French set to replace English as EU’s ‘working language’

Notes, minutes, letters and meetings will be ‘French-first’ when France takes over European Council’s presidency

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 08 June 2021 09:05 BST
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Emmanuel Macron’s governmen is drawing up plans for French to replace English as the official “working language” of the EU when it takes over the Council of the European Union presidency in 2022, a diplomat has revealed.

France planning to use its first presidency since Brexit to push its native tongue as the “lingua franca” of Brussels, according to a report in Politico.

A senior French diplomat told the website: “Even if we admit that English is a working language and it is commonly practiced, the basis to express oneself in French remains fully in place in the EU institutions.

“We must enrich it, and make it live again so that the French language truly regains ground, and above that, the taste and pride of multilingualism.”

The unnamed diplomat said all high-level meetings of the Council – the body which helps sets the political agenda in Brussels – will be conducted in French instead of English during the six-month presidency.

Notes and minutes will also be “French-first” and the Council will expect all letters from the EU Commission to be in French.

“We will always ask the Commission to send us in French the letters it wishes to address to the French authorities, and if they fail to do so, we will wait for the French version before sending it,” the diplomat said.

France’s presidency from January to June next year is the first stint in charge of the Council since 2008, when Nicolas Sarkozy was president.

Mr Macron’s ministers have expressed a keen interest in pushing French ahead of the “ersatz” English used by officialdom in Brussels, now that the UK has left the bloc.

EU affairs minister Clement Beaune and secretary of state Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said in April that the presidency created “an opportunity to hold high this vital fight for multilingualism.”

In an article for Le Figaro, they said the use of French in Brussels “had diminished to the benefit of English, and more often to Globish – that ersatz of the English language, which narrows the scope of one’s thoughts, and restricts one’s ability to express him or herself”.

Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson at the Elysee Palace in 2019

It comes as tensions rise once again between the UK and EU over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol arrangements enshrined in last year’s Brexit deal.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit minister David Frost is due to meet EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic to discuss the ongoing dispute in London on Wednesday. Lord Frost has claimed time is “starting to run out” to fix trade problems in the province.

The respected Brexit analyst Mujtaba Rahman – managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group – said there was now “very strong consensus across the EU that Frost is the problem”.

He experts said EU leaders are hoping to use the margins of this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall “to get to Boris Johnson directly” and persuade him of the merits of a compromise deal on regulations to ease checks.

US president Joe Biden is expected to use a meeting with the prime minister to express his own backing for the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said on Monday that Mr Johnson’s government was “missing in action" on the issue of border controls in Northern Ireland.

“We’ve got to sort out the border in the Irish sea, not because Joe Biden has told us to but because it’s causing absolute havoc in Northern Ireland and we’ve got a responsibility to get this right,” she told Sky News.

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