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Vraiment, M. Quatremer?

Once upon a time, when I was young and innocent, I had the opportunity to spend 5 months running around in the Council Legal Service. My director at the time was a brilliant lawyer by the name of Jean-Paul Jacqué (and, the French being the masters of the Legal Services of the Institutions, his boss of course was Jean-Claude Piris). Unfortunately, among M. Jacqué’s many qualities isn’t the ability to pronounce words clearly, which is why I spent every Monday morning from 08.15 – 08.45 listening to the weekly staff meeting from the tip of my chair trying to figure out what he was saying. Never once, though, did it occur to me to ask him to speak English (or Dutch) instead. In the EU Institutions, the Law is discussed in French. (Although, to my relief, the process of making Law is not, so the rest of the week I was fine speaking English.) The boss speaks French, the Legal Service speaks French, we all speak French.

In the rest of the European Institutions, on the other hand, the culture is less clear. The extent to which work is done varies from one DG to another. As noted, the lawyers represent one extreme: they speak French. The other extreme are the economists: they speak English. (If you’re wondering why, you should take a look at this “family tree” of MIT economists, and notice how many Europeans are in it. For those who are too lazy to click, the most important ones are Mario Draghi and Lucas Papademos.) My current boss is a pretty decent French economist as well, but he too does the bulk of his work – and certainly his writing – in English. When lawyers and economists collide, as they do in the heat of competition law, you end up with Franglish like this. Everywhere else in the European Institutions, the functionnaires (French word!) speak different mixtures of French and English (and increasingly: German), as they prefer and as the culture of their DG or Institution dictates.

My point with all of this is that for the life of me I can’t figure out what Jean Quatremer is complaining about. These Eurozone reports are an economist thing, so it is entirely predictable that they should be prepared in English originally. Subsequently, they will be translated into all languages under the sun, but are we really meant to wait for all that translation to be finished before we get to find out what is in them? (Somehow he manages to complain about non-translation and about embargoes at the same time.) For the love of God please stop whining about the times when Eurocrats speak or write something other than French. We non-French non-English speakers manage to survive, so why can’t France? Urgent documents like this should be published when they are ready, with translations coming later. What’s so wrong about that? What is the alternative? O, and seriously?

La conférence de presse de José Manuel Durao Barosso, le président de la Commission européenne, et de son commissaire aux affaires économiques et monétaires, Olli Rehn, présentant les rapports était aussi, indeed, in english.

Don’t EU press conferences have interpretation anymore??? That’s news to me.

Point being, if the hundreds of millions of Non-French, Non-Walloon, Non-British, Non-Irish can get used to having the EU Institutions working in English and French only, I’m sure the French will survive the use of English as well. Now can we please go back to things that are actually important, like, say, the content of those reports?

P.S. The careful reader will have noticed that somehow, through some superhuman intellectual effort, I managed to write this blog post in a language that is not my own. You’re welcome.

6 Responses to Vraiment, M. Quatremer?

  1. avatar Dylan says:

    Oh, you hate the french. Not a surprise. Well, since that only Germany and France are the only two big economy in Europe, french and german language have their place in the EU institutions.

  2. avatar Dylan says:

    “Now can we please go back to things that are actually important, like, say, the content of those reports?”

    Funny. Look at your own country. Germany and France remain the strongest countries in Europe. The Uk, Italy and Spain are falling…

  3. avatar Martin Holterman says:

    @Dylan: O, for sure, German and French should be the other two main working languages, it’s just that the actual practice doesn’t work that way. In the Council, 70% of the talk is in English, 25% in French and 5% is in German. In COREPER, if I recall correctly, they have interpretation in those three languages and a couple more, but certainly not all 23. (It depends on Member States’ willingness to pay for it, apparently.) Outside official meetings, people always speak English or French, not German, unless they happen to know that everyone understands it. So regardless of the official status of German as a working language, no one assumes it is understood by all the way they assume it for English and French. And I’ve never once heard anyone German whine about that.

  4. avatar Craig Willy says:

    Here, here. Good post. Of course I’m not Anglo so I’m open to criticism/conflicts of interest on this.

  5. avatar Cera says:

    “A Europe of polyglots is not a Europe of people who
    speak many languages fluently, but, in the best case
    scenario, of people who can communicate, each
    speaking his own language and understanding that of
    the other, but who, while not being able to speak it
    fluently, by understanding it, even with difficulty,
    would understand the “spirit”, the cultural universe
    that every one expresses when speaking the language
    of his ancestors and of his own tradition.”
    Umberto Eco, In Search of the Perfect Language (Building
    Europe). Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

  6. Pingback: Aveugles of the world, unite! | Martin Holterman

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