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EUROPEAN UNION

Calls in France for English to be ditched as EU language

Some in France suggest it's time to end the dominance of English as the EU's working language, now that the UK has voted to leave the union.

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

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?

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.

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EUROPEAN UNION

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.

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