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France's fury with English language in EU: 'Only spoken by five million Irish?'


Francophone campaigners have called for the EU to confirm French as the official language of the bloc, after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to do the same in Quebec. Mr Trudeau will soon amend the Official Languages Act, which has proclaimed English and French as the official languages of the Canadian federal state since 1969, an anonymous government source revealed to La Presse. The news was welcomed by Generation Frexit campaigners, who believe France’s membership in the EU is jeopardising the use of the French language both in France and across the bloc.

They wrote: “The French language will soon be the only officially recognised language in Quebec.

“We welcome this, especially at a time when the EU is pushing Europe towards the generalisation of a ridiculous and unnatural Globish.

“Long live the Francophonie! Let’s take back control.”

The idea the EU should adopt French as its official language does not only lie with those who believe France should leave the EU altogether.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his closest ally Clement Beaune are also urging Brussels to drop English ahead of France’s Presidency of the Council.

The debate has been going on for years.

In 2016, Jean Quatremer, a renowned French political journalist from the daily Libération, complained about the official press statements accompanying the Commission’s economic recommendations to member states.

The statements, eagerly awaited by the press because of the euro debt crisis, were initially only made available to journalists in English, with translations in other languages following hours later in the day.

This, Mr Quatremer said, gave the Anglo-Saxon press an “incredible competitive advantage”, throwing into doubt the institutions’ democratic legitimacy.

He wrote in a strongly-worded blog post: “Can you govern a eurozone, which numbers 330 million citizens, in a language which is only spoken by less than five million Irish? … Well, that is what the European Commission claims to do.”

Former Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said he understood the frustration but urged Mr Quatremer to “accept it” since English had become the most widely spoken language in the EU Executive.

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The documents, Mr Bailly argued, were translated within a few hours into the other EU working languages (French and German) and within two days for the remaining 20 official languages.

Mr Quatremer was not isolated in his quest for more linguistic balance within the EU institutions.

Miguel Angel Martinez Martinez, the former Parliament’s Vice-President in charge of multilingualism, said at the time: “This is one of our struggles – that the press releases and all publications and communications with society (tenders, contracts, etc.) are translated.”

The late Jean-Pierre de Launoit, President of the ‘Alliance Française’, a public association promoting the French language and culture worldwide, said he had long sought to promote linguistic diversity within the European institutions.

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He said during the inauguration of new ‘Alliance Française’ offices in Brussels: “We intervened on several occasions with the European Commission to try to get a better distribution of languages. But it is not easy.”

Asked whether his organisation would be ready to assist the Commission’s translation services, Mr Launoit said he was not opposed to the idea.

He told EURACTIV: “It’s a great suggestion and I think we can possibly talk about that” in future ‘Alliance Française’ meetingS.”

Caring little for Quatremer’s Gallic linguistic pride, British journalists made light of the situation.

A correspondent for the Economist reportedly said on Twitter. “The real insult to France is not to tell them to make reforms, but to publish recommendations in English.”

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