EuroParl9 May is Europe Day, celebrating the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950 which proposed the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, predecessor of the European Union. While we celebrate, we are also aware that these are difficult days for the image of the European Union, not least here in the United Kingdom where the ruling party has promised a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU should it win at the next election and last week’s council elections in England which saw considerable gains for an anti-EU party.

In a bid to persuade British voters to stay in the EU, German President Joachim Gauck recently suggested that English should become the EU’s sole official language. At present there are 23 official languages and three working languages – English, French and German. This call is not likely to have pleased the French nor anyone else concerned about the domination of English. In 2006, French President Jacques Chirac was so angered to hear a countryman choosing to speak in English rather than French at a European summit that he walked out of the meeting.

The British are under -represented among employees of European Union institutions. In 2011 British workers filled 5% of positions in the Parliament and the Commission, although the UK comprised 12% of the EU population. It will come as no surprise that the main reason for this disparity is poor foreign language skills. Native speakers of English need knowledge of either French or German in addition to English to work for the EU.

Unfortunately negative attitudes to European integration and a failure to give importance to language learning means young people are missing out on the chance for great careers, not only with EU institutions but in many other fields where European languages are useful. Despite the strength of the Chinese economy and the growth of the emerging BRICS countries, European languages are still the most useful for British citizens. Entries for German and French A-levels in England and Wales have fallen by more than half between 1996 and 2012, but these languages are still the most commonly sought-after by employers.

If you missed out on (or slept through) language lessons at school, Business Language Services Ltd. can help you with bespoke courses to suit your particular needs and schedule. Maybe this time next year, you’ll be able to wish your friends a happy Journée de l’Europe, Europatag or Dzień Europy.

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