Tuesday 16 September 2008

European communication (II)

On Friday, I remarked that European communication can still be improved.

Today, EUobserver reports that the Dutch social scientist Abram de Swaan is calling the EU's multilingualism policy "a pain in the neck". These remarks come on the eve of the presentation of the multilingualism policy by EU Commissioner Leonard Orban.

Actually, I am surprised that this comes up only now. During a conference in Summer 2007, I have already been discussing with Mr. Orban about the multilingualism strategy. At the time, I was critising especially the strong weight of economic considerations for multilingualism, which Orban rejected.

However, multilingualism is not a pain in the neck (or in other parts of the body). It is a pain in the neck in administrative terms, but the ability of eurocrats and transnational bureaucrats and politicians to communicate directly with non-multilingual populations is the only possibility for a European democracy to evolve.

English should become the sole language of inter-administrative communication, but remaining on such a self-referencial level is exactly the problem of Europe today. If I cannot communicate with my Polish neighbour about her problems, how can I work on improving her living conditions? If I want to implement a human rights policy, how do I explain it to a local Spanish police officer?

Multilingualism might be a pain in the neck, but it is a necessary pain for everyone taking the European project seriously. Let's not opt for seemingly simple solutions when complexity demands much more!


Bill Chapman said...

Personally, I'm for Esperanto in addition to the mother tongue. Have you looked at Esperanto? A good place to start is www.esperanto.net

Ralf Grahn said...

Julien Frisch,

You are right about the necessity of current and future EU legislation being available in all the official languages of the European Union.

Better translate 'everything' centrally and once, than haphazardly in each member state, because the national administrations and parliaments work in their own languages, as do NGOs, media and citizens. Abolishing translation centrally would only 'outsource' the activity to the member states, leading to quality problems.