

    Warning to Moscow? The EU is about free trade, about visa-free travel, about cooperation among its members.

    No matter which way one takes the translation, at the very worst it is clear that there are no doors that have been shut by the association agreement. And, if one takes the positive translation, then some doors have been opened, if one wants to rely on and speak in metaphors.

    Why on earth would, or should, that be any sort of a warning to Moscow?

    It's like saying that if I am a bread producer, and I sign a new contract to supply bread to a chain of grocery stores, then there is some sort of a warning to Moscow.

    It doesn't make sense. Except maybe in Moscow.

  5. Dear Genia,

    Thank you so much for helping me - I really, really appreciate it!!!


    Dear Helen,

    Thank you for your explanation and the link.

    I'm not sure why you think I'm missing the point about AA's meaning or significance, though.

    You see, I was working on a little text for Global Voices and came across Taras' post featuring the embedded video clip from the summit and a translation of what Sarkozy and Yushchenko said. As I was reading on the issue, I came across all those other translations. I got me genuinely confused and so I thought it'd be fair to get a clarification before I wrote anything. Now, thanks to Genia, everything is clear.

    Sarkozy was speaking on behalf of the EU, so it does seem logical to pay attention to what he said.

    Moreover, the incorrect translation seems to have been circulated rather widely here: I've asked a few friends today about what they remembered of the summit - friends who don't read English and rely exclusively on the local media - and they all mentioned Sarkozy's clownish "neither shuts nor opens any doors" quote. And it wasn't like they were surprised by it or something - they remember Yushchenko's NATO fiasco earlier this year and they are also well aware of the division within the EU regarding all those potential new member states. And, like Taras, they know that the current political mess here isn't going to help us get any closer to the EU - and it's only natural that Sarkozy would point that out in some way. Which he didn't, as it turns out, and my friends were quite surprised when I told them he'd been misquoted.

    As for those other countries that are ahead of us on the road to the EU, it's amazing how Croatia, Serbia, BiH, etc., have managed to meet many of the EU's requirements AND fight all their wars in such a short period of time... I don't think we should learn from them, though.



    Ukraine does not have an Association Agreement with the EU yet - it won't be finalized until next year. Let's hope everything will go smoothly.

  6. The announcement made it pretty certain that the association agreement will be signed as rapidly as possible. One can read it the pdf links near the bottom of the page.

    And, yes, let's hope that everything will go smoothly.

  7. I've just done a quick search of's and Ukrainska Pravda's archives.

    Here is a story (RUS) based on Sarkozy's mistranslated quote:

    And another mention of it in a later piece (RUS):

    And here is Channel 5's mistranslation (UKR):

    And some blogger's reaction (RUS):

    And here is a piece (UKR) from Ukrainska Pravda:

  8. On a slightly different note, here is a link to a Sept. 7 piece on an earlier Sarkozy-related translation mess - a rather subtle case, however, compared to the one of our own (thanks to my brother-in-law, Max, for bringing this to my attention):

    French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Saturday admitted that "a translation problem" had contributed to differences in interpreting a Russia-Georgia peace plan.


    The main linguistic glitch was in a passage in the Russian version that spoke of security "for South Ossetia and Abkhazia," whereas the English version spoke of security "in" the two areas.


    "In the Moscow version, the text refers to security 'for' Abkhazia and 'for' South Ossetia," said the official, speaking to Agence France-Presse on the condition of anonymity.

    "In the document given to the Georgian leaders, it was presented as 'in' Abkhazia and 'in' South Ossetia. It is not the same," he added.

    The wording is significant because it refers to the "buffer zones" that Russia has created in undisputed Georgian territory and that Moscow says are necessary to prevent Georgian forces from threatening the two breakaway provinces. [...]

  9. Good point about the breath-taking progress of the war-ravaged Balkan states, Neeka!

    Geographic proximity and country size often takes priority over membership criteria. In other words, the closer and smaller you are, the more we help you and the faster you become a member.

    Hence, the double standard: Turkey's fault is being part of the "Islamic world" and Ukraine's fault is being part of "Russia's orbit."

    With this kind of open-door policy, the EU is telling Ukraine: "Be all you can be, just don't kill each other so *we* can live happily, absorb our fresh members, and get our gas supplies from Gazprom."