The European Commission will present a new EU languages strategy on 18 September, emphasising the importance of language skills in addressing challenges as diverse as globalisation and increased mobility and immigration.

The Commission communication, details of which have been seen by EurActiv, will be launched by Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban on Thursday. 

Entitled 'Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment,' it will stress the importance of language skills in helping to improve the Union's social cohesion and prosperity in the context of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs. Moreover, given that 2008 was designated European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, it will highlight the role of languages in removing barriers to interaction between cultures. 

Speaking at a public debate on multilingualism policy on 10 September, the EU commissioner responsible for the dossier, Leonard Orban, described the upcoming communication as a "comprehensive package" to promote the "social cohesion and prosperity" of the bloc.

But as yet it remains unclear whether any extra resources will be made available to implement the Commission's proposals. Indeed, education remains a national competence, leading some to question the effectiveness of measures taken at EU level. Abram de Swaan, a professor of social science at the University of Amsterdam, told the public debate that much more than "high-faluting noble words" would be required to realise the commissioner's goals.  

According to Orban, the strategy will encourage EU citizens to learn two foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue, in accordance with the goal endorsed by leaders at their Barcelona meeting in 2002. It suggests that learning a second, 'personal adoptive' foreign language alongside one acquired for professional reasons as proposed by the Maalouf report could be one way of achieving this.

Languages for employability 

The role of language skills in increasing the Union's prosperity stands at the forefront of Orban's proposals. Recognising the increasing importance of emerging markets for EU companies, the communication stresses the need for workforces to have knowledge of the language of the regions in which they operate. 

The communication also highlights the role language skills can play in improving the employability of citizens. It calls on EU countries to do more to promote study and work exchanges abroad, as well as and e-partnership schemes. 

In France, Education Minister Xavier Darcos recently unveiled plans to offer free English lessons to students during school holidays, describing failure to speak the language fluently as a handicap in today's world (EurActiv 04/09/08). 

Language learning is a lifelong process, the communication stresses, calling on vocational and adult education to do more to promote it. It also says more effort should be made to offer a wider variety of languages, and calls for more teacher exchanges to take place to enhance their own fluency. 

The text will also highlight the potential to better exploit EU languages abroad and non-EU languages within the bloc itself. 

Asked during the public debate whether he envisaged adding new tongues to the official working languages of the EU, which are currently English, French and German, Orban said the next Commission would decide on this in November 2009. An overall review of EU multilingualism policy will take place in 2012.