Blog AnalysisEEAS High Representative

French is not at the party today...

The Francophonie flag

(BRUSSELS2) While the International Day of the Francophonie is celebrated today (March 20) in several countries around the world, the use of French is becoming residual in the foreign policy of the European Union. This is evidenced by official declarations published regularly. This deficit has become glaring since the arrival of Cathy Ashton as High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs.

Most of the European Union declarations that I receive are now available in only one language: English. To the point that part of my work now consists of translation! And, if a French translation exists, it often arrives after a delay exceeding several hours or even a few days,… when it does arrive.

A practice at odds with customs… and law

This practice is surprising in an international organization. At the UN, as at NATO, for example, there are at least two working languages. This practice is also in “delicacy” with the Treaty.

A declaration (No. 29) annexed to the Maastricht Treaty of the European Union provides as follows: “For COREU communications, the current practice of European political cooperation will serve as a model for the time being.“. Explanation: “COREU” communications are those exchanged between ambassadors of the European Union (a declaration from the European Union or the High Representative is normally the subject of a COREU telegram); when we talk about “followed practice”, we refer to a systematic translation into two languages ​​(English, French). In other words, this paragraph prescribes French and English as working languages ​​until further notice.

This statement also states: “All texts relating to the common foreign and security policy which are presented or adopted at meetings of the European Council or of the Council, as well as all texts to be published, are translated immediately and simultaneously into all the official languages ​​of the Community..” For the items that I know of, this provision is not often applied.

A Chief Diplomat still just as monolingual

Lady Ashton had promised when she arrived to learn French. She still barely stammers it. And understands it even less. Which is quite extraordinary for a “chief diplomat”. However, we will not hold it against him. Our language is very complex. And the Baroness has little free time. On the other hand, it is not normal to have diplomatic texts in only one language.

It is not just a question of defending what has been acquired. It is also a question of legitimacy in part of the world, particularly in French-speaking Africa. It is finally a security of understanding. Having two languages ​​makes it possible to grasp the finer points or the exact contours of a political declaration.

Read also: French, “dead language” of the ESDP?

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).