French Language Meets its Waterloo

This article by Ian Black is a bit old (March 2002), but has the merit of summing up a few useful facts about language trends in Eastern Europe:

Enlarging the EU is good news for the English language, confirming its victory over French as the classic medium of European integration.

Adding to the woes of the French, who fear an Anglo-Saxon plot to get the top jobs in Brussels and liberalise protected markets, a new survey shows that the language of Shakespeare is more popular than that of Molière in the candidate countries for union membership.

According to the European commission's polling arm, Eurobarometer, 86% of people in the 13 countries applying to join regard English as one of the two most useful languages to speak.

German is favoured by 58% per cent, largely in central and eastern Europe, and French by a paltry 17%.


"After years of armchair speculation about what the linguistic map of Europe will look like after enlargement, this survey is the answer," commission official said.

"It spells the end of a rearguard action to preserve French as the dominant working language."

English is the most-spoken foreign language in the candidate countries, scoring 16% compared with 14% for Russian, 10% for German and 4% for French.


Romania has most citizens who speak French as a second language, though there too, English is considered far more useful.

Cyprus and Malta, both former British colonies, are special cases, where 57% and 84% respectively speak English as a second language.


French dominated the European project from the 1950s until the 1980s but was set back when Finland, Austria and Sweden joined in 1995, and has suffered further from English's dominance on the internet. Today, two-thirds of commission documents are written in English.

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