European Union: No extra EU cash for languages 'until 2013'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Sep 22 00:43:39 UTC 2008

 No extra EU cash for languages 'until
]  Published: Friday 19 September 2008

No additional funding will be released to boost EU language policy until
2013 at the earliest, said the commissioner responsible for the dossier
Leonard Orban yesterday (18 September 2008), unveiling the EU executive's
new multilingualism strategy.

Back in July, European business leaders released a report[image: Pdf] [image:
external] <>warning
that EU industry is at risk of losing competitiveness as other countries
start outperforming the bloc in terms of language skills (EurActiv

Their report complements an earlier one[image: Pdf] [image: external]
<>from the High
Level Group on Multilingualism chaired by Lebanese author Amin Maalouf,
which urged EU citizens to learn a second, 'personal adoptive' foreign
language alongside one acquired for professional reasons (EurActiv

The findings of both reports fed into yesterday's communication[image:
Pdf] [image:
external] <>

Presenting the communication[image: Pdf] [image: external]
<>, entitled
'Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment', Commissioner
Orban said "the implementation of the strategy does not require any
additional budgetary resources". For the moment, "the 2007-2013 budget under
the Lifelong Learning programme contains all the required funds," he

The Commission intends to review the success of the new strategy in 2012,
when it "will decide whether any additional funds will be required in the
next period," the commissioner added.

Results "should not be expected overnight" but "I am convinced that we will
be successful," Orban said. Rather than making new funding available, the
Commission is backing an "inclusive approach" which seeks to "mainstream"
languages across the full spectrum of EU policy, as revealed by EurActiv
earlier this week (EurActiv

Indeed, the communication says the EU should "make the most of existing
European programmes and initiatives" in the fields of education, media,
research, social inclusion and competitiveness. To this end, Commissioner
Orban said he would set up "a permanent platform" for exchange of best
practice on language policy between governments, business, trade unions and

The main objective of the communication is to "raise awareness of the value
and opportunities of the EU's linguistic diversity and encourage the removal
of barriers to intercultural dialogue".

Making the case for citizens to learn at least two foreign languages,
including a 'personal adoptive' tongue to complement one acquired for
professional reasons, the text warns that the plethora of languages spoken
throughout the bloc "can widen the communication gap between people of
different cultures and increase social divisions, giving the multilingual
access to better living and working opportunities while excluding the

But Emeritus Research Professor for Social Sciences Abram de Swaan of the
University of Amsterdam disagrees. "The more languages we encourage, the
more English will prevail," De Swaan believes. He goes as far as saying that
"the EU is the biggest propagator of English in Europe," citing the fact
that many sections of the EU institutions' websites can only be viewed in
English and the reality of communication among participants in the Erasmus
student mobility scheme as proof of this.

Meanwhile, the communication stresses the following key points:

   - Language skills improve *employability* and boost business *
   - Languages promote *mutual understanding* in a multicultural society.
   - European citizens should speak *two languages* in addition to their
   mother tongue.
   - The *media* and *new technologies* can bridge the gap between speakers
   of different languages.

But the text makes clear that the promotion of these goals must be achieved
"within existing resources". What's more, language policy is largely a
national competence, a situation which this communication will not change.

"Member states are the key decision-makers on language policy," while "many
other organisations take decisions on the ground on language issues:
educational providers, regional and local authorities, social partners,
media and services," it states. "With this communication, we are prompting
the EU member states, local authorities and social partners to join forces
and take action," Orban explained.

Meanwhile, the EU institutions' translation and interpreting services, which
absorb €1.1bn or 1% of the EU budget every year, were not addressed by the
communication. "The strategy did not aim to solve the institutional side of
multilingualism," said the commissioner.

"Our inclusive approach takes into consideration the value and opportunities
of linguistic diversity in Europe and the more individual needs of learning
languages to communicate efficiently," said *Multilingualism Commissioner
Leonard Orban*. "The harmonious co-existence of many languages in Europe is
a powerful symbol of the EU's aspiration to be united in diversity," he

Warning that multilingualism cannot be taken for granted, *Shada Islam* of
the *European Policy Centre* said "more effort and investment is required to
protect it". "Languages enrich the EU's cultural heritage and identity and
are good for its business and competitiveness," she added.

According to Emeritus Research Professor for Social Sciences *Abram de Swaan
* of the *University of Amsterdam*, the EU's language diversity is a "pain
in the neck" and "an obstacle" to the creation of a shared European public
space. Describing the spread of English as "irreversible", he said realities
such as the fact that most scientific papers must be written in English to
get published was eroding the use of national languages in countries like

Speaking at a public hearing on multilingualism last week, a *University of
Leuven* professor criticised the 'personal adoptive' language idea, saying
encouraging EU citizens to learn the language of their neighbour would never
work in Belgium.

At the same event, a *Commission official* who sends his children to a
Brussels-based European School said "diversity of language skills for young
children is great," but questioned where the line should be drawn. "Which
language is your mother tongue?," he asked. "Which one is in your heart?"

"Speaking four or so languages fluently from a young age is not quite the
same as having a mother tongue," he said, claiming that it was even leading
to a decline in the English skills among pupils at the school.

*Sandra Pralong*, a member of the *Group of Intellectuals on Multilingualism
*, outlined her vision of "a patchwork of bilateral relations stitching
Europe together," whereby pockets of citizens in each country would learn
different languages until all EU tongues are covered, eliminating the need
for a common third one such as English or French. This is the motivation
behind the 'personal adoptive language' concept promoted in the group's
report and cited in the communication, she explained.
Next steps:

   - *2012*: Commission to carry out global review of multilingualism
   - *2013*: End of the current funding period for the EU's Lifelong
   Learning programme.

Links EU official documents

   - European Commission: Communication: 'Multilingualism: an asset for
   Europe and a shared commitment'[image: Pdf] [image: external]
   September 2008) [FR][image: Pdf] [image: external]
   Pdf] [image: external]
   - Business Forum for Multilingualism: Report: 'Languages mean business:
   Companies work better with languages'[image: Pdf] [image: external]
   <>(July 2008)
   [FR][image: Pdf] [image: external]
   Pdf] [image: external]
   - Maalouf report: A Rewarding Challenge: How the multiplicity of
   languages could strengthen Europe[image: Pdf] [image: external]
   Pdf] [image: external]
   Pdf] [image: external]

European Union

   - European Commission: Press release: The Commission aims to tap the full
   potential of languages[image: external]
   [FR][image: external]
   [DE][image: external]
   - European Commission: Languages 2010: The contribution of languages to
   the Lisbon Strategy[image: external]
   [FR][image: external]
   - European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008: Fifth Brussels Debate:
   'Multilingualism in the European Union: a controversial topic'[image:
   - Europa: Languages portal[image: external]
   <>[FR][image: external]
   <>[DE][image: external]

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