The Strategist

English may lose status of the European Commission's official language

06/28/2016 - 17:55

Brexit would diminish status of the English language in the EU institutions. According to The Wall Street Journal, French and German languages are going to be heralds of the new era. Two EU officials commented that the European Commission has taken a symbolic decision to predominantly use the two languages in its press statements and public appearances.

Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier via flickr
Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier via flickr
The EU has 24 official languages, but the European Commission’s employees use only English, German and French. English is the most popular, in particular because it is spoken in Ireland and Malta, writes the WSJ. In addition, it is actively used at European central banks, and is official for many non-native English speaking politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, journalists and other experts working in Brussels and Strasbourg. 

However, Chairman of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday intends to appeal to the European Parliament only in French and German, whereas before he used all three languages. On Friday and weekends, Juncker has already given an interview in German only. According to officials, it was his conscious decision. On a daily press briefing on Monday, chief press secretary of the EC Margaritis Schinas appealed to journalists only in French. Before, he usually started his speech in English and French. Later, however, he still used English to answer questions.

Frequent use of French and German will create problems for international journalists in Brussels, said Pablo Rodriguez, a correspondent for the Spanish El Mundo. They need to explain nuances of European politics to their readers, but now, according to Rodriguez, "80% of the journalists working there have serious problems with understanding details."

Cecilia Wikström, a member of the European Parliament from Sweden, believes that Brexit will make English a foreign language for majority of people inside the EU structures, which will make communication more equitable. So far, the British, in her opinion, have had the linguistic advantage. Now, English will be native for only 5 million Irish and Maltese, i.e., for 1% of the population of the EU countries, which amounts to about 500 million people.

French politicians and officials have already clutched the possibility to make French the EU’s main official language. "The English cannot be the third working language of the European Parliament", wrote on Twitter Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a European Parliament member who intends to run for the French presidency. "The English language has lost legitimacy in Brussels", - the Financial Times quoted Robert Menard, Mayor of the city of Beziers in southern France.

The use of English greatly expanded after 10 new countries-members entered the EU in 2004. These were states of Eastern Europe, as well as Malta and Cyprus, and representatives of all of these countries preferred to speak English rather than French or German.

Among the citizens of EU countries, including the UK, more than 51% speak English as a first or second language, 32% - German, and 26% - French, says the FT.

The referendum on the UK's membership in the EU was held on June 23. According to official data, 51.9% of the citizens voted to leave the EU. A meeting of the European Council, where leaders of the remaining 27 countries will discuss the events of last Thursday, is scheduled for Tuesday. British Prime Minister David Cameron will attend the EU summit to inform his colleagues about the situation after the referendum. After that, the summit will proceed without the British politician.