La Treizième Étoile: 13/12/09 - 20/12/09 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
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Is there a future for French at the European Parliament? Un avenir au Parlement Européen pour le français?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Is French still heard or spoken in the corridors of the European institutions? Even between colleagues of different nationalities? From what began as an observation I made with my "outsider" eyes when I first arrived at the Parliament, I have asked myself more and more whether there is a future for the French language at the heart of the European Union as one of the main working language alongside German and of course English..

NB. This English version was translated (by me) from the original written in French by a Brit - me! If you like to read the original version in French, download the pdf here.

After all, even with a complete complement of interpretation on hand, there are still some MEPs and Commissioners who choose to speak in English, even if as a result their message becomes nearly impossible to understand - even for us Anglophones! But do also spare a thought for the interpretation teams...

Two weeks ago (2nd December), the team at together with the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF) organised an exceptional evening conference on this subject, entitled "French in the European Institutions, an inevitable decline?"

Good question. Intrigued, I decided to go along, and taking my place in the front row of the packed conference room directly in front of the panel surrounded by proud francophones, I was really in the lion's den - as we say in England.

After a short documentary prepared for the event that asked "Do the European Institutions still speak French?" a passionate debate ensued. Here are what the panellists had to say, all of whom were francophone (unfortunately?)...

Responding to the question of what language she uses at work, Marie-Christine Vergiat, a member of the Culture and Education Committee and French MEP of the GUE group since the elections of last July, said "the language at work is English... the language in which we work less is French, but I use it myself because only in French can I properly express my opinions."

"Since my arrival [at the EP] I have had contradictory feelings about it because we are really lucky here to have translation capabilities into all the languages of the EU but all communication, including between colleagues, is conducted in English."

"I am not anti-Anglophone - I learnt a little English like everyone else - but I am tired of the anglicisms which are catastrophes for translations and impoverishments of the language."

Philippe Etienne, French Permanent Representative to the EU, believes that "the diversity of languages is part of the history of European construction" while also admitting that "it is true that French is suffering a decline which will be inevitable, but not if we act to stop it."

"It is important for every country, not just France, to defend its own language by using it for everyday speak," he concluded.

"It is not a battle against English" (music to my ears)

"First of all, I want to explain that this is not a battle against English," explained Odile Quintin, the Director General for Education, Training, Culture and Youth.

She told those in attendance that at the Commission, her policy is to "promote multilinguism... the knowledge of other languages... and to respect them all on a level playing field", but Liberation journalist Jean Quatremer criticised the Commission for the delay in making available online (and often the complete absence) of French versions of documents and web pages. For him, "there is no technical reason why the documents cannot be distributed in the two languages at the same time."

"Every Brit that I have met here, whether a diplomat, a civil servant etc, speaks perfectly good French," he continued (ah, again music to my British ears). "In fact, [the problem] is rather the other nationalities, notably those from Scandinavia, who do not speak a single word of French."

(It is worth noting here that the moderator had begun by posing a question to Mr Quatremer to which he began to reply in English! I tip my hat for his perfect pronunciation...)

The background en français please....

To illustrate the "evident decline" of the French language, Mr Quatremer recalled when he made his first steps as a journalist in Brussels in 1992 when at that time 70% of documents were distributed mainly in French. Today, this figure is around the 30% mark. He despairs that the press releases are published first and foremost (sometimes only) in English: "the number of times the photocopier breaks down the very moment the French version is due to be copied; it's unbelievable! Two hours later the French versions appear, so press agencies simply have to work in English."

And even if they are written in French, the "Background notes" for the press still appear under the title that is itself an anglicism...

Olga Cosmidou, a Greek national who is the Director General of Interpretation and Conferences at the Parliament, explained that "Parliament cannot function with just one or two working languages" and that, thanks to webstreaming (yet another anglicism!) the work of her DG is becoming more and more important as any EU citizen could at any time require the material put on the EP website in the name of transparency to be translated and available to consult in their own mother tongue.

"If we could all speak with one common language, the debates would be false debates," she said, "so therefore there will always be a place for French."

So there we are! After two and a half hours of frank discussion, the neutral observer (of which I am) heard lots of talk of action that needs to be taken to preserve the future use of the French language, but very little of any concrete measures... Perhaps that is for next time?

Oops! Rachita Dati admits she 'can't stand' being an MEP

Oops! Now what was that I was saying about Parliament making headlines for the wrong reasons this week? The most recent offender this time is French MEP Rachida Dati, who accidentally (or purposefully?) took a phonecall in the Strasbourg plenary chamber forgetting she was wearing a microphone for a documentary about her that she commissioned...

Rachita Dati (Photo: Telegraph)

While that wasn't a major gaffe in itself, what she did say may cause some embarrassment to all parties - notably she was caught on camera complaining about the boredom of her parliamentary job and revealed she is only showing up because of the media....

It is worth recalling here that Miss Dati was promoted from Nicolas Sarkozy's staff to the post of Justice Minister when he won office in 2007, a move that was heavily-criticized for her lack of experience. She was thus in the press spotlight since her appointment which perhaps contributed to her spectacular downfall, making numerous mistakes and being dispatched away from France by Sarzoky to the European Parliament.

Clearly disappointed with this outcome, the 44-year-old politician (who did state she had no desire to become an MEP after being ejected from President Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet) has been striving to make a big impression with a view of heading back to France, positioning herself to run for the national Parliament in the next national elections and then as future Mayor of Paris (she is already Mayor of the left bank's 7th arrondissement).

Therefore as you'd expect, she is cultivating her media image as a hard working parliamentarian which leads us back to why she had a microphone on her lapel in Strasbourg yesterday - she was being filmed by the M6 channel which for a piece on "a day in the life of Rachida Dati".

What exactly she said in the video above translates as follows: "I am in the Strasbourg parliament chamber. I can't stand this, I can't stand this. I think there is going to be bloodshed before I get to the end of my term. I have to stay here, play clever, because there are a few press around and there's the election of [Commission President] Barroso... When you're in Strasbourg, they see you if you don't vote. If you don't [vote], that means that you're not there." **

Oops. Perhaps Miss Dati requires a little more work on that positive PR now...

** What she actually said in French: "Je suis dans l'hémicycle du parlement de Strasbourg. Je n'en peux plus, je n'en peux plus! Je pense qu'il va y avoir un drame avant que je finisse mon mandat. Je suis obligée de rester là, de faire la maligne, parce qu'il y a un peu de presse et, d'autre part, il y a l'élection de Barroso (...) Quant tu es à Strasbourg, on voit si tu votes ou pas. Sinon, ça veut dire que tu n'es pas là..

Is Parliament's Strasbourg seat actually safe?

Monday, 14 December 2009
It would appear that the safety of the European Parliament seat at Strasbourg is continuing to cause problems and concerns...

European Parliament, Strasbourg (Louise Weiss Building - LOW) by ajburgess, on Flickr

EUObserver reported this morning that a chunk of plaster "measuring no more than 1.5 metres by 1.5 metres" fell down from the ceiling in the Pierre Pflimlin (PFL) building, which is home to the communication department (and where Newshound has an office apparently - although I couldn't find it).

The reason for this chunk falling has been attributed to the combination of "building work and heavy rainfall" in Strasbourg and could not have come at a worse time as MEPs, officials, and masses of stagiaires head down to the charming French town for the December session.

But a look back in the archives reveals that this is not the first time the Strasbourg seat has caused the Parliament problems...

Last August (2008), a 10-tonne chunk of the ceiling in the Strasbourg plenary chamber fell down, and in 2007 the buildings were condemned by officials after they discovered "alarming levels of asbestos".

The year before that, in 2006, it emerged that Strasbourg authorities had been overcharging the EU by millions of Euros a year in rent for 25 years. And if that wasn't enough, Legionnaires disease was found in the plumbing in 2002.

But of course with the seat also facing criticism by many because of the large expenses incurred in transferring MEPs and officials from Brussels and Luxembourg for one week every month, this latest incident is by comparison just the tip of the iceberg!

The December session may not have already begun but it already looks to be making headlines for all the wrong reasons...

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