Although the European Parliament tends to be more multilingual in its internal communication than the Commission and the Council, the need to work in a common language still means that English predominates, said Ambroise Perrin of French language association 'Défense de la Langue Française' (DLF).
The conference, organised by the DLF on 28 September, was hosted by ISTI, a Brussels school of translators and interpretors.
Despite the importance of "linguistic pluralism"as a principle of the Union, Christian Tremblay from the European observatory of plurilingualism, was quick to stress that Europe had to work with a reality of 23 official languages, plus regional and other minority tongues.
It also has to ensure that the native speakers of these languages manage to work together, he said.
As a result, the real working language of the European Commission is a "bastardised" form of English which is spoken by most employees in the EU institutions, said Ludovic Laporte from the Commission's translation directorate (DG Translation).
He said the Commission even operates a team of proofreaders whose task it is to make the poor English of some of the original texts suitable for translation. And the same thing was true prior to the 2004 enlargement with regard to French and German, Perrin remarked.
At the end of the day, Brussels may be forced to choose English as a necessary working compromise in a multinational environment, Laporte admitted.
As a result, 80% of the Commission's internal communications are now written in English, said Catherine Vieilledent-Montfort from DG Translation. Only the final texts are translated into the 23 official languages of the EU, she said.
Laporte claimed that this was primarily a post-2004 development after the linguistic explosion brought about by the EU's eastern enlargement, which doubled the number of official languages overnight. Before that, there had been markedly more internal communications written in French and German, he said.
Their number decreased sharply when it became necessary to find a common working language for 25 and then 27 member states, the conference heard.