Francophones that don't speak French

Francophone summit

On Thursday, Harper will join Quebec Premier Jean Charest and dozens of other international leaders for the two-day 11th Francophonie conference.

Harper and Charest will also promote Quebec City's anniversary in 2008 while attending the meeting, which brings together more than 60 states and governments from five continents.

Joining them on the trip is Quebec City Mayor Andree Boucher. The provincial capital will host the next Francophonie gathering in the fall of 2008.

The summit comes at a time when, diplomats say, France is increasingly frustrated with the declining use of French in EU business in Brussels.

More and more meetings are conducted in English, particularly since the EU's 2004 eastward enlargement, which brought in ex-communist states whose officials are less likely to speak French than their Western counterparts.

Mideast crisis

Also among the issues delegates will be discussing at the conference is the crisis in the Middle East -- in particular the recent 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

However, host country Romania did not invite the pro-Syrian President of Lebanon -- Emile Lahoud and although Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was invited, he declined to attend.

"Part of the problem with this summit is that Lebanon is not representated, which is unfortunate because Lebanon has always been a big player in the Francophonie," said CTV's Rosemary Thompson, reporting from Bucharest Wednesday.

International relations analyst Aurel Braun, of the University of Toronto, said the power of the Francophonie on the international stage was "somewhat limited."

"It doesn't carry the prestige of the United Nations, it doesn't have the power of NATO, so whatever comes out of this meeting, it will not reverberate in the same way," Braun told CTV Newsnet Wednesday.

Delegates will release a communique on Friday, elect a new Francophonie secretary-general to replace former Senegal President Abdou Diouf, and discuss new membership applications.

Although la Francophonie -- the French equivalent of the Commonwealth -- is an organization designed to bring together the leaders of the French-speaking world, not every country that will participate in the summit actively uses the language.

About 10 of the 63 delegations barely speak French at home. The list includes Albania, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Greece, Sa Tome, Egypt, Moldova and the former French colonies of Vietnam and Laos.

Even the host country doesn't use French in official circles. Just 20 per cent of Romanians understand the language, a university report says.

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