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The European Union has 27 member nations from across the continent. And yet its vast bureaucracy relies on just two official languages. If an aspiring EU civil servant from any part of the Union wants to have any true hope of achieving a position in Brussels or Strasbourg, then they best prepare themselves by becoming fluent in English and French. Of course, in some branches of the EU, there is not even that option. All the official works of the European Court of Justice are completed in French alone. It must be asked, in an ever expanding Union with an increasingly alienated periphery, with growing carnage in Greece, and a somewhat managed crisis in Portugal and Spain, can there be any hope of effective planning reaching these nations with a reliance on none of the native tongues.
All international organisations need a set of official languages. The paperwork and proceedings would never be completed otherwise. However, the problem with the EU is that they have selected so few of the ones available to them. The state which cofounded the European Union’s forefather, the European Coal and Steel Community, and boasts the largest population, as well as a sizeable neighbour in which their language is also practiced, Germany does not qualify as a state contributing an official language. Neither do other formidable entities like Spain or Italy. Spanish has more international users than English, meaning the use in overseas trade and relations could prove invaluable.
The use of English as an official language is also somewhat controversial, especially when compared to German or Spanish, as the UK is not exactly the greatest team player in the EU. There are those who are more deserving of this reward, than the late joining Great Britain, which has been an awkward participant in the European Union ever since the rule of Margaret Thatcher. We may have an open borders policy, but that aside, the British generally moan and complain at the introduction of new continental laws that apply to us, and have been fairly staunch in refusing to assist in the rescue of the Greek economy.
There are, of course, other aspects to observe. The use of English as an official language was no doubt beneficial in the early days of the ESCE and the Western European Union (a NATO predecessor), where huge amounts of aid were provided to a Europe in recovery by the United States in the wake of the Second World War. As Europe has remained (for most part) allied with the Americans, the use of the English language officially is not a bad move. And to give some countries, perhaps not Germany and Spain, but Italy or Portugal or Greece, official language rights could open the flood gates. Why not Dutch? Why not Swedish? Why not Polish or Flemish or Catalan or Estonian? There is nothing wrong with these languages, but there comes a point where the logistics become impossible. Even the UN, with its members numbering around 200, has just five official languages. There must be a cut off, and any given leeway always risks becoming greater.
While it seems unlikely that the EU will be introducing any new languages to their official list soon, it may see change one day. As the chances for expansions east remain possible, its seems only fair that other aspects of the European Union’s agenda could expand too. Personally, I would most like to see German recognised, as Germany does and will most likely continue to provide a basis of stability for the region.
By Sam Lowe
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham