English is coming (Economist)

The Charlemagne column of the Economist reveals the peculiar side effects of the dominance of English within the European Union. For example, many European politicians feared that the use of English in EU meetings and proceedings would lead to the dominance of Anglo-Saxon thinking. But that’s proved not to be the case.

Instead, while the English remain indifferent to the European debate, Europeans have discovered that English provides a useful instrument to learn each other’s views. “It has never been easier for other Europeans to know what Poles think about the credit crunch, Germans about the Middle East, or Danes about nuclear power”, says Mr Versteegh of NRC Handelsblad.

EU meetings now operate under a “maxi-min rule”, which means the language used is that which excludes the fewest people in the room. Thanks to EU enlargement, this is almost always English. While this will only encourage the Brits and Irish to be lazy about learning other languages, it will at least keep the conversation moving more freely among the widest audience.

Bringing this lesson closer to home, why the obsession about establishing Irish language rights within formal proceedings of government? If the “max-min” rule is good enough for the EU, then surely it will suffice for our smaller arena.

Also, for those regional identities arguing for Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism, surely they should see the advantage of making their case in English, a language that has the widest understanding within Europe (and beyond).

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