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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

French language eyes ‘le comeback’ as Britain leaves EU

Once upon a time speaking French was easy in Brussels, but things have changed.

French language eyes 'le comeback' as Britain leaves EU
Will the rest of Europe need to brush up on their French? Photo: Depositphotos
Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, felt that keenly during a recent panel event with European steel-makers after several hours of speaking English with EU counterparts.
 
“Maybe one in French if possible, otherwise I will run the risk of being criticised,” Le Maire, who speaks perfect English, said as he scanned the audience for questions.
 
But raised hands quickly dropped away, leaving just one from a journalist, who asked the question in English anyway.
 
Such is the fate of the speaker of French in today’s EU bubble, that small world of European decision-making where the language of Catherine Deneuve and Moliere was once essential.
 
Even after the shock vote of Brexit, English — or at least that simplified, beat-up version known as Globish — is firmly rooted as the lingua franca of the Brussels elite.
 
“In the last 20 years, English has become completely dominant. French is not going to replace English in any way,” said Nicolas Veyron, one of the most respected economists in Brussels, who spends most of his day speaking English although he is French.
 
That reality stings for French-speaking veterans of the Brussels bubble who remember a time when the top echelon of Europe was a coterie of francophones.   
 
“The retreat of French has been catastrophic,” said Jean Quatremer, the longtime EU correspondent for French daily Liberation who has championed holding the line against the advance of English.
 
“There was a time when everyone in the bubble — commissioners, officials, spokespeople, even (Brexit-backing British foreign minister) Boris Johnson, who was a journalist here — spoke French,” said AFP’s Christian Spillman, who first came to Brussels as a corespondent in 1991.
 
The sea-change for French-speaking came in 2004, when a raft of former Warsaw pact countries entered the union, changing the face of the EU forever.
 
“In came all these new faces and no one spoke French,” said Karen Massin, a prominent Brussels lobbyist from France who began her career in European affairs at that time.  “That was the real shift and the EU professional world switched totally to English.”
 
‘Bastardised’ English
 
This is not to say that French has disappeared — not least because Brussels, the Belgian capital, is francophone.
 
On Tuesday French President Emmanuel Macron is set to announce a plan to promote the French language on the “International Francophonie Day” — the latest in a series of measures by the young French leader to restore the primacy of his native language in Europe and further afield.
 
Officially, along with English and German, French remains a language of business in the EU. Eighty percent of the commission’s roughly 30,000 employees claim it as a first, second or third language, the commission said.
 
“The use of French is now like Italian or Spanish and is mostly linked to nationality. It’s important for networking,” Massin said.
 
Veyron said that while French is not fundamental in Brussels, using it “makes the conversation richer, offers extra meaning, nuance to the discussion”.
 
“I know many people who are not native speakers who enjoy turning to French to add an extra dimension to a conversation,” said the economist.
 
One former EU official, now a national diplomat, concurred. 
 
There is “a lot of French around, no question, but the real difference is that legal texts are almost all now in English.” From that, it quickly follows that a meeting will also veer to English “and that’s probably for the best,” she said.
 
But Quatremer said it created dangers: “You can have 29 people in a room who speak French and all you need is one person who doesn’t and everyone switches to English.”
 
But resorting to “bastardised English” as a common language can lead to “disasters” when laws are being written in a language in which no one involved is a native speaker.
 
Post-Brexit revival?
 
Amid the shock of Brexit, talk in Brussels was that English would be on the decline given that it was only an official language for small members Ireland and Malta.
 
“Slowly but surely, English is losing importance,” quipped Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, before switching to French in a speech last year.
 
But this is true only in nuances, those working inside the EU bubble agreed, though the commission said French speaking entered nearly every meeting.
 
“It’s getting better,” said Beda Romano, the Brussels correspondent for Italy’s Il Sole/24 Ore who speaks French and English flawlessly, describing the presence of other languages instead of English.
 
However, in terms of the most common foreign languages spoken, the linguistic map of Europe still has English in front as the most widely spoken foreign language at 38 percent followed by French at 12 percent.
 
Given the realities, no one believes that a push by France could see French return to its prominence during the EU’s early days.
 
“The so-called francophonie is reliving a sweet dream from the past. Much like the British commonwealth, it’s a nice idea but unattainable,” the lobbyist Massin said.
 
By AFP’s Alex Pigman
For members

BREXIT

French government clarifies post-Brexit rules on pets for second-home owners

Brexit hasn't just brought about changes in passport rules for humans, pets are also affected and now the French government has laid out the rules for pet passports for British second-home owners.

French government clarifies post-Brexit rules on pets for second-home owners

Pre-Brexit, people travelling between France and the UK could obtain an EU Pet Passport for their car, dog or ferret which ensured a hassle-free transport experience.

But since the UK left the EU things have become more complicated – and a lot more expensive – for UK residents wanting to travel to France with pets.

You can find a full breakdown of the new rules HERE, but the main difference for people living in the UK is that that they now need an Animal Health Certificate for travel.

Unlike the Pet Passport, a new ACH is required for each trip and vets charge around £100 (€118) for the certificate. So for people making multiple trips a year, especially those who have more than one pet, the charges can quickly mount up.

UK nationals who live in France can still benefit from the EU Pet Passport, but until now the situation for second-home owners has been a little unclear.

However the French Agriculture ministry has now published updated information on its website.

The rules state: “The veterinarian can only issue a French passport to an animal holding a UK/EU passport issued before January 1st, 2021, after verifying that the animal’s identification number has been registered in the Fichier national d’identification des carnivores domestiques (I-CAD).”

I-CAD is the national database that all residents of France must register their pets in – find full details HERE.

The ministry’s advice continues: “If not registered, the veterinarian may proceed to register the animal in I-CAD, if the animal’s stay in France is longer than 3 consecutive months, in accordance with Article 22 of the AM of August 1st, 2012 on the identification of domestic carnivores.”

So if you are staying in France for longer than 90 days (which usually requires a visa for humans) your pet can be registered and get a Pet Passport, but those staying less than three months at a time will have to continue to use the AHC.

The confusion had arisen for second-home owners because previously some vets had been happy to issue the Passport using proof of a French address, such as utility bills. The Ministry’s ruling, however, makes it clear that this is not allowed.

So here’s a full breakdown of the rules;

Living in France

If you are living in France full time your pet is entitled to an EU Pet Passport regardless of your nationality (which means your pet has more travel rights than you do. Although they probably still rely on you to drive the car/book the ferry tickets).

Your cat, dog or ferret must be fully up to date with their vaccinations and must be registered in the national pet database I-CAD (full details here).

Once issued, the EU Pet Passport is valid for the length of the animal’s life, although you must be sure to keep up with their rabies vaccinations. Vets in France usually charge between €50-€100 for a consultation and completing the Passport paperwork.

Living in the UK

If you are living in the UK and travelling to France (or the rest of the EU) you will need an Animal Health Certificate for your cat, dog or ferret.

The vaccination requirements are the same as for the EU Pet Passport, but an ACH is valid for only 10 days after issue for entry to the EU (and then for four months for onward travel within the EU).

So if you’re making multiple trips in a year you will need a new certificate each time.

UK vets charge around £100 (€118) for a certificate, although prices vary between practices. Veterinary associations in the UK are also warning of delays in issuing certificates as many people begin travelling again after the pandemic (often with new pets bought during lockdown), so you will need to book in advance. 

Second-home owners

Although previously some French vets had been happy to issue certificates with only proof of an address in France, the French government has now clarified the rules on this, requiring that pets be registered within the French domestic registry in order to get an EU Pet Passport.

This can only be done if the pet is staying in France for more than three months. The three months must be consecutive, not over the course of a year.

UK pets’ owners will normally require a visa if they want to stay in France for more than three months at a time (unless they have dual nationality with an EU country) – find full details on the rules for people HERE.

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