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The semantics of the Recovery and Resilience Facility

Rui Viana Pereira, 14/02/2022
(This is an automatic translation. It may contain errors or misunderstandings. The accurate version is the Portuguese version.)

Lexicometry can help identify the dominant concepts of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (MRR), the themes absent from it and the way in which the public authorities construct a semantics capable of concealing the interests of the ruling classes in the current crisis.1 In this dissertation we leave some clues on the interest of semantic analysis of European directives for the understanding of their policy objectives.

Figure 1: Co-occurrence tree of the concepts expressed in the Recovery and Resilience Facility. (We have not yet been able to do the same analysis for the English version of the text.)
The size of the letters of each word is proportional to the number of times it occurs throughout the text. The words are graphically organised by their proximity in the construction of the sentences (co-occurrence) and the thickness of the branches connecting them reflects their degree of significant interconnection (click on the image to enlarge). It is especially noticeable in this infographic that everything revolves around the concept of «dever» (note that in Portuguese the word «dever» [duty | obligation | to have to] can be a noun or a verb and denotes indifferently a moral obligation, a legal obligation or a debt obligation).

The defenders of the interests of Capital systematically resort to two major weapons to weaken the struggle of the exploited: divisive manoeuvres and semantic manoeuvres. In addition to these two, there is the use of repressive manoeuvres (some subtle, some crude), which define the genesis of the state itself and are used as a last resort, when all else fails.

The first of these weapons, divisionism, is well known, even if it is difficult to annul. In order to prevent the tiny privileged 1% from colliding head-on with the 99% of the dispossessed, sedentary workers are pitted against migrants, men against women, the employed against the unemployed, young newcomers to the labour market against workers with acquired rights, the countryside against the city, graduates against illiterates. As long as the oppressed and exploited focus on their apparent differences, they leave the common enemy unscathed.

The second major weapon of the defenders of Capital is less trumpeted, but no less effective. It is the constant semantic change of the dominant discourse, which prevents the crystallisation of a collective consciousness. While the central ideas of the exploiters (their interests) remain unchanged over many generations, the vocabulary used to express them changes regularly. While the sciences in general and political economy in particular seek to stabilise their signs, to build a permanent vocabulary that allows the scientific community to remain cohesive and dialoguing, to avoid fuelling misunderstandings, to transmit a vast body of stable and gauged knowledge generation after generation, Capital seeks to do exactly the opposite: it regularly changes the signifying symbols through which it presents its historical narrative and its project for society. This semiotic whirlwind has a disorientating effect on the popular camp, which needs a lot of time to: 1) understand the core of the capitalist project; 2) generate an alternative, unifying narrative; 3) organise itself around its own interests and act on social reality. As a rule, when these three times are close to maturity and about to produce a mobilising effect, Capital takes the initiative in effecting a change of vocabulary and narrative, leaving the Labour2 camp completely disorientated. This would not necessarily have to be the case if the camp of the oppressed were able to take the initiative and consign the patrons to a defensive position, but unfortunately this is what happens in the overwhelming majority of historical cases. The question of initiative is crucial in the play of forces between exploited and exploiters.

Put in these terms, it may seem as if we are dealing with purely theoretical questions, far removed from everyday reality. However, when we confront this theory with some practical examples, we see that it is something very down to earth, that constantly crosses our daily lives.

Thus, for example, we see that every 10 or 15 years the dominant semantics regarding the debt system changes. In 2011, the Portuguese were crushed by a discourse that justified the brutal indebtedness of the country for the exclusive benefit of a tiny minority (the bankers). This discourse was based on the idea that all of us, including the most miserable, had spent too much, that social services were causing unbearable deficit, that demographic evolution was making the contributory pension system unsustainable, etc. It was the discourse of blame, to make people swallow the pill. It took almost 10 years for some sectors of the population to begin to understand that the debt contracts imposed by the Troika (guarded from public view) expressly stated that the loans could only be used to recapitalise the banks, and that the country would be severely punished if it dared to use these funds for social purposes; that the evolution of the age pyramid does not reduce the number of people available to work and therefore to support the contributory pension system, on the contrary it increases it (what weakens the contributory system is unemployment and low wages, not the median age of people); that the question of profit and loss does not arise at all in relation to social services (health, education, culture, housing, teaching, sanitation, neighbourhood care, etc.), for the simple reason that these services do not need to have an exchange value in order to exist, but always have a very high use value, a vital value.

When this awareness began to strengthen, the dominant discourse suddenly changed shape. The game was back to square one and now the deconstruction of the dominant discourse has to be restarted.

Have the European powers come to regret austerity?

In numerous passages in the RRF there seems to be a kind of implicit mea culpa in relation to the previous discourse, which aimed to justify illegitimate indebtedness and austerity measures. Thus, for example, building future resilience in the health sector would now entail a revitalisation of health services ... previously destroyed by neoliberal austerity measures.

Is this really the case? Are European and national authorities really sorry that they have undermined public health services, destroying resilience, for example in the face of an unexpected pandemic ..., that they have weakened public systems of education, scientific research, communications, leaving us unable to take full advantage of the digital age ..., that they have promoted the savage exploitation of the environment and natural resources? Since the popular camp has not taken the initiative (with a few exceptions on the environment and climate change), it is now obliged to restart a lengthy process of deconstructing the dominant narrative from scratch.

A new vocabulary concealing new and broader processes of indebtedness

As already stated in the presentation of this booklet, we are facing the creation of new forms of indebtedness even more vast and overwhelming than those we were used to. Unfortunately, the new forms of indebtedness are presented to us through a misleading semantics, which skilfully calls the indebtedness process subventions.


Dominant lemmas Occurrences













































































Table 1: (Note: To date we could not carry out a lexicometric analysis of the English text)
Predominant active lemmas (frequency >=20) in the RRF.3 It is remarkable that in this list of occurrences of the main 38 lemmas we only find 4 verbs (i.e. 4 denoting lemmas for action): dever [debt | to must], incluir [to indlude], assegurar [to insure], apresentar [to present]. The lemma dever, which can function both as a verb and as a noun in Portuguese and it denotes either debt, moral obligation and legal obligation, is absolutely dominant, with twice as many occurrences as «recovery and resilience».

The core concepts of the Resilience and Recovery Facility

Two of the core themes of the RRM are expressed in the very title of the document: recovery and resilience.

The concept of resilience is not in doubt, as it is defined in Article 2 of Regulation (EU) 2021/241 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12/02/2021 establishing the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, and does not depart significantly from common sense:

«"resilience" means the ability to face economic, social and environmental shocks or persistent structural changes in a fair, sustainable and inclusive way»

However, the concept of recovery, which is also central to European directives, is not included in the set of definitions in the aforementioned article. This is not surprising, since the idea of recovery goes to the heart of the matter: whose recovery?4 The core interests at stake (class interests) are carefully silenced in all Union documents, as if they never existed on the face of the earth.5

«The RRF is undoubtedly a recovery and resilience plan. More exactly, it is a plan for the recovery and resilience of capital. [...] The truth is this: the RRF, the recovery and resilience of capital, are made at the expense of workers' misery and the destruction of organised labour.»6

Another elusive idea in EU documents linked to the RRF concerns the origin of financial resources. The best approximation to this question is found in the aforementioned Article 2, where it defines «Union Funds». Unfortunately, this is a tautological definition (in short: «"Union funds" means funds covered by a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down
common provisions on the European Funds»
). Moreover, tautologies are a recurrent vice in the RRF.

We have to dig through other EU documents to find clues about the financing of the RRF. These clues come to light on an EU page entitled «The EU as a borrower - investor relations». There we finally see that we are dealing with a massive borrowing programme at EU level.

Of course, the idea of funds is present in the documents relating to the Recovery and Resilience Facility, it is not totally hidden from our view, but as it is never defined there, nor are its real mechanisms clarified, the average citizen does not realise its implications. For ordinary people, the idea of funds has to do, above all, with a piggy bank, savings and solidarity contributions. But these forms of provident accumulation of resources have nothing to do with the exploitation of our fellow human beings; they serve only personal or mutual survival.

The «funds» referred to in EU documents are of a quite different kind: they are the result of speculative, usurious raising of financial resources, the accumulation of capital with the specific aim of bringing about indebtedness, i.e. political subjugation and the extraction of rents (interest) which will be paid by ordinary citizens, for the benefit of an already privileged minority. «Fund», in Anglophone and financial terminology (e.g., International Monetary Fund), means a financial market operation to feed a present or future debt, paid at the expense of the common good.

This is how a simple semantic misunderstanding can convince entire populations that the RRF seeks the «common good», when in reality it seeks the good of a financial elite.

Mea culpa or fireworks?

As I have already mentioned, the text of the RRF seems to reflect an implicit reneging on many of the neoliberal policies previously adopted. Many of the proposals and guidelines put forward in the document amount to a shameful admission of the disastrous results of the austerity imposed by the very same authorities during the previous political cycle.

In fact, in several passages the recitals of the MRR explicitly warn of:

  • the harmful effects of the weakness of public health services and the need to strengthen them;
  • the worsening situation of women due to impoverishment and economic and social disorganisation;
  • the need to re-equip public teaching and research services, as well as to increase the number of staff placed there and to dignify them;
  • to reinforce various other types of public service, namely proximity care and various other mechanisms linked to social reproduction;
  • reinstate collective bargaining;
  • reduce labour precariousness (these are not the words used) and give conditions of stability and dignity to the workers (remark: however, there is never any talk of repealing the laws that deregulated labour relations and weakened the negotiating capacity of the workers);
  • develop and adopt open digital solutions;
  • etc.

Each one of these statements comes up against several indications that point in the opposite direction – that is, that lead us to believe that the supposed mea culpa is, in reality, a semantic ploy. We will try to deal with this, component by component, in the remaining articles in this dossier.



[1] In this study we used the Iramuteq application to do the lexicometry of RRF. We are not experts in the field and therefore we have no pretensions of doing a refined lexicometric analysis. We only intend to point auxiliary clues for a content analysis.

[2] The notion of Labour is to be understood in the broadest sense: it includes all types of labour, whether paid or unpaid, voluntary or forced, productive and mercantile or non-mercantile and linked to social reproduction (and therefore mostly unrecognised and unpaid). By contrast, the notion of Capital must be understood in strict sense: it refers to the accumulation of resources only when it serves to exploit the labour of others; the corner grocery store, where only the owner's relatives work, is not capital; the pool of resources accumulated in a public hospital or a state multimedia department is not capital.

[3] Frequency, in lexicometry, is synonymous with «number of occurrences of a lemma within a text».
A lemma is a term denoting a family of words; the lemma "[to] invest", for example, groups all the forms of the verb appearing in the text. A frequency=7 for the lemma investment means that the sum of the occurrences of the words investment and investments is equal to 7.
Active forms are those lemmas/concepts considered more important in a given text, i.e., capable of producing meaning in the given context.
Supplementary forms are words which, although they are essential to the construction of sentences, are not considered to carry any meaning in the context in question.
For example, the words Portugal, PRR, investment and employment are considered active forms; the words like, which, to, for, one, before, are considered supplementary forms, as well as [to] be, [to] have, and are not counted.
Methodological note: all direct references to regulations and laws have been subtracted from the lexicometric tables.

[04] The exercise of politics, which so many people seem to have enormous difficulty in understanding and defining, consists quite simply of managing the multiple interests at stake in a society. That is why all political quests, including this one, must begin and end with this simple question: who? for whom?

[5] Strictly speaking, this is not exactly true. Official EU documents sometimes refer to specific sectors of society (women, children, migrants, etc.). But it should be noted that these are subclasses, referring to the divisive manoeuvres already mentioned, and concealing the major social categories – notably the distinction between Capital and Labour, between exploited and exploiters. The pernicious effect of this concealment of the major social categories is perfectly scaled, for example, in the manifesto «Feminism for the 99%», by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser, 2021.

[6] Adriano Zilhão, «O Que É o PRR e a Quem Serve a Bazuca?» («What Is the RRP and Who Does the Bazooka Serve?»), Via Esquerda, 22/03/2021.


Sources and references

See the general list of sources and references in this booklet.


Index of this dossier

The Recovery and Resilience Facility
themes: European Union, RRF

visits (all languages): 72

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