England may be out of the EU, but English hasn’t disappeared anywhere. On the contrary, its position as a first language in Brussels is more solid than ever. This has long been a sore point for some French officials.
Today, President Emmanuel Macron’s government decided to take the language war to court following the European Commission’s recent decision to hire new civil servants using a selection process including certain tests that are only given in English.
The French government has filed two complaints with the European Court of Justice, one of which was published on Monday.
France says English-only tests violate EU treaties because they discriminate against non-English speakers. This may be true in this case, but the Luxembourg Court will not succeed in reversing the trend.
Veterans of the Brussels bubble say that French and English, followed by German, were roughly equal in terms of usage in the 1980s and 1990s.
The big change in favor of English speaking is the result of the EU’s expansion in 2004 and 2007 towards Central and Eastern Europe.
With the possible exception of Romania, which is a member of the French-speaking community, English is the second language in most of these states. Since then, the French language – at least in European institutions – has been in decline.
This journalist worked for almost six years in the European Parliament. At the time, some French MEPs were known to refuse to speak English during meetings negotiating legislative amendments or the text of resolutions.
This was a very effective political tactic since the other deputies and collaborators responded in French with varying degrees of quality. All complaints about the French-only rule have been met with the retort: “why should we all speak English”?
This answer was correct. The only difference was that the British – including this journalist – were generally such poor linguists that their inability to speak French, or for that matter other EU languages, was the result of their incompetence rather than chauvinism .
This microcosm perhaps explains the lamentable quality of so many parliamentary reports. This also explains why Euro-English, which is a very different language from the language of Shakespeare, has become the reference language of the EU. lingua franca.
In 2022, the French EU presidency adopted a similar tactic by making a point of ensuring that all meetings and preparatory notes would be in French.
The English-speaking trend has not been significantly affected by Brexit. Although EU institutions will no longer hire British staff, most British EU civil servants have remained in Brussels, acquiring Belgian or EU nationality.
Beyond bringing together French officials at the upper echelons of European institutions, it is difficult to see how France could win the battle for linguistic supremacy. English, it seems, is not just for the English.
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Be careful with…
- AI Safety Summit 2023 in Buckinghamshire from Wednesday to Thursday.
- Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meets with the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Presidents of the Council of Ministers.
Opinions are those of the author
(Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Nathalie Weatherald)