Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Merkel wants more German spoken in EU

Merkel February summit smile.jpg

Angela Merkel's conservatives want to increase the use of German in Europe if they are re-elected in September, calling in their campaign programme for the language to be treated on a par with English and French in top Brussels institutions.

"German is the most frequently spoken native language and one of three working languages of the European Union," a draft programme from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), reads.

"We will push for a further strengthening of the German language in Europe. Our goal is that it is treated in the same way as English and French in the European Parliament, the (European) Commission and (European) Council."

English and French have been the dominant working languages of the EU in the past few decades, although French has declined since 2004 as the bloc expanded from 15 to 27 members, most from eastern Europe where English is a more common second language.

But there are differences depending on the institution.

German is rarely used day-to-day at the European Commission, but is heard frequently at the European Parliament, which has a German president and is made up of more Germans than members from any other state because of the country's large population.

It is not the first time Merkel's conservatives have called for a strengthening of German in Brussels: in their 2009 programme they also complained that the language was not receiving equal treatment.

But given Germany's growing economic power within Europe since the outbreak of the euro zone debt crisis just over three years ago, the demand could rub other countries the wrong way.

Volker Kauder, leader of Merkel's conservatives in parliament, caused a storm back in 2011, when at the height of the crisis he boasted that "Europe speaks German".

In their election programme, the CDU and CSU also hail the imposition of "German-style debt brakes" across Europe and Berlin's role in firming up EU budget rules and ensuring that structural economic reforms are being implemented in its euro partners.

They also trumpet their opposition to common euro zone bond issuance and a Europe-wide deposit guarantee scheme.

"This would mutualise risks, forcing German savers to guarantee the deposits of other countries," the draft programme, which is due to be approved this weekend, reads.

The parties hold up Germany's balanced economy and robust industrial base as a "worldwide model".

"These successes are bringing us global recognition. A survey by the British broadcaster BBC shows that Germany is the most liked country in the world."

In 2011, English was the source language for 77.04% of all texts submitted to the European Commission's in-house translation services, up from 74.6% in 2009, according to EU figures.

By comparison, the position of French has continued to erode, representing only 7.13% of source texts, down from 8.32% in 2009.

German, meanwhile, is confined to a marginal role, representing only 2.74% of source texts, despite being the single most spoken language in the EU, with almost a 100 million native speakers.

The EU institutions spend around €1 billion on translation and interpreting every year, representing about 1% of the EU budget or €2.50 per citizen.

The predominance of English has been criticised in particular by French-speaking groups.

European Commission

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