The EU’s executive body has no plans to downgrade the use of English after Brexit, despite occasional barbs that the language would be less significant in Europe when the UK leaves the bloc.
Buried in the small print of the European commission’s budget for 2018 is confirmation that it has no intention to reduce the use of English in its meetings or documents.
“The withdrawal of the United Kingdom will result in a limited reorientation of some functions within the administration, but the scope of activities will not change,” the section on EU administration says. “Translation and interpretation services in the English language will also remain unaffected.”
The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said last year that English was losing its importance in Europe, although he later said he had been joking. “The French were happy. The British, I had a shitstorm coming from the other side of the Channel,” he told students in his native Luxembourg in October.
Rumours that Brexit negotiations would be conducted exclusively in French also appear to have been a joke at the expense of the British, who are among the least likely in the EU to speak various languages.
Only 5% of GCSE-age students were studying two or more foreign languages in 2015, compared with an EU average of 59%. Only Greek students were less likely to take languages than the British.
When the UK leaves the EU in 2019, only 1% of the EU population - in Ireland and Malta - will be living in countries where English is an official language.
The EU has 24 official languages, making 552 combinations of language pairings, allowing each to be translated into 23 others.
Only three, however, are classed as working languages - English, French and German. English has been used more widely used than French since Sweden, Finland and Austria joined the EU in 1995, bringing in more speakers of English as a second language. The dominance of English became entrenched when central and eastern European countries joined in the mid-2000.
France is keen to restore the pre-eminence of its language, but is fighting a constant battle. Its EU ambassador walked out of a meeting last week when officials decided to use an English-only translation of the budget proposal.