EU: Orban says he plans to boost EU language learning

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Nov 28 15:14:53 UTC 2006

Orban says he plans to boost EU language learning

Leonard Orban pulled through his parliamentary hearing without any major
glitches, but doubts remain as to how influential he will be within the
European commission. The Romanian was grilled by MEPs from the parliaments
culture committee on his suitability as the EUs new commissioner for
multilingualism. Orban set out his plans if he is confirmed as
commissioner, including protecting minority languages and pushing for more
language learning in schools.

He said he would propose ideas on how to get EU students to speak at least
three languages fluently. The hearing, just one month before Romania and
Bulgaria join the EU, was the chance for MEPs to assess Orbans abilities
ahead of the parliaments vote on December 12. Following the vote in
parliament, the council is expected to formally appoint both Orban and
Bulgarian commissioner-designate Meglena Kuneva by the end of December.
Orban's post as multilingualism commissioner was carved out of the
portfolio of education commissioner Jan Figel.

Ahead of the hearing, critics have questioned how much work will be
involved in promoting multilingualism in the EU. The commission has
defended the post, saying better management of the EUs language policy
will be required once the EU switches to 23 official languages with the
arrival of Romanian, Bulgarian and Irish. But the move is widely seen as a
snub for Romania; Bulgaria has been assigned the more important field of
consumer protection although it has a population three times smaller.

This is seen to be partly a result of a tactical mistake by Romania, whose
first candidate as commissioner, Varujan Vosganian, was rejected by
socialist MEPs as being on the payroll of economic tycoons. Orban who is
the secretary of state in Romanias ministry of European integration was
then named as Romanias new candidate. But during the hearing the Romanian,
who speaks fluent English and French, argued that his post would go beyond
merely promoting languages.

He said he plans to take special responsibility in working on the 2008 EU
year of intercultural dialogue. The Dutch and French EU constitution
referenda showed that the EUs citizens are afraid that enlargement is
going too quickly, Orban argued. He said multilingualism is a way to bring
the EUs citizens together. The EU project should be seen as a project that
should be shared by all, he said.

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