Despite Brexit, EU not to jettison English language just yet

29 Jun 2016


The British can rest easy. Although there is considerable clamour for the European Union to drop English as its official working language in the wake of Brexit, this is not going to happen any time soon.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from across the EU, from France to Poland to even Ireland, have said that the English language no longer has any legitimacy in Brussels following the UK's referendum vote to exit the bloc.

''English is our official language because it has been notified by the UK. If we don't have the UK, we don't have English,'' Polish MEP and chair of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee Danuta Hübner told a news conference on the legal consequences of the British referendum to leave the EU on Monday.

But a statement issued on behalf of the European Commission rejected Hübner's claim. The European Commission Representation in Ireland said it ''noted'' the report that English would cease to be an official language of the EU but said it was ''incorrect''.

''The Council of Ministers, acting unanimously, decide on the rules governing the use of languages by the European institutions. In other words, any change to the EU Institutions' language regime is subject to a unanimous vote of the Council,'' the statement said,

In 1958, the then European Economic Community named Dutch, French, German and Italian - the languages of the first six countries to join the organisation - as its official languages.

Since then, as more countries have become part of the EU, the number of official languages has increased to 24.

While Irish received full status in the EU in 2007 it remained marginalised due to a derogation which meant that EU institutions were not obliged to provide full translation services in the language.

While English is the most spoken language in Europe, and an official language in three member states - Ireland, England and Malta - Irish is Ireland's official EU nominated language and Maltese is Malta's official language.

Hübner said under EU rules member states can notify only one official language each which means that Malta or Ireland cannot also request English as an official language without first making a change to EU rules which would require a unanimous decision in the EU Council.

However, she was confident such a change could take place.

''I personally believe that we will find unanimity to change the rule on this ... and then we will have from the Irish not only Gaelic but also English or from the Maltese not only Maltese but also English,'' she said.

Hübner is not alone in her view that a Brexit might have implications for the English language as a working language in Europe.

French Jean-Luc Mélenchon leftwing MEP and French presidential candidate tweeted on Monday that ''English can no longer be the third working language of the European Parliament'' . (See: Brexit: Europe may shut the door on the English language).

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