France to oust English as EU’s lingua franca

France is planning to use its EU presidency to oust English as the bloc’s most common tongue.

hen Paris takes over the rotating presidency of the EU council in 2022, French diplomats will conduct key meetings and working groups in French, with notes taken mainly in the language, and translations will not always be provided, an EU diplomat said yesterday. 

France will also dedicate more funding to giving out free language classes for diplomats who may wish to learn la langue de Moliere.

The move, while common during French presidencies of the council, takes particular significance at a time when the country is pushing to promote Francophonie as part of its cultural heritage, within EU institutions and beyond.

“Even though the French language is alive, flourishing and its teaching is developing around the world, it is at home within the European institutions that it suffers,” Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, wrote in an opinion piece in April.

“In the commission, in the council, in the agencies, bodies and administrations, meetings are now too often held in English, giving rise to reports in English, even though this language is now no more than that of two member states,” he added.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has pushed initiatives to boost French learning across the world and promote plurilingualism.

French is one of the EU’s three working languages, which also include English and German, and one of 24 official languages. It used to be the dominant language in EU diplomatic circles in the predominantly francophone city of Brussels, but the expansion of the bloc in 2004 to include eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic saw its usage decline.

Meanwhile the use of English the most spoken language in Europe rose in the corridors of EU institutions in the city, pushed by a large number of speakers of English as a second language and bolstered by the importance of Britain within the bloc.

But with Brexit leaving only Ireland and Malta as EU countries where English is an official language, its dominance could be at risk.

Around 80pc of European Commission staff already spoke French as their first, second or third language as of 2020, according to the body.

Already, letters arriving from the European Commission in English go unanswered. “When a [French] commissioner receives a letter in English, we wait for the French version before we hand it over to Paris,” an EU diplomat said, in French.

“We will speak French during the council’s working groups. Some of the working groups do not have translation systems. If something has not been understood, on the sidelines of the meeting we will explain it again. We are in Brussels; among the European civil servants there is a vast majority that speaks French.” 

© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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