Sunday, May 06, 2018


There has been a lot of talk about the likely affects of Brexit on the status and use of the English language in the EU.

Ireland and Malta, have come under particular scrutiny as the two other Member States with English as an official national language, but who have opted to install other languages as official EU languages, viz Irish and Maltese respectively. The speculation has been that either of us will have to change our choice to English if that language is to remain an official EU language after Brexit.

I don't think that this is correct. The relevant Treaty article says:
The rules governing the languages of the institutions of the Union shall, without prejudice to the provisions contained in the Statute of the Court of Justice of the European Union, be determined by the Council, acting unanimously by means of regulations.
and the relevant Regulation says (Art.1):
The official languages and the working languages of the institutions of
the Union shall be Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian,
Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian,
Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian,
Spanish and Swedish.
and this can only be changed by unanimous vote of the Member States.

So unless a specific proposal to dump English as an official and working language is passed unanimously by the Member States English will remain an official and working language.

This means, at a minimum, that the Official Journal, Regulations and other documents of general application will be drafted in English (Arts.4&5), and that correspondence and documents originating in the UK may be in English as must the replies from the institutions (Art.2).

There is some wriggle room for the institutions, however, as the Regulation does not specify a language for correspondence originating with the institutions addressed to a non-Member State and Art.6 allows that
The institutions of the Community may stipulate in their rules of procedure which of the languages are to be used in specific cases.

No doubt there will be some diminution of the use of English over time as the French strive to recapture the status quo ante UK entry and the Germans take up the cudgel to increase the de facto status of German.

However, English has become the lingua franca over the years and is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. President Juncker has stated that UK nationals currently employed by the Commission in the translation service will be kept on, though numbers are likely to diminish over time if there is not further recruitment of UK nationals.

In this event, whatever about its use, the standard of English is also likely to fall over time as it becomes largely the preserve of non-native speakers within the Union. Many of us are already familiar with the differences between American and the Queen's English. I wonder will we now have to add a category of Eurospek to our already rich vocabulary.

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