The petition, signed by 50 MEPs and representatives of 18 European regions, says "all documents, websites and publications [of the EU institutions] should be in German". It calls for recruitment to the institutions to better reflect linguistic diversity and requests that more funding be made available to promote the use of German, which is also spoken in countries like Belgium, Romania and Italy.
The three procedural languages of the EU are English, French and German. French has historically enjoyed a privileged position in the EU institutions which dates from the beginnings of EU integration. But its prevalence has been steadily undermined by English.
The Commission welcomed the move as it would "any initiative to promote languages," highlighting the "privileged nature" of German as one of the EU executive's three procedural languages.
But Commissioner Orban's spokesperson Pietro Petrucci stressed that the petition was addressed to all the EU institutions and "not just the Commission". As German is already "on an equal footing" with other languages, the Commission does not see the need for "any extra considerations" to be made as a result of the petition, Petrucci said.
Meanwhile, the Lisbon Treaty brings with it an increased role for national parliaments in EU decision-making and discussions of EU language policy are "ongoing," he stressed, adding: "Let's wait and see what's implemented [by the Treaty] to see what we need to do."
Describing the initiative as the "first-ever successful transnational effort to highlight the far too minor significance of the German language in the EU institutions," Hessen's Europe Minister Volker Hoff, a signatory of the petition, pointed out that almost 100 million people in the EU speak German as a mother tongue "yet in practice it is discriminated against compared with English and French".
Echoing Hoff's comments, the head of the German Language Association Prof. Dr. Rudolf Hoberg lamented German's "secondary role" in Brussels, stressing "we must all do everything we can to change this".
Expressing his support for the initiative, German Permanent Representation to the EU spokesman Martin Kotthaus told EurActiv that the range of countries and regions in which German is spoken make it "the EU's most widely-spoken mother tongue." It is thus it is imperative that it is used adequately in the EU institutions, he said, adding: "The EU can only prosper if the citizens are able to participate."
Likewise, German Foreign Ministry officials strongly welcomed the initiative, stating: "The Federal Government often and actively campaigns for the position and the use of German within the EU institutions to be strengthened and generally supports the concept of multilingualism in the EU."
The Commission is set to present a new strategy for multilingualism in September this year (EurActiv 19/02/08).
But MEP Michael Gahler (CDU, DE), a member of the delegation which presented the petition to the commissioner, told EurActiv that the implementation of an EU-wide multilingualism policy would be "no easy task" as its success would depend on how the member states react. Likewise "established interests" within the Commission itself must be overcome, he added.
Commissioner Orban will meet with representatives of the German Permanent Representation to the EU later today to further discuss the position of German in the EU institutions, Petrucci said.
Meanwhile, the Commission is speaking to the German and other EU governments about "how to improve translation results" and guarantee the sustainability of its language regime "within budgetary limits," it said in a press release.