[lg policy] E.U. Leader Says (in English) That English Is Waning

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon May 8 10:39:11 EDT 2017

E.U. Leader Says (in English) That English Is Waning


BRUSSELS — Jean-Claude Juncker couldn’t resist a little dig, and it drew a
big laugh.

Speaking on Friday at a conference in Florence, Italy, he began his remarks
in English — but only to explain that he would be switching to French.

Why? “Because slowly but surely, English is losing importance in Europe.”

He was kidding, of course, as an aide confirmed later. But then again,
maybe he wasn’t.

Mr. Juncker, you see, is the man with the “Brexit” problem on his desk. As
the president of the European Commission, he helps oversee the back and
forth with London over how, to the irritation of its neighbors, Britain
will go about withdrawing from the European Union over the next two years.

The union has 24 official and working languages, but for practicality’s
sake it does most of its business in just a handful, and in recent years,
English has usually been the first choice.
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That’s not surprising. English is the leading language of global commerce,
diplomacy, technology and tourism, and it is the most-taught second
language in Europe. If anything, its influence is growing, with or without
the blessing of Brussels bureaucrats, who will go on using it after Britain
pulls out partly because Ireland and Malta, which have English as an
official language, will still be members of the union.

All that doesn’t stop many French speakers from resenting English’s
primacy, though, nor from hoping that the language might recede a bit after
Britain leaves the European Union, the process known as Brexit. That is the
sentiment that Mr. Juncker mined in Florence, to the applause of the

Mr. Juncker is from Luxembourg, where everyone is fluent in several tongues
because almost no one else understands Luxembourgish. When he speaks in
public, he noted, he is “always hesitating between two or three languages.”
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In French, he offered more serious remarks aimed at French voters, who on
Sunday chose Emmanuel Macron, a pro-European centrist, over Marine Le Pen,
an anti-European from the far right, as their next president.

“I would like them to understand what I’m saying about Europe and about
nations,” he said.

He listed the European Union’s achievements, including the creation of the
euro currency, and said the bloc had unified the Continent peacefully for
the first time in history. Realistically, with its share of the world
population dwindling, Europe can wield significant influence in the world
only by sticking together, he said.

Mr. Juncker’s English jest might be viewed by some in Brussels as ill
advised after the cross-Channel war of words that raged this past week over
leaked details of a tense dinner attended by Mr. Juncker and the British
prime minister, Theresa May.

Mrs. May said the leak misrepresented her country’s negotiating position in
the Brexit talks and amounted to meddling in Britain’s general election on
June 8. It seemed to indicate that she and Mr. Juncker were far apart on
major issues and that Mrs. May would have a hard time reaching the kind of
deal she has promised to British voters.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, took to Twitter on
Thursday to call for “moderation & mutual respect” in the talks, which were
“difficult enough” and risked becoming “impossible.”

Mr. Juncker’s zinger on Friday did not seem to do much to unruffle British
feathers. The Daily Express, a right-wing newspaper, called it an
“outrageous SWIPE at Britain” in a headline online.


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