France is plotting to make French the official working language of the European Union at the expense of English, as it prepares to take charge of the European Council for the first time since Brexit.
According to Politico, Paris is pushing for its mother tongue to become the “lingua franca” of Brussels. “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,” a senior French diplomat told the website.
The diplomat added: “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 European Council (EUCO), which helps set the political agenda in Brussels, could see all high-level meetings being conducted in French during the six-month presidency.
All high-level Council meetings would be conducted in French. Notes and minutes will prioritise the language too, and letters from the EU Commission will also ditch English in favour of French.
‘We will wait for the French version’
“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 has not been in charge of EUCO since 2008, when Nicolas Sarkozy was the country’s president. It is now set to lead the EU body from January to June next year.
And with the UK having left the EU, current French ministers now want to press French in front of the “ersatz” English used by Brussels officials.
EU affairs minister Clement Beaune and secretary of state Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said earlier this year that the presidency created “an opportunity to hold high this vital fight for multilingualism.”
They said in a Le Figaro article that French usage 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”.
The plans over EU’s working language come as the bloc and the UK are going through a fresh wave of tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has to be followed as part of the Brexit.
David Frost, UK’s Brexit minister, is set to meet Maros Sefcovic, the EU Commission vice-president to discuss the problems tomorrow – as Frost said time is “starting to run out”.
Northern Ireland justice minister Naomi Long told The London Economic in April that Boris Johnson has been “incredibly dishonest in promising people that they can have their cake and eat it” during the Brexit process and “blasé” in treating some of the fallout from that.
She told TLE: “There was the opportunity that grace periods could have been extended by agreement, which is how this should be done. By ignoring that and instead trying to flex the UK muscle, he squandered political capital with the European Commission.
“That is difficult for NI because we remain part of the EU single market, we are impacted by the decisions made; but it’s also bad for the UK, because we need to have positive relationships with our closest neighbours – and that is the EU.”