Press association raps von der Leyen for ‘too much English’ communication

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during statements by political group Leaders [EP/DIEFFEMBACQ]

The French section of the Association of European Journalists has complained to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that the EU executive uses the English language “out of proportion” in its official communication, which gives an unfair advantage to the anglophone press.

The Association’s letter, dated 23 September, is signed by journalist Nicolas Gros Verheyde, and also addressed to Council President Charles Michel.

It takes for its starting point the recent Commission proposal for a new migration pact and says that upon presentation of that important and rather long document, only an English text was available for several hours. At the end of the day, only a short press communiqué appeared in French.

According to the journalistic association, this case illustrates a repeated practice since von der Leyen took over as Commission chief. “We regret that. Should it be recalled that the use of several languages is not only a legal obligation under EU treaties, but it has a precious political and practical scope”, the letter says.

“First of all, the EU Treaty set as a rule official communication in all languages spoken in Europe. And practice has established the simultaneous and equal use of three working languages,” the letter said.

“These translations are not a faculty for the European institutions, but an obligation. An obligation which, if it were not to be respected, would result in the annulment of the decisions taken. The Court’s case-law on recruitment testifies to this”,  it went on.

It also pointed out that other powers, such as Russia, the United States and China, regularly make available most of their decisions in other languages, including French, Spanish and German. Not doing so results in the EU giving an advantage to disinformation, the Association wrote.

Further, it is highlighted that the exclusive use of English gives the Anglophone press a competitive advantage, its journalists only needing to compile a copy-paste for their reporting. At the same time, the Francophone press and the colleagues using other languages need to translate or even decipher technical terms.

“There is here a clear distortion of competition, contrary to European treaties,” the journalistic association insisted.

Von der Leyen is fluent in the three official languages of the EU – French, English and German – and made good use of her linguistic skills during her first State of the Union speech on 16 September.

As for the Commission services responsible for translation, some dysfunction in their work has been noticed during the COVID-19 crisis.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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