France offers Moliÿre to new Europe

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The Independent Online

Concerned about the dominance of the English and German languages in the countries about to join the European Union, the government in Paris is financing French lessons for the 10 men and women who are about to become European commissioners.

The 10 nations, including eight former Communist nations, join the EU on May 1 and each will send a commissioner to Brussels. They, and the heads of their private offices, will be invited to a week-long summer crash course near Avignon. The French government will fund tuition costs at the Château de Correnson Millefeuille, which advertises courses for €1,500-3,200 (£1,000-£2,150) a week. The commission will pay for travel and living expenses.

The course will include an wider induction into French life and culture with visits to local art galleries and wine producers. According to a commission document, the lessons are designed to "achieve quickly a basic understanding of French". It also says that some new translation from French to English will be provided in internal meetings. Meanwhilelower level officials from the new member states are taking free language courses in Brussels.

Paris is worried it is losing the linguistic war. Earlier this month Le Monde lamented the dominance of English in Brussels, describing the French of the two spokesmen for the European Commission president, Romano Prodi, as "execrable". One diplomat said: "The French know what happened when the Austrian, the Finns and the Swedes came into the EU: French was pushed back. They are afraid this will happen again."

Take-up of courses among lower level diplomats is said to be good. "Largely," said one diplomat, "because it is free".

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