French 'useful', English 'essential': EU officials

BRUSSELS, March 26, 2006 (AFP) - When President Jacques Chirac stormed out of an EU summit last week, furious that a fellow Frenchman had spoken English, he may as well have been railing at the tide coming in, EU newcomer states say.
Whether France likes it or not, the dominance of the English language has grown and continues to grow in the European Union, bolstered notably by the arrival of 10 mostly ex-communist countries to the bloc in 2004.
When a Latvian needs to speak to a Lithuanian, when a Pole wants to strike up a conversation with an Estonian, the tongue they will most likely choose is that of Shakespeare, not of Moliere.
"French is very useful and sometimes necessary in Brussels. But English is essential. There are many groups that work only in English," said Zbigniew Gniatkowski, a spokesman for the Polish embassy to the European Union.
Back home in Poland, "everyone wants to learn English" especially because of its association with music, US culture and the internet, added 33-year-old Gniatkowski, who arrived in Brussels shortly after his country entered the EU.
The arrival of 10 newcomers in the union just under two years ago is widely seen as having diluted Paris' clout and speeded up a shift in the bloc's centre of balance which had already been underway or some years.... French speakers regularly complain that official documents increasingly appear in English and only later in French — even though English, French and German are the working languages of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.
"Previously there was more French used in official communication in Brussels. Now all the time I have the feeling that this is diminishing," said Peteris Ustubs, a foreign affairs adviser to Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis.
Illustrating the trend, statistics show that in 1997, 40 percent of European Commission documents were first drawn up in French before being translated, and 45 percent were originally drafted in English.
By 2004, just 26 percent of documents were in French in their first form, and 62 percent in English.

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