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Calls in France for English to be ditched as EU language
Photo: AFP

Calls in France for English to be ditched as EU language

AFP/The Local · 27 Jun 2016, 15:27

Published: 27 Jun 2016 15:27 GMT+02:00

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French purists have never taken kindly to having English thrust upon them, and some have seized upon Brexit as a chance to rid themselves of Shakespeare's language -- at least at EU headquarters.

The shock of the decision across the Channel to break with the European Union had barely begun to sink in when two French politicians demanded that Britain, before shutting the door, take its language along with it.

"The English language no longer has any legitimacy in Brussels," tweeted the far-right mayor of the southern town of Beziers, Robert Menard.

The disdain for the English language appeared to cross all political divides, as the leader of the far-left Left Party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, tweeted: "English can no-longer be the third working language of the European parliament."

Several tweeters asked Menard and Melenchon what the majority English speaking Irish would do, should English disappear.

Too bad, Menard implied, pointing out that Ireland's first language was officially Gaelic.

Though there are 24 'official languages' of the EU, the bloc's institutions use three 'working languages' to conduct everyday business - German, French and English. This is based on the fact that these are the three largest countries in the union.

Dave Keating, who runs the blog Brussels2Berlin, has written previously about the issue of whether France could oust English as an official language in the UK leaves the EU.

He says there is one big hitch.

“The 'three working language' rule has never been codified into law; so there would be no 'legal' basis on which France could challenge the predominance of English, since technically all 24 languages are equal. 

And he says the French would find it difficult to oust English from its place as the main de facto EU working language.

"The forces that have made English so powerful are more cultural than governmental," writes Keating.

"Why do all these young civil servants coming from Eastern Europe speak English? Because they've been watching American television and movies their entire lives. It has little to do with the UK.

"It isn't only in Europe that English is the main means of inter-cultural communication. It is a global phenomenon. A Brexit isn't going to change that.

"So while it might seem a strange situation for a post-Brexit EU to continue using English as its main language, I can't see it going any other way. 

"But, I imagine, that wouldn't stop the French from trying."

ALSO: Could France really oust English as official EU language?

Story continues below…

Nevertheless the European commissioner for Economy, Germany’s Günther Oettinger has already dismissed Melenchon’s call for English to be ditched as an official language.

Not least because of the fact that both Ireland and Malta are English speaking.

“We have a number of member states who speak English and English is the global language that we accept,” said Oettinger.

And the commissioner also suggested there may soon be another English speaking nation in the EU – Scotland.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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