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This week, French right-wing author and commentator Éric Zemmour told CNEWS he believes the English language has “crushed” French. Calling for a boycott in the EU post-Brexit, Mr Zemmour argued it is time to reinstate French as the bloc’s official language. He said: “English has completely crushed other languages, especially French.
“Indeed if the British had not left, if Brexit hadn’t happened, we would not be having this discussion.
“English was accepted by everyone, including the French. Now that the UK is gone, there are now only two English speaking countries: Malta and Ireland.
“Not that many compared to the entire EU population.
“I think this is the time to launch a counter-offensive in favour of French, to recall that French was the original language of EU institutions, that English shouldn’t have replaced it and that there is no reason to speak English now that the English are gone.”
His comments were echoed by European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune, who earlier this month said the EU should stop speaking “a type of broken English”.
Not everyone in France feels the same way, though.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, French MEP Philippe Olivier claimed that of course, he wouldn’t mind if French became the official language of the EU but noted it is not what the National Rally is campaigning for.
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France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune
Mr Olivier, who is the special adviser to Ms Le Pen, said: “There’s a debate on this going on in France at the moment.
“But certain habits have been institutionalised in the EU and [we need to accept] English is the most widely used language.
“So our main combat today is just to make sure the other languages are preserved in the functioning of the EU institutions and not only English.
“But at the moment… we are not sure we can even achieve that.”
The bloc has arguably been trying to diminish the English language ever since the 2016 EU referendum.
In May 2017, former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a conference in Italy on the EU that “English is losing importance in Europe”.
Amid tensions with the UK over looming Brexit negotiations, he said he was delivering his speech in French.
Explaining his choice of language, he said: “Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe and also because France has an election.”
He also called the UK decision to leave the EU “a tragedy”.
French MEP Philippe Olivier
National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen
Laughter and applause greeted his comment about the English language, and he could be seen smiling wryly.
He made a further dig at the UK in 2018, when he bucked the trend of other world leaders in attendance at the central and Eastern European Three Seas Initiative Forum and delivered a speech in French.
Mr Juncker said: “English is not the only official language of the European Union.
“French is a big, great, influential language and culture in the European Union and we should not forget that we are not under the rule of the only lingua franca, which is English.”
That same year French President Emmanuel Macron praised French as a “language of Freedom”, and announced a multi-million euros plan to oust English.
Mr Macron said: “English has probably never been as present in Brussels at the time when we are talking about Brexit.
“This domination is not inevitable.
“It’s up to us to set some rules, to be present, and make French the language with which one has access to a number of opportunities.”
Mr Macron’s plan was dashed in 2020, though, as Brussels announced they would be sticking to using English – even after Brexit.
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French President Emmanuel Macron
Former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker
Chief Spokesperson Eric Mamer said in February last year: “It is clear that Brexit will not affect the language system.”
At present, texts for the EU Commission are presented in three working languages: English, French and German.
Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute for Economic Affairs, told Express.co.uk English would only become more important in the years to come.
He said: “English is increasingly the global language of commerce.
“That irritates the European Union somewhat and it certainly irritates the French.
“The European Union has got an interesting question facing it.
“Does it remain largely bilingual, despite the fact that the only native English speakers will be the very small Republic of Ireland?
“Or does it sort of put two fingers up to the English-speaking world and say ‘no we’re going to do everything in French?’
“I think what they do is very introspective and inward-looking.”
Looking further afield, Mr Littlewood said: “The use of the English language in other parts of the world is growing all the time – in India for example.
“We have the enormous benefit, the Americans and ourselves, of speaking the same language.
“So I don’t think that English is going to diminish as the global language of commerce.”