French, the language of "lucidity, clarity, and rationality"

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Mar 5 14:17:59 UTC 2007

French is urged on EU as the language of law
Clarity eyed amid a linguistic Babel

By Dan Bilefsky, International Herald Tribune  |  March 2, 2007

BRUSSELS -- An elder statesman of French literature who fought for the
Resistance in World War II is gearing up to do battle again, in Brussels:
Maurice Druon, 89, is campaigning to make French the supreme language of
legal documents in the European Union.

A member [of] the Academie Francaise and the author of 60 books, Druon has
been joined in this initiative by an unlikely assortment of Francophiles,
politicians, and aristocrats -- among them Nicole Fontaine, a former
president of the European Parliament; Otto von Habsburg, a descendant of
the German royal house; Antoinette Spaak, daughter of Paul-Henri Spaak, a
founding father of the EU and once a Belgian foreign minister; and
Bronislaw Geremek, a Polish historian.

They support his proposal that French should become the deciding language
when there are differences over what a legal document actually means --
all the more so in an expanded EU of 27 countries, where French is
struggling to retain its historic primacy alongside the EU's 22 other
official languages, including Maltese and Gaelic. "Italian is the language
of song, German is the language of philosophy, and English is good for
poetry, but French is best for precision," Druon said of his quest.
"French should be the authoritative language for law because it is related
to Latin -- in which Roman law was written -- and it was also the language
of the Napoleonic Code."

Druon's battle is open-ended -- there is no deadline or crucial vote
looming -- but he wants resolution before the EU gets bigger and even more
linguistically cumbersome. The EU comprises 489 million people, who are
trying to speak with one voice while maintaining a Babel of languages and
cultural identities. In order not to offend any one country, the EU uses
each of the 22 languages spoken in member states, at a cost each year of
as much as 1.2 billion euros, or $1.6 billion, in translation and
interpretation expenses. Every country is entitled to have EU documents
translated into its native language, although to save time the first draft
of documents, including legal material, is often available only in one of
the Union's unofficial working languages: English, French, and German.

Druon, who recently came to Brussels to lobby EU officials, insisted that
he was no cultural nationalist and recalled, in broken but colorful
English, that he learned to love the queen's language as a soldier in
wartime London. "I love English," he said, "though I now call it
'Anglo-American' because we no longer speak British English due to
globalization and America's economic power." But Anglophilia aside, Druon
remains steadfast that the language of Montesquieu is the superior
language for legal discourse. He notes that it is no coincidence that the
EU's highest court, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, uses
French, not English, as its working language: French has fewer syntactical
ambiguities, he said.

"It sounds nice to French ears, but let's get real -- we are living in the
21st century and English is the language that everyone understands,"
huffed an EU official, who declined to use his last name for fear of
offending Gallic sensitivities and Druon , whom he called "a French
monument." An EU official from France added that the initiative was
strictly that of a private individual and did not reflect his government's
policy -- although Druon said that he had discussed the idea with
President Jacques Chirac and other top officials and that they had offered


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