"The importance of this office […] shall consolidate the continuation of this policy," said Orban, highlighting the progress that is still to come. Far from diminishing in importance for the next period, "it is possible that [multilingualism] may stay as a separate portfolio" with its own commissioner, he said.
Language policy is a sensitive issue at EU level because it is strongly linked to national identity and infringes upon education policy, a national competence. It currently accounts for €1.1bn, or 1% of the EU budget.
Revealing the next big moves in EU language policy, Orban said there is a "real, serious possibility" that Turkish may become an official EU language, providing talks to reunify the island of Cyprus succeed.
But he could not provide a timeframe. For this to happen, a "political solution to end the island's conflict" must be reached and the Cypriot government must request that Turkish become an official language, whereupon the Council would have to agree unanimously, he explained.
The commissioner went on to stress the "privileged position" of French at EU level, which was not related "in any way" to the number of seats in the European Parliament but rather the importance of the French language throughout "the entire history of the European Union". Thus he said he is "delighted" to present the "Political Strategy on Multilingualism" during the French EU Presidency.
Indeed, the Commission is set to present its new strategy for multilingualism in September this year (EurActiv 19/02/08), with a report from a High Level Group on Multilingualism chaired by Franco-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf calling for EU citizens to learn at least two foreign languages. These would include a 'personal adoptive language' studied for personal interest rather than professional reasons.
Asked whether the Commission would take the Maalouf report's conclusions into account when developing the new strategy, Orban said: "I wish for this to happen". EU funding for "any ideas to promote linguistic diversity" could be found, but it is "all about a vision" at this stage, "and any vision takes years to achieve," he added.
Nevertheless, the 'personal adoptive' language idea was "interesting," the commissioner said. Personal adoptive languages would be learned "by each European citizen" and considered "close not only to mind but also close to the heart".
But Orban stressed that the "independent" report "does not express the European Commission standpoint". "It is still premature to say whether [it] will be included in the new Strategy for Multilingualism" and in any case the member states would be "the final step in enforcing the proposal," he added.