French is one of the three working languages used by the European Commission – the executive branch of the European Union. According to statistics, at least 80 percent of its officials speak French as a first, second or third language. However, of late, French has reportedly seen its prominence diminished in favour of English.
As France gears up to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union next year, President Emmanuel Macron is reportedly harbouring covert plans of replacing English with French at all EU meetings in Brussels, according to Politico.
English is currently in use as the “working language” of the EU at high-level meetings of representatives of the 27-member bloc.
Macron hopes to implement the new rule, claim sources cited by the outlet, after France takes control of the six-month EU presidency from January to June in 2022. This will be the country’s first stint since Nicolas Sarkozy was president in 2008. Furthermore, it is also suggested that the French President will snub letters sent by the European Commission if they are drafted in English.
“We will always ask the Commission to send us in French the letters it wishes to address to the French authorities, and if they fail to do so, we will wait for the French version before sending it,” a French diplomat was cited by the outlet as saying.
In line with the purportedly mulled takeover scheme, minutes and official documents are also expected to be communicated in French.
“Even if we admit that English is a working language and it is commonly practised, the basis to express oneself in French remains fully in place in the EU institutions. We must enrich it, and make it live again so that the French language truly regains ground, and above that, the taste and pride of multilingualism,” the source was cited as adding.
French is one of the EU’s three ‘working languages’, alongside English and German.
However, in April, EU affairs minister Clement Beaune and secretary of state Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said that the presidency created “an opportunity to hold high this vital fight for multilingualism.”
Use of French in Brussels “had diminished to the benefit of English, and more often to Globish – that ersatz of the English language, which narrows the scope of one’s thoughts, and restricts one’s ability to express him or herself”, they were quoted as saying in an article for Le Figaro.
As part of the scheme said to be considered by the French government, money could be put aside for language lessons for EU diplomats.
However, the move has purportedly sparked sharp backlash criticism from EU insiders.
Politico cited an unnamed diplomat as expressing concerns over the detrimental fallout from the potential move, saying:
“Many national delegates in EU working groups simply don’t understand or speak French. It’s hoped that France will ultimately follow a pragmatic language approach.”