French used to be the recognised language of international diplomacy even though the British Empire was much larger and more dominant. French held out, more or less, until after World War Two, when the global geopolitical balance shifted and the US took over, helped by Hollywood and rock ‘n’ roll.
McDonald’s arrived in France in 1972, despite protests from local farmers and foodies, and thrived enough to open the first drive-through in 1988. In between, France’s culture minister was Jack Lang – a true Frenchman whose name spelling definitely smacked of English.
Nevertheless, France insisted on financing the spread of its language, la Francophonie, through l’Alliance Francaise and other outlets, but it was an uphill battle ultimately doomed to fail.
The growing certainty that the United Kingdom will really leave the EU next year may have shifted the balance again.
Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker was the first to signal the waking pride of the French.
Already in May 1997, he said: “l’anglais est lentement, mais sûrement en perte de vitesse en Europe”. [English is slowly but surely losing speed in Europe].
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron triumphed in France and put forward an ambitious agenda of EU reforms, asserting French power at a time when Angela Merkel has struggled to secure a fourth term in office and the UK is preoccupied with Brexit.
Juncker reinforced the message this week, praising the virtues of the French language and vowing to make sure its dignity is restored.
“The situation now is quite paradoxical,” Macron said this week. “English has probably never been as present in Brussels at the time when we are talking about Brexit.”
“This domination is not inevitable. It’s up to us to set some rules, to be present, and make French the language with which one has access to a number of opportunities.”
In the EU institutions, the predominance of French slowly receded after the UK joined the bloc and definitely took a back seat after the big enlargement in 2004, as most eastern newcomers were much more at home with English.
It is something of a public secret that most Commissioners [and officials] from Eastern Europe since 2004, with Romania an exception to some extent, have not really spoken French.
Many of them promised to learn the language before they took up their post (they are quizzed thoroughly in Parliament), only to then quietly give up.
So far the re-assertion of the French language has not really taken root, despite the free classes offered by the institutions.
Peut-être ça va changer maintenant?
Senior EU officials claim nobody is talking about additional sanctions on Russia following the Salisbury spy attack, yet the overarching mood towards Moscow is still rather frosty. Jean-Claude Juncker, however, seems to have broken those ranks.
After allegations about Cambridge Analytica using 50 million Facebook users’ data to influence political campaigns surfaced, the EU’s top data protection watchdog called the allegations the “scandal of the century”.
As the EU decided to relaunch trade negotiations with ASEAN, it appears that the South East Asian countries still need to be convinced of the benefits of free trade agreement with the EU.
A massive cable over mountains and under seas could eventually link the power grids of Europe and China, in order to tap the immense clean energy potential of the east, according to a new EU study.
The Commission approved the proposed blockbuster buyout of US agri-giant Monsanto by German chemical firm Bayer, after securing concessions from the latter.
EU lawmakers have urged the Commission to convince member states to back its proposal to ban neonicotinoids and avoid further delays that will be harmful to bees and the environment.
While continued participation in EU-wide clinical trials and the Horizon 2020 research programme is ‘vital’ to the UK’s life sciences sector, a new study also calls on the Brexit negotiators to agree to align regulation on medicines and health care.
A protest on London’s River Thames against the UK government accepting the EU’s transition period rules on fishing descended into farce. The idea was to throw fish into the capital’s waterway but some slippery characters still made it on board.
Look out for…
The latest European Council summit on all things economic and Brexit kicks off so plan your travel accordingly. Oh and the King of Belgium pops by the EURACTIV premises tomorrow to help inaugurate the new offices of our neighbour, the Covenant of Mayors. Read our Special Report on what the Covenant is up to these days here.
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