Silliness or spite?

The latest antics of Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission President, will do nothing at all to improve the atmosphere for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. In a speech in Florence, he claimed that “slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe.” He then switched into French and drew applause from his audience of EU officials, local leaders and Italian students.

This follows on from claims made a few days after the Brexit vote last June by Danuta Hübner, a Polish MEP who was formerly a Commissioner, that English will lose its status as an official EU language after Brexit.

“We have a regulation…where every EU country has the right to notify one official language,” she said. “The Irish have notified Gaelic, and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you have only the U.K. notifying English. If we don’t have the U.K., we don’t have English.”

Is this pure silliness or spite?  Given she is Polish, Hübner’s claims are particularly daft. The UK joined the EU in 1973 and although English then became an official EU language, French continued to be the principal language within the institutions. Not until 2004 when Poland, along with nine other countries, joined did English then take its place alongside French in official communications. In other words, it was not because of us but because many of the staff and MEPs from the new accession countries who spoke very poor French but spoke English pretty well. There is therefore a strong irony in especially an Eastern European seeming so keen to rob English of its official status given that its higher profile in the EU came about for the benefit of her countrymen and women.

As a former employee of the European Parliament myself, I can vouch for the excellence of language tuition in the EU’s institutions and no doubt the many Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and others will end up speaking good French after two or three years at these classes, but however spiteful, the EU may feel towards us, any attempt to squeeze our language out of the corridors of Brussels is as futile as King Knut’s alleged attempts to stop the tide coming in. English is the language of IT, the language of world trade and the second most widely spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese. No amount of hostility towards our language on account of its associations with Brexit, is going to change this one iota.

As for Mr Juncker, he has been playing the old game popular with British Europhiles of confusing the EU and Europe. I doubt if he will ever manage banish English from the EU’s institutions, but even if I am wrong here, that is as far as I will go. English will not lose its importance in the classrooms and the TV channels of the real world beyond the European Quarter in Brussels. After all, most people do not want a job in this strange parallel universe and whatever the citizens of EU-27 may think of our decision to leave, they are far too pragmatic. They will not be as stupid as to cut off their nose to spite their face – or should I say, pace Mr Juncker, “couper le nez en depit de leur visage?”

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John Petley

John Petley

John Petley is Operations Manager for Campaign for an Independent Britain

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3 comments

  1. John Petley
    John PetleyReply

    Eric Brown has made the following comment:-

    John Petley rightly points out how since its inception and till now, French has been ‘the principal language of the EEC/EU within its institutions’. That will not change, even if the UK were to go back on Brexit and stay in the EU..

    For English to lose its status as the first foreign language of most EU member states would mean that the education authorities of those countries would have to take steps to change that policy and replace English with French. Where would they suddenly find all the teachers of French to implement this policy, let alone the wherewithal to do so, and would the business community, who often trade in English with the world outside the EU, welcome such a policy? English, after all, is the lingua franca of international trade.

    Gaelic, or Irish as it is officially called, may be regarded as the Republic of Ireland’s official language, but about one per cent of the population have it as a mother tongue and of the non-native speakers only a small percentage of the population are genuinely competent, fluent Irish speakers. Are Irish MEPs and officials going to welcome English being banned as a language of communication in EU discussions?

    As for Malta, Maltese may be the official language but most Maltese are bilingual speakers of Maltese and English. English is the language of tourism on Malta and Gozo; and how likely are Maltese officials to be able to communicate with an official from another EU state in Maltese? Obviously, both parties will choose English.

    English may no longer remain the ‘notified’ language of any EU member state – to quote Danuta Hübner – but it will continue to be the most popular language of oral communication across the EU.

  2. Gordon WebsterReply

    I agree with Eric regarding the Irish and Gaelic. It is no more than a romantic notion, which precious few Irish take much notice of. I have many friends in the Irish Republic, and only one of them knows any Gaelic.
    As for Ms Hubner, I think her pronouncements are more a case of panic at Brexit than considered thought. Of all Eastern European States, Poland has gained the most from Britain being in the EU. It has sent us nearly 2 million people as cheap labour, or to live on Benefits, while sending a large amount of money home – even Child Tax Ccredits and Child Benefits for children who may never set foot in Britain. It has enjoyed the transfer of factories, paid for by Brussels, to Poland, with the loss of thousands of jobs here – a case in point being NCR’s manufacture of ATM’s, now in Poland with the loss of 1500 jobs in Dundee, where the things were invented. Without Britain to asset strip and raid financially, Poland will be infinitely poorer, and they know it.

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