Fears that the importance of the English language throughout Europe would diminish amid the Brexit turmoil, have been deemed unfounded, according to a recent article online.
France had hoped, with the exit of Britain from the EU, that the French language would once again take its place as the language of choice for Europe, and in matters of diplomacy. However, the very opposite appears to have happened.
Instead, the English language has become a ‘neutral’ language for European member states (only Ireland and Malta list it as their official language), with non-French speaking countries such as, Poland and Italy, finding it a preferable ‘common’ language for official communication within the EU.
The use of English as the primary language for the EU has been in the rise for some years, even prior to the Brexit vote. This is in part due to the increase in officials and diplomats from Central and Eastern European countries, who are well versed in English, and whom consider it their second language.
This has given rise to a version of EU-English, sometimes known as ‘Globish’ due to the linguistic eccentricities, and it has become so popular that several organisations have made behind-the-scenes efforts to improve their efficiency by either, prioritising an English-only format, or adding English to meetings where French had previously been used.
French Socialist MEP, Sylvie Guillaume, claimed recently that “After Brexit, there’s a big temptation to make English the language of reference even more in the future.” However, she suggests this could lead to issues around understanding, and a lack of linguistic refinement, due to “speaking a language without subtlety on sensitive subjects.”
In recent years, the European Parliament has even stopped sending one translator for every language spoken by its MEPs during some foreign missions, as it was deemed unnecessary due to many meetings being conducted in English. Instead, the institution now prioritises English translators, if MEPs who participate in the mission speak English.
During a recent diplomatic meeting, the French EU ambassador, Phillipe Leglise-Costa, walked out when his request for multi-lingual translations were refused, in favour of an English-language translation.
However, the most dramatic shift in languages is taking place at the European Court of Justice. The French language has traditionally been used here since 1952 when the first seven judges were all French-speaking, and the U.K. was not part of the European Coal and Steel Community.
A spokesperson from the European Court of Justice said an enquiry into using English, alongside French, has been launched, as the court is “constantly reflecting on the way it can preserve and improve its efficiency”.
It seems that many French diplomats already assume it is a lost cause, with senior French MEP, Alain Lamassoure, stating “the French language has occupied a dominant position but I wouldn’t know how to maintain that.”
His views were echoed by Emmanuel Macron who said “This domination [of English] is not inevitable,” but it will be “up to us to simply get some rules back in place … occupy some places again”.
Macron added that “English is not destined to be the only foreign language Europeans speak”.
However, Mario Monti, the former Italian prime minister and European commissioner, suggests that English should become the EU’s main official language once the U.K. leaves. Speaking at the Foreign Press Association Media Awards in London, Monti said French should be side-lined and English given a more prominent role.
At present, English is the most frequently used language, with French being the second. Any legislative act is translated in to English, French and German.
80% of the Commission’s officials speak French as either their primary, second or third language, with an additional 422 interpreters listing French as one of their available languages.
For now though, we will have to wait and see what changes Brexit will bring, not only to the language of Europe, but also to the economic climate.