When Bulgaria and Romania became members of the European Union on 1 January 2007 – well into the term of the first Barroso Commission – Meglena Kuneva from Bulgaria became Commissioner for consumer protection and the Romanian Leonard Orban was made the first Commissioner for multilingualism.
Consumer protection is potentially important for 500 million consumers in the European Union and the European Economic Area, but from an administrative point of view this field can only try to influence internal market legislation, not shape it. Supporting, supplementing and monitoring activities offer the Commissioner a modicum of visibility.
Through no fault of Orban, the Commission post for multilingualism became a byword for the “bloated” Commission the current Nice Treaty and the amending Lisbon Treaty wanted to trim in a union with 27 member states (and potentially more).
The word “multilingualism” does not appear in the existing treaties, although languages are important for the European Union and its citizens: treaty languages, official languages, working languages, translation, interpretation, publishing, cross-border communication, language teaching, language learning, business opportunities…
According to merit
In the Czech Republic, President Vaclav Klaus has opposed the will of the Parliament by refusing to sign the ratification instrument of the Lisbon Treaty, and a supporting fringe of supporters among the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) – defeated in the democratic arena after a protracted circus - have promised to delay ratification by a new legal challenge against the amending treaty, once cleared by the Constitutional Court.
They do not expect to win their legal challenge, just to sabotage the ratification process.
The Czech situation is partly an internal constitutional mess, but it has implications for the rest of Europe.
The European Union is structurally about as robust as a house of cards – founded on multiple unanimity requirements. In order to function even tolerably, the EU needs a high degree of cooperation between the member states.
Destructive behaviour should not go unnoticed. Countries should be judged on their merits.
If the Czech constitutional system is unable to sort out the ratification issue without delay, the Czech Commissioner should be awarded the multilingualism portfolio 2009 (if there is going to be a Czech Commissioner).
P.S. Even if the supporters of ex-leader Vaclav Klaus are a fringe group within the ODS, the Civic Democrats in the European Parliament as a whole have joined the new anti-European political group the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), together with the UK Conservative Party of David Cameron and William Hague and the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) of the Kaczynski twins.