Bundestag MPs want EU staff to use German more after Brexit

Three Bundestag MPs met with EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger earlier this year to lobby for the Commission to use the German language more after Brexit. [European Commission]

Three members of Germany’s Bundestag have asked Chancellor Angela Merkel to make sure EU institutions use the German language more.

The MPs also met earlier this year with Günther Oettinger, Germany’s EU Commissioner, to lobby the EU executive to give their native language better treatment.

“It’s a good thing if after Brexit the two other EU official languages, French and German, start to be used more again,”Johannes Singhammer, an MP from the Bavarian CSU, Merkel’s conservative sister party, told EURACTIV.com. Singhammer is one of the Bundestag’s five vice-presidents.

“English is still going to have a dominant role after Brexit, that won’t change. But I think it makes sense to use French and German more now,” he said.

Singhammer said the Commission has become slower over the last few years at producing official translations of EU documents and transferring them to Bundestag members.

“It’s so important that we have official translations to work with, especially when the documents are about complex topics where every letter matters,” he said.

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Singhammer has partnered with Gunter Krichbaum, another centre-right MP, and Axel Schäfer, the centre-left SPD’s spokesman for EU affairs to push for the Commission—and the German government—to use German more often, as first reported by the German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The Commission’s translation services take up 0.3% of the EU total annual budget, which was set at around €158 billion for 2017.

Of course we are ready to do more, as long as our resources allow us to do so,” Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said.

We trust we can count on the support of Germany when it comes to designing and financing the EU’s next multiannual budget,” Andreeva added.

The EU’s current long-term budget ends in 2020. The Commission is expected to propose its plans for the next budget period later this year, and will need approval from MEPs and EU national governments. Germany is the largest net contributor to the EU budget.

Commission translators prepare official documents in 24 EU languages. German is one of only three languages, along with French and English, that Commission staff also uses to draft internal memos.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker grabbed headlines earlier this year when he declared during a speech that “English is losing importance” because the UK is preparing to leave the EU in 2019. Juncker is a former Luxembourg prime minister and frequently gives public speeches in French and German.

In a letter to Merkel, which EURACTIV has obtained, Singhammer, Krichbaum and Schäfer wrote, “In addition to the equal use of the German language as a working language in the bodies of the European Union and increased use in all international institutions, the German language especially needs to be thoroughly used in our own country.”

Merkel’s chief of staff Peter Altmaier responded to the MPs in another letter, which EURACTIV has also seen.

The German government has been advocating for years for the European Union institutions to use German appropriately. That includes repeatedly insisting that important European Union documents must be translated into German on time,” Altmaier wrote.

The MPs also demanded that the government require staff in all federal offices and ministries to communicate in German, and asked for public funding cuts to academic conferences and lectures if they are held in languages other than German.

There are 114 staff members translating into German at the Commission, out of a total translation staff of 1,500—around the same amount of translators who work in English and French.

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