Chirac vows to fight growing use of English
Nicholas Watt and David Gow in Brussels
Saturday March 25, 2006
Jacques Chirac pledged yesterday to fight the spread of the English language across the world as he defended his decision to walk out of an EU summit after a French business leader abandoned his mother tongue.
"We fight for our language," President Chirac said of the French walkout on Thursday when Ernest-Antoine Seilli?re, the French head of the European employers' group Unice, addressed the summit in "the language of business".
Mr Chirac added: "I was profoundly shocked to see a Frenchman express himself in English at the table."
The walkout provided a vivid illustration of French sensitivity about the decline of the language, which used to dominate the EU. English has overtaken French in Brussels after the arrival of Sweden and Finland in 1995 and the "big bang" expansion of the EU to eastern Europe in 2004. With the internet fast turning English into the world's first language, Mr Chirac insisted that he would continue to promote French, which is spoken as a mother tongue by 100 million people, a relatively small number.
"You cannot base a future world on just one language, just one culture," he said. "It would be a dramatic decline."
The French protest set the mood for the EU summit, which was overshadowed by unease at a growing tide of protectionism. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, believes France is engineering a merger of Gaz de France and Suez, the Franco-Belgian energy giant, to undermine a bid for Suez by its Italian rival. Tony Blair and other leaders insisted that the summit had made progress in laying the foundations of a common energy policy. Launched last October, the initiative gained urgency in January when Russia reduced gas supplies to the EU in a row with Ukraine over prices.