EU State of the Union address reading ease

by Alexis Ulrich

The European Union State of the Union address is the annual speech addressed by the President of the European Commission to the European Parliament plenary session in September. This speech takes stock of the action of the EU executive while outlining future proposals from the European Commission for the coming year. In a sense, it is a copycat from the US State of the Union address given by the president.
Like any political discourse, it must remain understandable. This text readability, which evolves with the style of each president, can be compared from one year to another.
In this interactive infographics, I have used the Flesch Kincaid reading ease index: the higher this index, the easier the readability. The circles size depends on the number of words in that year speech.

Presidents in order of reading level

The president of the European Commission has a five-year mandate. Only two presidents have been appointed since 2010, the year of the first State of the Union address: José Manuel Durão Barroso from November, 22 2004 to November, 3 2014, and Jean-Claude Juncker, since November, 1 2014. Both are members of the European People’s Party, a conservative and center-right European political party. As Jean-Claude Juncker took his function on November 2014, there was no State of the Union address that year.
The Portuguese José Manuel Durão Barroso had a slightly lower reading ease for his addresses than the Luxembourgish Juncker. They were also two times shorter than Juncker’s in average: about 5,300 words compared with about 8,000 words.

1. José Manuel Durão Barroso (2010 to 2014)
Average reading ease: 54
“We will match monetary union with true economic union.”
2. Jean-Claude Juncker (from 2014)
Average reading ease: 54.2
“This is not the time for business as usual.”

Treaty of Lisbon

The annex IV(5) of the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force on December, 1 2009, states that:

“Each year in the first part-session of September, a State of the Union debate will be held in which the President of the Commission shall deliver an address, taking stock of the current year and looking ahead to priorities for the following years. To that end, the President of the Commission will in parallel set out in writing to Parliament the main elements guiding the preparation of the Commission Work Programme for the following year.”

Readability measures

There are many different formulas to measure the readability of an English text. The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease index takes into account the number of words per sentence and the number of syllables per word. The longer the sentences and the longer the words, the lower the resulting index.
Plain English has a reading ease score of 60. A text scoring between 50 and 60 is considered difficult (the Time has a score of 52).

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score and meaning
90 to 100easily understood by an average 11-year-old student
70 to 90fairly easy to easy
Consumer ads in magazines
60 to 70easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students
Reader’s Digest, Sports Illustrated
50 to 60fairly difficult
New York Daily News, Atlantic Monthly, Time
30 to 50difficult
Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Harvard Law Review
Less than 30best understood by university graduates

Source: European Union