Selon The Economist, l’Union européenne est anglophone. (Un texte anglais)

The galling rise of English
Feb 27th 2003
From The Economist print edition


The European Union is becoming an English-speaking zone

FROM his desk at the European Commission’s office in Warsaw, Bruno Dethomas
has been gloomily monitoring the decline of his native French within the
European Union. “When I left Brussels in 1995,” he remarks (in perfect English),
“70% of the documents crossing my desk were written in French. Nowadays 70% are
in English.” In Brussels Mr Dethomas was chief spokesman for Jacques Delors, the
powerful and charismatic French head of the European Commission who stepped down
in 1995. Until that year the sole working language in the commission’s press
room was French, but it was already clear which way the wind was blowing. “Quite
often,” says Mr Dethomas, “I would give the official briefing in French, and
then I would have to give a second briefing in my office in English.”

The rise of English as the EU’s dominant working language was given a
decisive push by the Union’s last expansion, in 1995, when Austria, Finland and
Sweden joined the club. Officials from all three countries, especially the two
Nordic ones, are much more likely to be fluent in English than French. The
Union’s public voice is increasingly anglophone. For a brief period earlier this
year the spokesmen for all three major institutions in Brussels-the commission,
the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers-were British. Jonathan
Faull, the commission’s chief spokesman, will be replaced this month by Reijo
Kemppinen, a Finn. But for French-speakers the change is a double-edged sword.
The good news for them is that this high-profile job will no longer be held by a
Briton; the bad news is that Mr Faull’s French is rather better than Mr

The fact that the key EU institutions have bases in francophone
cities-Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg-means that lots of French will
continue to be spoken in the EU’s corridors and meeting rooms. But the grip of
English will tighten still more next year, when the Union will take in ten more
countries, mainly from central Europe. The commission is planning to recruit
over 3,000 Eurocrats from the former communist block. The best guess is that
some 60% of them will speak English as their second language; for only 20% or so
will it be French.

The shift towards English within EU institutions reflects what is happening
in the wider world. A recent study by the EU’s statistical arm showed that over
92% of secondary-school students in the EU’s non-English-speaking countries are
studying English, compared with 33% learning French and 13% studying German.
Despite recent avowals of undying Franco-German friendship made by the two
countries’ governments, fewer and fewer French and German children are learning
each other’s languages. The trend is the same in the countries about to join the
EU. The only place where more secondary-school students are studying French than
English is Romania, though German runs English close in several central European
countries. English is also increasingly Europe’s language of business.

But the rise of English within EU institutions particularly alarms the French
elite because for many years the Brussels bureaucracy has been a home-from-home,
designed along French administrative lines, often dominated by high-powered
French officials working in French. Moreover, the emergence of English as the
EU’s main language gives an advantage to native English-speaking Eurocrats. As
Mr Dethomas notes: “It’s just much easier to excel in your own language.”

Some French officials argue that there are wider intellectual implications
that threaten the whole European enterprise. In a speech at a conference in
Brussels on the French language and EU enlargement, Pierre Defraigne, a senior
official at the commission, argued that “it’s not so much a single language that
I fear but the single way of thinking that it brings with it.” When French was
Europe’s dominant language in the 18th century, French ideas were the
intellectual currency of Europe. Voltaire was lionised at the Prussian court;
Diderot was fêted by Russia’s Catherine the Great. These days, however,
ambitious young Europeans need to perfect their English and so tend to polish
off their education in Britain or the United States, where they are exposed to
Anglo-Saxon ideas. For a country like France, with its own distinct intellectual
traditions in economics, philosophy and law, such a trend is understandably
galling. The commission’s Mr Defraigne worries aloud whether “it is possible to
speak English without thinking American.”


The desire to protect and promote its language is a thread that runs through
France’s policy in the Union. For instance, longstanding efforts to develop a
common EU patent-law have been stymied because France cannot accept English as
the sole language for patents; and if French is made valid for EU patents, then
the Germans, Italians and Spanish insist that their tongues should also be
included. France has also consistently fought to prevent the EU gaining control
of trade policy relating to “cultural industries”, lest this impede efforts to
protect French-language films and music. And the French government has keenly
championed Romania as a candidate to join the Union because the French consider
that country, however bizarrely, to be part of “la Francophonie”. One reason why
Jacques Chirac, France’s president, recently singled out Bulgaria and Romania
for particularly biting criticism of their pro-American foreign policies may
have been irritation that, despite those assiduously nurtured cultural links,
the Romanians have not proved reliably francophile after all.

The more realistic French officials acknowledge that however much cash and
energy are put into the promotion of French within the Union and elsewhere, it
is a losing battle. “This is a real trauma for France,” says Mr Dethomas. “Our
only revenge is that the English language is being killed by all these
foreigners speaking it so badly.”

(Ce texte extrait de The Economist nous a été communiqué par notre
correspondant M. Daniel Duclos le 10 mars 2003)