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A (blatantly) English-speaking Commission?

Jean Quatremer, correspondent in Belgium and the European Union for the French daily “Liberation”

Jean Quatremer is angry and noticed it on his blog.

During a European Commission conference on the Eurozone Member States’ economic situation, the “Libération” French permanent correspondent in Belgium and the EU discovered the part concerning France was initially written in English. Annoyed, the journalist demanded some explanations to one of the Commission spokesperson – a French-speaking man – even if the French version of the report has been available some hours after finally. More or less embarrassed, Olivier Bailly wanted to be comprehensive explaining to Quatremer English is the most used language within the Commission and it is needed to accept this situation.

These explanations did not convince the French journalist considering there was a big violation of the EU law requiring that the twenty-three national languages of the EU Member States are the official languages of the Union. Moreover, it is not the first time, such a controversy happens. On September 2010, Viviane Reading (coming from Luxembourg and perfect French-speaking woman), vis-à-vis the tension between Commission and France on the Roma issue, moralized the François Fillon government for breaking the EU law. This intervention was remarkable and hard-hitting but done… in English, provoking the Jean Quatremer’s anger.

Even if the controversy seems to be exaggerated, it remains relevant especially when we notice the evolution of the European Commission nowadays. The Commission seems to be more and more English-speaking and less and less multilingual which may be logical within the European civil service but more and more problematic when the European Union directly speaks to European citizens and to members of the Member State mainly, as it was the case for France, several times.

As Jean Quatremer underlines, this attitude reinforces the idea that Commission – and the European Union in large way – appears as a stranger body, an external authority being there to give orders to Member States, whatever the respect of their sovereignty. Commission seems more and more far and unable to speak a language a Member State’s citizens understand, which reinforces a certain distrust and euro-scepticism, more and more present in the ballots as the recent French presidential elections and the 2009 European one showed.

The European Union – and one of its institutions, the Commission – might be more credible and popular if it was more close to citizens concretely, which suppose it speaks in a understandable language for everybody and not by everybody. This is extremely important if the Union wants to be totally legitimistic vis-à-vis the Member States’ populations. As Jean Quatremer wrote on his blog, “it is not by chance if I’m feeling myself Brussels as a stranger body although I’ve covered Europe for twenty-two years now. I don’t recognize myself neither in its language, nor in its expression, nor its communication, anymore”

This new controversy shows once again the languages issue should be more regarded especially it concerns not 30 000 European civil servants but hundreds of millions of European citizens in which the largest part doesn’t master the English language. It is a question of respect and also of credibility, if the EU wants to effective and regarded at the national scale (which suppose its institutions respect the European law at least!)

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