Culture chief: ‘Room for improvement’ in EU’s use of German

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There is still room for improvement regarding the number of documents translated into German by the European institutions, despite recent growth in the number of German EU officials using their native language professionally, Margareta Hauschild, director of the Goethe-Institut Belgien, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Margareta Hauschild is director of the Goethe-Institut Belgien, a German cultural organisation. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

Despite sitting alongside English and French as one of the EU’s three working languages, top EU officials are rarely heard speaking German in public. There is also room for improvement regarding the number of EU documents translated into German, particularly for web pages. What are your views on the use of German by the EU institutions? Does German have a high enough profile at EU level? 

German officials have – in the beginning of the development of the EU – been quite reluctant, for obvious historical reasons, to push the German language at EU level. Instead, they preferred to show that they were able to speak other languages, mostly English. 

This attitude changed towards the end of the 20th century. German officials have been promoting the use of German as a working language in the EU for the last decade. 

More German officials now speak German in public; as you say, there is still room for improvement regarding the number of EU documents translated into German, including web pages. 

The German permanent representation, the Goethe-Institut and many others, including German employees in the European institutions, are working on improving the use of German in the EU institutions. 

Aside from the efforts of the Goethe-Institut, what more can be done to boost the use of German on the EU stage? Compared with the French government and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, is the German government doing enough here? Or does Germany’s decentralised federal system impede language promotion? 

Germany’s decentralised federal system does not impede language promotion. On the contrary, many of the German Bundesländer help to promote the use of German at EU level by providing scholarships for EU officials and for officials working in the national ministries of member states, etc. 

The German government is allocating considerable resources – mainly through the German ministry of foreign affairs – to German language training for EU officials. As it seems to me, there are quite different historical backgrounds for both the French and the German governments concerning the promotion of ‘their’ languages. Consequently, the respective approaches and methods differ quite a bit. 

Since there is no German counterpart for the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, we try to find our own way. We want to convince people that it matters to learn German in today’s Europe, where you will have more chances on the job market if you can communicate in the language which is spoken as mother tongue by 100 million Europeans and which is taught as the second foreign language in EU countries after English. 

MEPs last December adopted a resolution calling on the Council to make sure EU presidency websites are always available in German. How do the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council compare in promoting a multilingual Europe, and more specifically, the use of German? 

From our point of view the European Parliament is the role model (in comparison to the Council and the Commission) when it comes to promoting a multilingual Europe. 

The EU’s multilingualism portfolio was created in January 2007 with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU. How would you assess the work of Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban as he comes to the end of his first mandate? 

Very good, but things must move on, and multilingualism must go on to be an important portfolio in the next Commission. There are still many tasks ahead of us. 

How can the portfolio be improved? Is the budget large enough? What recommendations would you have for the multilingualism commissioner’s next mandate? 

Although many objectives have been achieved through communications by the Commission, as well as through recommendations of the Amin Maalouf group and other expert groups, the tasks have not been completed at either the level of the EU or of the member states. 

Multilingualism has yet to be brought closer to all European citizens. A lot of work lies ahead still. 

Examples: Show that multilingualism skills are as important as computer skills; bring multilingualism into history, literature, social studies, etc. classrooms at all levels of education (LLP) – in addition to the foreign language classroom; present multilingual contexts and intercultural dialogue as attractive as possible vs. monolingual contexts as being boring, identify language champions in all sectors across Europe to act as advocates for multilingualism, etc. 

How do Paris and Berlin cooperate to make sure that all the Commission’s working languages are really used? 

May we suggest presenting this question to official representatives from Berlin and Paris? 

What are the biggest challenges that your organisation faces in promoting German language and culture in Belgium? 

Belgium is a multilingual country, we admire Belgium for that; even if this means that German is only taught as the third or fourth foreign language in schools. 

What role can the media play in promoting German? 

Some suggestions: 

No dubbing of feature films, only subtitling! In this respect, small countries are role models, while big countries like France, Italy, etc. prefer dubbing, and thus prevent people from listening to the original language. 

This argument is good for German, but also for French, Italian, Polish, etc. 

Increase the amount of new German feature films and new German documentaries on TV stations outside of Germany to show contemporary Germany. 

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