No privileges for German in Commission press conferences

The row that broke out over the addition of German as an ‘automatic’ language in press conferences alongside French and English has been resolved.

English and French are to remain privileged languages when it comes to interpreting services provided for journalists at Commission press conferences. German had been added as a third ‘automatic’ language.

A letter from Commission President Barroso to the Italian EU ambassador Rocco Cangelosi has put an end to the row. In the letter, Barroso confirms that interpreting will be provided into all languages for the Wednesday press briefings and press conferences. He adds that for commissioner press conferences on other days, “where the frequency and advance notification are less predictable”, the aim is also to provide a full interpreting service.

Earlier API (Association de la Presse Internationale) had been annoyed that the Commission had made changes to the language regime by adding German without prior consultation. 

Reacting to Commission spokesperson Mme Le Bail’s proposal for a seven to eight language regime (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish plus possibly an eighth language on a rotation basis), API sent a letter on 8 March saying that it wanted to stick to the nine-language system in place since 1995. 

API President Michael Stabenow said that API did not understand the reason for the change in the first place and took the view that the nine-language system had worked well. “English plus French as standard plus seven other languages applied flexibly on a rotation basis,” was his formula.

Taking up the maths analogy, Roger Vancampenhout, a provisional committee member on the ‘Bruxelles-Diversité’ branch of the ‘Défence de la Langue Française’ association, called it an example of the ‘variable geometry’ that is a feature of EU multilingualism. 

‘Variable geometry’ refers to the need for practical compromises between full multilingualism at one end of the spectrum and using only one language (increasingly English) at the other.

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