With Brexit ‘done’ and the UK finally out of the European Union, why should the remaining 27 still speak English?

First published in January 2021.

It’s not particularly surprising that the French sent up a trial balloon within a few weeks of Brexit.

They’ve started to ask a crucial question: Why use English anymore to transact the business of Europe?

With the British having left the club why should the 27 members of the European Union (EU) speak the language of Shakespeare rather than that of Voltaire?

Lowering of the UK flag outside the European Parliament building. | YouTube – AFP

That’s a paraphrase of what Clement Beaune, France’s EU affairs minister actually said. He was a tad more direct.

The EU should stop speaking “a type of broken English,” he said, and work on enhancing “linguistic diversity. Let’s get used to speaking our languages again!”

Say what?

When did EU member states cease to speak their mother tongue?

The EU has 24 official languages. The bloc explicitly assures EU nationals of their right to use any of the 24 official languages to contact the EU institutions, and they are obliged to reply in the same language.”

All EU laws and legislative texts “are published in all official languages, except Irish.” All meetings of the European Council and the Council of the European Union “are interpreted into all official languages” and “Members of the European Parliament have the right to use any official language when speaking in Parliament.”

How’s that for linguistic diversity?

Now consider the EU’s explanation of the post-Brexit role of English: “Even after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, English remains one of the official languages of Ireland and Malta.

Good point. Reason enough one might have thought to retain English within the bloc?

But French scepticism suggests otherwise.

Might it be the lingering effects of falling behind in the language wars?

An estimated 270 million people speak French worldwide. Five times as many speak English.

Further Reading:

Rashmee Roshan Lall, Journalist, World affairs columnist.

[This piece was originally published in Medium and re-published in PMP Magazine on 26 January 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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