Articles > EU State of the Union address reading easeby 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 American 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 the other, the most recent being Ursula von der Leyen’s on September, 13 2023.
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. Three 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, 3rd 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker, from November, 1st 2014 to November, 30 2019, and Ursula von der Leyen since December, 1st 2019. If the first two were members of the European People’s Party, a conservative and center-right European political party, Ursula von der Leyen is a member of the CDU, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, a liberal-conservative political party of Germany. As Ursula von der Leyen took her function on December, 1st 2019, there was no State of the Union address that year, such as when Jean-Claude Juncker took his on November 2014.
The Portuguese José Manuel Durão Barroso had a slightly lower reading ease for his addresses than the Luxembourgish Juncker. They were also shorter than Juncker’s in average: about 5,300 words compared with about 6,820 words. The German Ursula von der Leyen does not have the longest discourse this year again with her only 6,800 words, as Juncker beat her up with his 10,037 words address of September 2015. Her reading ease is going lower and lower year after year, scoring a medium 61.15 on the Flesch Kincaid index for her four addresses, slightly above the latest three addresses by Juncker. Her readability is thus of the same level as the Reader’s Digest or Sports Illustrated, but closing on Time: she’s now understandable by late teenagers it seems.
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.”
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.
|Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score and meaning|
|90 to 100||easily understood by an average 11-year-old student|
|70 to 90||fairly easy to easy|
Consumer ads in magazines
|60 to 70||easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students|
Reader’s Digest, Sports Illustrated
|50 to 60||fairly difficult|
New York Daily News, Atlantic Monthly, Time
|30 to 50||difficult|
Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Harvard Law Review
|Less than 30||best understood by university graduates|
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).