E.coli outbreak highlights how difficult it is to manage communication on such delicate issues:
In the space of a few days, the health-conscious German nation has become a crisis zone. It was somewhat reassuring that cucumbers from Spain could be quickly identified as the source of infection. However, in the end, that lead has proved to be false, but has nevertheless had a serious economic impact upon Spanish farmers.
It then appeared that the e.coli outbreak had been tracked down to a farm in Northern Germany. This now seems to be another false lead.
The issue of public health is a very sensitive one. Politicians must strike a balance between making the seriousness of the issue clear to the people, and not frightening them unnecessarily. And then there are the economic consequences.
Wrong information, a rash statement or an ill-kept secret may lead to a spiral of public alarm with disastrous results. This is a rule of thumb that any modern and mature society should respect to the utmost.
Using language correctly is also very important. Conveying the message in the right way is critical in politics as well as in business. When dealing in a cross-cultural setting such as the EU, a good understanding of the language is critical, lest the use of a wrong phrase or a word used out of context, causes offence.
Relationships take time to forge, but can be undone very quickly if the wrong word or expression is used. This applies even more to sensitive issues such as the e.coli outbreak. The Germans were understandably quick to warn people about the dangers of eating salad vegetables. In so doing they indirectly accused the Spanish of causing this outbreak. And the Spanish, understandably, took offence. The damage to the Spanish agricultural sector is enormous, but the loss of so many lives and the illness caused is also tragic. There are no winners. The language the Germans now use toward the Spanish may need to be conciliatory but in the end this is a European problem and we must find a solution at a European level.