EU: Italian EU commissioner upset about language slip-up

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jan 19 13:13:24 UTC 2007

Frattini upset over Italian language slip-up

18.01.2007 - 17:52 CET | By Renata Goldirova

Italian EU commissioner Franco Frattini has in an unusual step criticized
his own institution for not translating a website promoting the 50th
anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in Italian. "I cannot suppress my
bitterness and dissatisfaction over this decision that hits the Italian
language", Mr Frattini said in a statement circulated among journalists.
The statement adds that "the commission cannot and must not ignore certain
aspects of its past and presence which are crucial for our collective

The commissioner, himself an Italian, was referring to the fact that the
Rome Treaty was signed in Italy. He also argued that the Italian-speaking
community is one of the largest within the 27-nation bloc. On the website
of the commission's External Relations directorate-general, an explanatory
text on the March anniversary celebrations is available in the three
working languages of the EU - French, English and German - as well as
Spanish, but not available in Italian. "I ask this grave deficit to be
urgently repaired", he concluded in the statement.


The European Commission for its part called the incident "a
misunderstanding" and pointed to the fact that the responsibility for the
website lies with the External Relations directorate. "There are no fixed
rules for a DG [directorate-general] when it comes to languages", a
commission spokesperson said. He added that "all official websites"
related to the EU's 50th birthday and launched by the Directorate General
for Communication - officially responsible for the matter - are carried
out in all 23 official languages, "including Italian". But Mr Frattini's
complaint is yet another proof how languages are becoming a touchy issue
within the bloc. Last year Germany raised concerns over the declining
importance of its language, with Bundestag president Norbert Lammert
writing a letter to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to
say that the German parliament would refuse to debate EU documents that
were not printed in German. In addition, in a joint statement with the
French national assembly, German MPs denounced the "unacceptable drift
toward a monolingual system" dominated by English.

Italy's influence at stake

But the language issue seems to be a more delicate one for Italy, amid
concerns by Italian political circles that Rome is slowly losing its
influence in the EU.  Lately Emma Bonino, an Italian minister for European
affairs, criticised the fact that her country is under-represented in the
European Commission structures, with only a few Italians in top jobs.
But Antonio Missiroli, chief analyst at the European Policy Centre,
characterised commissioner Frattini's move as "balanced in defending his
country's interests, as he recently fired back at Rome, saying it must do
its homework when it comes to training its nominees for EU high
positions". Mr Missiroli added that Ireland or Nordic states are generally
"better organized in promoting their candidates and lobbying." "Italy
cannot rely on its size and prime-minister Romano Prodi's good EU


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