Saturday 21 August 2010

After Eurogoblin: Why is English not the lingua franca of European integration?

The free movement of goods, persons, services and capital has been popular in England, at least when headed towards the European Continent, but the free flow of thoughts less so in the reverse direction, if threatening to enrich Britain.

Have you ever seen a pious goblin? Me neither, until Eurogoblin took the “Finding Europe’s Mojo” motto seriously and posted a short essay (but long blog post) called The Christian Roots of European Unity.

I join Vihar Georgiev (of European Union Law) in his wish that many people will take the time to read the post because it raises important questions and Eurocentric (of The European Citizen) in his assessment: Brilliant post!

For now, I am going to make some remarks on languages and culture(s) in relationship to European integration.

Languages and culture(s)

English has become a lingua franca for commerce, as well as the second language for university and college students all over Europe. There are also great publishers, such as Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press and Palgrave Macmillan, with titles on the history, politics and law of European integration.

However, generally EUSSR myths, disinformation and constant sowing of discord seem to be much more in demand in the United Kingdom than interest in languages and cultures next door. The culture just is not there.

Beyond their mother tongue, many European students are limited to the offer in English, so their world view is formed by what they can access.

The roots and motives of European integration remain almost invisible, if left to British media (mainstream and social), politicians and expressions from an uninformed public.

The British are constantly hammered with myths that the UK was taken into the “Common Market”, without giving the people a choice, and that the EEC has surreptitiously turned into a European Union super-state. First of all, membership in the three European Communities was approved in a referendum in 1975. Secondly, every Treaty since the Treaty of Rome has visibly highlighted the quest for “ever closer union”. With slightly different wording, the idea of a future common destiny was laid out in the 1951 Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. The Schuman declaration (1950) described the ECSC as “a first step in the federation of Europe”. Thirdly, in the international arena the European Union is almost as weak as Poland under the 'liberum veto', and almost as impossible to reform (multiple unanimity rules).

The “integration by stealth" myth is bollocks, despite daily disinformation. Actually, Britain joined a project of ever deeper integration, but has been in constant breach of the spirit of its commitment. Sir Humphrey’s parody of UK foreign policy in Yes, Minister (on YouTube) contains more than a grain of truth.

Martin Kettle describes the consequences for the UK of this linguistic and cultural “blindness” in The Guardian: Trapped in the Anglosphere, we’ve lost sight of next door.

In addition, one could remark, this tunnel vision affects increasing numbers of young Europeans for whom English is their only foreign language.

These are some of the reasons why the Council of Europe’s annual European Day of Languages on 26 September is important.

Antonia on the Euonym blog (Talking about the EU) tells us that the European Commission in the UK arranges a Day of Multilingual Blogging on 26 September 2010, and the UK Representation has been joined by the multilingual aggregator and individual Eurobloggers. Join the event page on Facebook, spread the word through social media and personal contacts, begin preparing your blog posts and start learning a new language.

The culture of European integration has often been nurtured with more thought and understanding in other European languages. Especially in the United Kingdom and the other later entrants among the EU member states (including my own, Finland), there is a need to look for sources beyond the confines of England and English.

Why not put free movement of thought on your agenda?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Comments relevant to the topic discussed in each Grahnlaw blog post are most welcome. However, the number of spam comments has skyrocketed. This is the sad reason for comment moderation, so it may take a while before your valued comment appears.

It is easier to understand a language than to use it correctly. As Eurobloggers we could and should promote interaction among Europeans across borders and between linguistic communities. Grahnlaw has adopted a multilingual comment policy:

I do my best to read comments in Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.


  1. Hello, I too have joined in the event of the European Day of Languages on Facebook. It is important to learn other languages beyond English, but it is also important that the European institutions take care to provide some important information in other languages like Spanish so you can reach more people.

  2. Jorge Juan Morante,

    You are quite right about the importance of all the official EU languages.

    The legislation of the European Union needs to be accessible for all EU citizens, from proposal to final text.

    However, there are more problems with regard to news, webpages, studies etc.

    These problems could be suitable topics on the day of multilingual blogging.

  3. Yes, they are very important, is not possible for all European citizens can participate in the consultations carried out by the European Commission if these are only in English or French.
    And I agree that it will be a very interesting topic to discuss at the European Day of Languages.

  4. Jorge Juan Morante,

    I agree. Eurobloggers could do a few things to prepare for the day of multingual blogging. I have some suggestions in the Post Scriptum after my latest blog entry.

    An additional question would be to start airing possible issues of public interest with regard to European languages, although the day can certainly be used for blogging on other policy issues as well (but perhaps in another language than usually).


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