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French journalist boycotts ‘English only’ EU conference in Dublin


As journalists from across Europe flew into the Irish capital of Dublin on Tuesday to mark its takeover of the revolving EU presidency, there was one familiar face missing from the press room. Jean Quatremer, Brussels correspondent for French daily Libération, would not be attending, he said, because the press conference was being held in one language only. English.

Outraged by the organisers’ decision to forgo French translation, Quatremer sat down to explain his reasons in a lengthy tirade on his award-winning blog, Coulisses de Bruxelles. “For Ireland, the European Union already has one official language and to nobody’s surprise, it’s English,” he began.

“The union presidency has a duty to respect multilingualism, at least in the institution’s working languages (German, English, French) or the pressroom languages (English, French),” he said. “Instead, Ireland has decided not to provide translation at all.”

He then went on to argue – in jest, one would hope – that if Ireland were indeed the official host (rather than the union presidency), then Gaelic should have been the official language at the conference. “English is not even Ireland’s official language but simply its common tongue,” he said.

In a jab at his English-speaking counterparts, Quatremer suggested that “not everyone in Spain, Portugal and Poland speaks English, however strange that might seem to an Anglophone”.

And if you hadn’t already got the message, he concluded with “I have no desire to be governed in a language which is not my own and which most Europeans are incapable of mastering.”

Now, Quatremer is clearly upset by the fact that his own language is no longer the lingua-franca of Europe (pardon the pun). But not only does his argument hold a number of obvious flaws, it’s one that nobody else seems to agree with, even in France.

After insulting the Irish in the worst possible way (the blog-post is entitled “Ireland, in service of her gracious majesty” and headed by a picture of the Queen and the British flag…), Quatremer then tries to convince his Gaelic counterparts that they, who “fought so hard for cultural and linguistic identity,” should be the first to protect individual countries’ languages.


But he at no point suggests that the English-held press conference should have been translated into any of the union’s 20 remaining languages after English, French and (at a push) German. In which case, he is asking journalists from almost every other nation to do precisely what he so abhors – “to be governed in a language that is not my own.”

Quatremer’s argument that not everyone in Spain, Portugal and Poland speaks English also outdoes its own logic – not everyone in Spain, Portugal and Poland speaks French either.

And what he hadn’t initially noticed, but is mentioned as an afterthought, is that both Denmark and Cyprus, the previous two presidential states, also carried out their inauguration press conferences in English only.

Quatremer’s argument that the Irish are weak in the face of their former colonial power becomes inane alongside these two examples. Instead, he might have to admit that all three countries are simply using common sense in the face of austerity.

He himself proves my own point perfectly in his afterthought. Noting that he “wasn’t interested” in attending the events in Demark and Cyprus himself, he says: “So rare are journalists that seem to care about these linguistic questions, I heard nothing about [the fact that there was no French translation]”.

I thought he said that most Europeans were incapable of mastering English? It sounds to me as though his journalist colleagues are perfectly capable of attending a press conference in English. So much so, that they didn’t even find it worth mentioning on their return.

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Look at you all! Selfish self centered creatures. And you are representing en journalism as you aren't ready to help yourself bastards!
Yes, I agree that "Only English" is unfair. But what is the solution. If we consider three - English, French, German. Then why not other European language. English is spoken by two or three countries, German is spoken by three or four, French spoken by three. At this point of view, its ok. So can anyone pls answer these questions - 1. Hungarian is spoken by four countries. So why not Hungarian? 2. Russian is understood by lots of eastern European countries. Why not Russian? 3. European Union trade partners like India don't even heard the french name of language french (français) or german name of german (Deutsch). They know only one European language - It's ENGLISH. Unfortunate but true.
Quatremer is right; although English is the de fakto 'international language', not everybody speaks it and those that do, often find it very difficult. However even if one chose one of the other languages spoken in the European Union as the 'international language, it would not solve the problem; All languages are difficult to learn and choosing one particular national language upsets the citizens of other states. It may seem pie in the sky to mention Esperanto, because most people have never even heard of it and so far relatively few have taken the trouble to learn it. However in comparison with other languages it is easier to learn and being based on common European roots it can rightly be considered as a neutral international language. If European politicians had the courage to be visionary, they would start thinking about the advantages of Esperanto. Something that is 'pie in the sky' today could be the best solution to our European language problem within a few generations.
I've become convinced that English-only is unfair. Those who aren't native speakers (94% of the world) have a tremendous disadvantage in understanding and expressing themselves. If you've ever tried to become proficient in another language, you know how difficult it is. // Esperanto makes much more sense as an international language than English (it can be learned in about 1/10 of the time). The rational arguments of the Esperantists have not made much of a dent over the decades. Perhaps anglophone arrogance will make the case for them!
The ignorance of Quatremer is unbelievable - whether he has a point or not about languages, the fact that he seems to have missed the last 100 years of Irish History, and some fairly well publicised 'Troubles' to confuse the Irish as being part of the UK, suggests that he really is a very poor journalist. Personally, I believe each Host should undertake the ceremony in their own native language (Danish in Denmark, Czech in Czech Republic, etc...) and the journalists should respect that enough to learn it, or pay for their own translations or local services to support them if they are unable to respect that (keeping money flowing to support native language speakers). Following Quatremer's logic, the host should pay to translate into all the languages of the EU simply because the journalists don't respect the host's native language enough to learn it or pay for a translator...
I agree that the conference should have translations done in major European languages. However, I wholly disagree with the way he sets about insulting the Irish and resurecting their past links to the British Crown. It serves no purpose at all and does not foster better working relations despite the merits of having additional European languages for the conference.
This arrogance of refusing to speak the international language is such a common trait in France that it is pathetic. As I travel all through Europe regularly I see France is the only country that generally refuses to learn or speak the international language. It is actually quite startling at times how stubborn if not stupid it appears to not be willing or able able to communicate with visitors in business or tourism ... living on a language island. All the rest of Europe regularly speaks of this. He represents his country's cultural feelings well. A frustrated and "ugly" American
+ Cara - where are you living? Do you know how tight things are here? We are barely able to covere the cost of the Presidency let alone the cost of all of the translators - especially for an egotist of a French journalist. I am sure that you find the French language encapsulating as teh quintessential European spririt when you are in a store buying a designer frock, shoes or handbag or when trying to chat up some much younger waiter or Gendarme
it is totally wrong and really easy to use this event to say french people are against english people.i am french and where i am from we are interested and very curious about different cultures, i have always tried to speak english and been fascinated by the people and language, and i wasn't the only one.. but i think one can agree it is impossible to learn a language in a school, isn't it? i am now living in england, and i realized that there is a kind of resentment against french people, most of the time it doesn't go further than a joke, but it is still there.I never saw it in france against english though. i have to confess that english people do speak a perfect english, indeed, i never heard them speaking another language.. from france, with love
I've met a few Irish that had another solution. The founders of the Irish Green Party (i.a. Christopher Fettes) were several speakers of Esperanto, the easy, neutral second language for all. Maire Mullarney, former parliamentarian of the Irish Green Party wrote a complete complete book on Esperanto. Sean O'reian, an Irish diplomat, continues to meet at Esperanto conferences around the world. Get it??? Esperanto is the answer for international conferences for Ireland.
It seems that the EU and the tower of Babel have a lot in common. Is this the future of the EU?
Look, France is by far the most anti-British country in Europe, so who is surprised. In fact France is almost always anti something. As for English, well I think, "Friendly Francois", says enough. Or Nicolas with his "The time is good", talking about the weather.
French is in decline and hardly spoken outside a few African states and a small area of Canada. Even in the Magreb English is what young people are keen to learn The French need to get real and the EU needs to stop wasting money. If a second language is to be spoken it should be Spanish which is a global language or German which is the largest language in the EU.
IRLAND : A COLD HOST ? However, it should be noted that everyone does not speak English despite the influence of the English language; the world speaks many tongues. And besides, a wellcoming host would also speak the tongue of her guest... By hosting a conference being held in an exclusively language to him, the Irishman appears to be a less hospitable host.
BIG BIRD TALKS ENGLISH… Willing or not, English will be growing inevitable as longer as the U.S. speaks this language - the influence of English doesn’t come from the Britons but Yanks (so far so good). So, the choice is clear : whether follow or remain isolated.
A LINGUISTIC ACTIVISM ? The French usually are stuck on their language (as does everyone). But the amazing is this boycott of French journalists. Refraining to attend a conference that does not speak their language becomes a kind of linguistic activism.
France is a founding member of the EU. We should not argue away the fact that her language (and German) is inevitable in EU's vernacular ; not just to be kicked aside by the Great Britain who actually hasn't conceded sacrifices the same way as France. This said, French reaction is understandable.
It is rather a faux-pas (see, we English do use some French!) for a journalist of all people to get the sovereign status of Ireland wrong but fear not, when the UK changes its status with the EU French may then see a resurgence.... But then, horror of horrors, might English STILL be the preferred language?
Efficiency. Pretty simple concept that the French will never understand (as evidenced by their falling behind in almost every measure not related to fashion or dairy production). It is typically French to whine and complain about their lost status and importance. Does any other country whine and complain like the French --when was the last time anyone heard the Dutch, Spanish or Portuguese moaning about English as the primary language in the EU? All had impressive empires and influence in their day, and all have come to terms with the present reality. It is tellng that there has not been even one other complaint from other EU journalists concerning their particular language not being offered. The EU is simply an economic union, and the language of busines is English. Period. The Frecnh language is a beautiful language, but does not travel well in the modern era. Too much nuance and ambiguity for the foreigner, and too much arrogance from the native speakers. In my opinion, the offended journalist was simply exercising the well-known French habit of finding an excuse to take a day off from work! Next time, show up, then complain.
Brazilian sex workers are reportedly learning English in a hurry for the World Cup tourists.They don't have the clout of journalists obviously.
Methinks he might be jealous. If french wasn't so complicated, we might learn. Congugassion... 40 year olds still have to open their Becherelle!
strange...there's english, french and german translation available at the press conference!!
Bill Chapman (not verified) - Wed, 01/09/2013 - 09:45 It seems to me that there is a strong case for Esperanto as a lingua franca for Europe. If we wanted a BS language to converse in, we already have English. We want to keep our language and our cultural tradition in that language. If your native language is English, you have no right to even participate in this debate. Try attending a French only conference first, and then talk. silly europeans
OK guys, Now what if conferences held in Marseilles were held only in French, those in Belgrade only in Serbian, and those in Espoo only in Finnish... The European principle of multilingualism should prevail and that's the point Quatremer is trying to make, admittedly in an awkward way! Use of English is convenient, easy, economical etc. but it still should remain in check. Imagine a diktat from Germany on how to run things just because their economy is the most efficient? How would you guys like that?
I am half Polish and half Czech. I demand that at every EU organized event, the citizens are provided with Polish and Czech language translation.
He's not a happy bunny is he!! Methinks if he spent less time throwing his toys out of the pram and trying to eradicate waste in the E U his articles would be far wider read and considerably better received. Very well written blog by Sophie
As an Irishman living in France it still makes perfect sense to me to save the expense of translators at this difficult time, especially with so much written about not only the Irish budget but also the EU budget. Cara and Jean are more interested in image than substance.
The question draws larger than this debate but is very simple, the question is not of course the english language, england has certainly less influene than France today in Europe and in the world, the question is not Mr Quatremer linguistic capabilities which are certainly way above any english speaking journalists'. The question is should the american language and the american way of life be the only one in the wold ? Everyone has to choose and decide, personnaly I support Mr Quatremer 100%, yes to linguistic diversity and to diversity in general and yes and to other ways than the american way !
Listen to the message not the language in which it's spoken. Wakarimasu ka?
Europe is multilingual. Funny that EU officials tend to forget that, and journalists (French journalists, in this case) have to remind them. Are Anglophones trying to destroy the very idea of a multilingual Europe? Just because they are unable to speak foreign languages? Kion vi dirus, se mi parolus esperante kun vi?
His loss our gain
What's wrong with some French people about their dying language?? If they keep worrying about the position of their second tier language they will forever remain bitter with envy for the world's surpreme language. This journalist isn't blinded to the fact that English is the language of sports,media,science,entertainment,fashion,politics,business, etc even in France. Ask jean marie Messier of Vivendi-Universal and others. Let this journalist get serious or should be fired by La Liberation for not delivering material.
It seems to me that there is a strong case for Esperanto as a lingua franca for Europe.
I had the same thoughts when I saw the tirade: e doesn't give a ig about Poles, Portuguese & Spaniards. He _demands_ French. Congratulations: one rarely sees a journalist being so candid about a (fairly heavyweight) colleague.
Ireland has been preoccupied paying back unsecured French bondholders (among others) and supporting their reckless, lending banks for several years now at a very high cost to the citizens of this country. I'm happy to hear that the government is not wasting further money on translating proceedings for linguistically challenged French journalists. Vive M. Depardieu Dublin, Ireland
He is at Liberation, what to expect about his language capabilities and interests?
As an Irishwoman, I am disgusted by the fact that, the Irish Govt is allowing this. Of all European nations, the Irish should be sensitive to the implications of this. The irony is that the British are considering withdrawing from the EU. Of course, French should also be used as well as English. I will tell the Irish Govt just what I think of this. I always regard the French language as encapsulating the quintessential European spirit.