An international organisation has difficulties operating if it does not possess a common working language. To have 20 working languages is equivalent to not have any determined working language at all, which leads to misunderstandings, inefficiency and increased expenses. A former Swedish Social Minister, Gustaf Möller, said that “Every inefficiently used tax-coin is a theft from the poor.”
The introduction of a common working language for the EU would vitalise the organisation and increase its efficiency, as well as create new opportunities for co-operation beyond language barriers. ONE common language is a necessity if the EU is to have an opportunity to become an force on the scale of the USA or a rising China.
By “force” I mean that the EU through the power of its large population, its democratic traditions and its substantial economic power should have the capacity to further a safer and better world, in co-operation with other countries and associations.
We ought to be concerned about how the international contacts are handled. Politicians are unable to speak to each other in a natural way due to their dependence on interpreters. A mistranslation, which is not a rare occurrence, can have dire consequences. Even worse is that the dominating international language of today is English, which is a terribly difficult language to learn. Many politicians who do not have English as their first language are often eager to give the impression that they speak it, simply for matters of prestige, which often they do not do, at least not sufficiently to be able to hold political discussions. This of course brings a large risk for incorrect decision-making, as the decisions are made on the basis of mistranslations and misunderstandings. When professional interpreters frequently make mistakes, how often do not our politicians do so?
In order for the European Union to become a functioning democratic union that its citizens can feel loyalty to and relate to, an intra-European debate and perhaps even (at a federal level) European parties are necessary. In order for this to come to pass, a common EU-language is required alongside the different national language. Once we have a common, easily acquired EU-language, in which all the citizens can communicate, we will soon have European newspapers and an intra-European debate.
Politicians will never be able to agree on which national language to be used in international affairs. One reason for this is prestige, but also that such a decision would give the country/countries in which the language is spoken unfair psychological, economic and political advantages. Only a neutral language can be acceptable, and this language should also be easy to learn.
Would the USA be the world power that it is today if it had not had a common language, and if the majority of the citizens did not understand what the president said? The answer is no, for a common language is a very connecting link.
No one should have to learn more than one foreign language, the official EU-language. Most people are unable to learn more than one foreign language well, if not for any other restriction than that of time. There are more important things in life than learning languages.
Regardless of whether the EU decides to have 20 working languages, or chooses to have English, French or German as their working language, the citizens of the EU will be unable to communicate freely with each other. As long as this is impossible, a feeling of community among the EU citizens will not be created. The language question is of central importance to the continuation of the democratic, political and economical development of the EU, and thus also for the ability of the EU to co-operate with other countries for a safer world.
“Whether you think you can do it or not, you are right.” - Henry Ford
What are the costs for the multiple EU languages?
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Which language should be the EU’s common working language?
© Hans Malv, 2004