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?

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Central London - £45,000-£55,000 + bonus

£45000 - £55000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: The focus of this is to deve...

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape