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.