It's all a terrible Anglo-Saxon conspiracy, non?

European Times BRUSSELS

HE ONCE worked for the most discredited European commissioner of all, Edith Cresson, but this week Jean-Christophe Filori provoked applause from part of the Brussels press corps with just three words. Introducing himself as part of the new Brussels press team, Mr Filori began his presentation with: "Je suis francophone."

The language war is never far from the surface in Brussels. Now, with the creation of a network of press minders for Romano Prodi, the new commission president, it is back with a vengeance amid renewed complaints about the erosion of French.

The battle reached its climax on Tuesday when one new (German) press officer replied in English to a question put in French. Although this was standard practice under the ancien regime it produced a barrage of complaints, including one from an outraged French diplomat.

Why the new sensitivity? The answer lies in the arrival of Mr Prodi in Brussels. His predecessor, Jacques Santer, may have been ineffectual but at least, as a Luxembourger, French was one of his two native tongues. Before Mr Santer's reign, Jacques Delors had guaranteed the supremacy of the French language throughout his two terms. He had been preceded by another Luxembourger, Gaston Thorn. Not since Roy Jenkins left Brussels in 1981 has the citadel of the European Commission been captured by a non-native French speaker.

Mr Prodi, the scholarly ex-professor, educated at the London School of Economics, finds English easier. The same can be said for his chief spokesman, Ricardo Levi. Mr Prodi's chef de cabinet, David O'Sullivan, speaks good French, although he is a native English-speaker.

All of which means, says a commission source, that the French "see an Anglo-Saxon plot around every corner". It is difficult to overestimate the extent to which the French feel under threat. Paris correctly sees itself as the architect of the EU, the nation that has shaped its development more than any other. France is proprietorial about the way it functions having, for example, exported the French political system of private offices to Brussels.

Only for the past five years has the press room in Brussels permitted questions in English: before, a journalist who had the temerity to utter a non-French question would be shouted down. Paris has long had a tendency to equate being in Europe with running it.

But with the enlargement of the European Union to 15, including Nordic nations in which English is widely spoken, English has gained in currency with gathering pace. Mr Prodi's arrival (he was France's first choice for the job) comes at a sensitive juncture. Some Parisian noses have already been put out of joint.

A call from Mr Prodi for the EU to double in size to 30 member states, and to consider putting a start date on accession by December's Helsinki summit, brought protests from France. Paris has rarely been an enthusiast for enlargement because of the potential dilution of its influence. The result has been a new bout of French militancy. As one insider put it: "It is part of the French psyche to feel under threat. They are not arguing for linguistic diversity, they are arguing for the supremacy of French. The French establishment has mobilised to defend the French language, and the press room has become a linguistic battleground."

The costs of linguistic guerrilla warfare are spiralling out of control. There are 11 official EU languages, giving rise to a potential 110 combinations, although meetings have different levels of translation. About one-third of the officials of Europe's institutions are translators. With 24 hours, the standard waiting time for getting hold of in-house translators, officials who want to make a speedy announcement are faced with a dilemma: wait until tomorrow or translate it yourself. To which the French answer is somewhat predictable: why bother with the English version?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower