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Institutions européennes et internationales

English becomes Esperanto

Last Updated: 6 Jun 2016

By Johnson
The institutions of the European Union will still speak (a kind of) English if Britain leaves
BRITAIN has never been a typical European Union (EU) member. It is the only country vetoed for membership (by France), and twice, at that. It joined only in 1973, almost two decades after the original six members established the European Economic Community. It is more free-trading, free-marketeering and Atlanticist than the continent. And it is the only country to hold a referendum on leaving, in 1975, not to mention a second one, due in June.

All this makes it anomalous that the institutions of the EU are dominated by the language of its most recalcitrant member. Legally, the 24 official languages of the 28 members have equal status. Gradually, however, English has displaced French as the most common language between two Eurocrats or parliamentarians who do not share a native tongue. Even so, many French-speakers still expect that, in any gathering, it is acceptable to switch to French and expect the room to follow. (Indeed, most people can, partly because the union’s de facto capital, Brussels, is mostly French-speaking.) No other language’s speakers presume this, though German is often called the third working language.

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