by Jim Fife and Davyth Hicks
France, a state that has yet to ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), is now apparently feeling the effects of having French relegated to the status of a lesser-used language.
On Monday the Secretary General of the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), Abdou Diouf, former president of Senegal, urged European foreign affairs ministers to “act on behalf of linguistic and cultural diversity” and to fight the decline in the use of French, according to a report published on the Voilà.fr website.
OIF organised a meeting in Brussels attended by representatives of 13 EU member states, including the foreign ministers of six. According to the report, Diouf descried the “decline in plurilingualism” in favour of English and a “decline in the use of French in the EU institutions.” He stated that the enlargement of the EU has further weakened the position of the French language.
According to the report, Diouf stressed that languages are invaluable to the identity and values which they convey and that maintaining “this diversity is not costly.” He cited the cost of translation within the EU institutions as just “€2 per inhabitant, or the price of a cup of coffee.”
In the meantime, The Guardian reports that the government of France has established a school in Avignon to teach French to ambassadors and senior state officials from new EU members in the hopes of protecting the use of the language in EU institutions. The week-long course, costing €1,500 per participant, is paid for by an agency of the French government and is designed to teach practical language skills for use in government and diplomacy.
Stéphane Lopez, the official in charge of the programme, is quoted by The Guardian as stating “We think it is dangerous to encourage uniformity. The English language is a predator which destroys other languages. When people use English, other languages get crushed.”
Nonetheless, the goal of the programme is not to turn back the clock to the time when French was the universal language of diplomacy. “This isn’t a question of distaste for the English language or culture, nor is it tied up with anti-American sentiment,” said Lopez. Rather it is an attempt to stem the loss of French speaking in the EU, which has dropped 24% in use in council documents during 1997 and 2002, whereas English increased by 32%.
The Guardian report also cited as part of this effort free French classes for bureaucrats in Brussels and an advertising campaign in the new member states to popularise learning French.
However, Mr Diouf’s claims are somewhat breathtaking considering that France still continues to implement policies that are destroying languages within its territories such as Breton and Occitan. Furthermore, France has still not ratified the ECRML and has not signed the FCNM, claiming that to do so would violate its Constitution, which declares French as the only language of the Republic. It has also recently failed to support efforts by the Spanish government to have EU Treaty language status for Basque and Catalan.
Speaking to Eurolang, Anna Vari Chapalain from the Breton-medium Diwan schools, said that the francophonie organisations “should speak about all languages not just French, this is not a real diversity”.