Europe and beyond

European Union to force its train drivers to speak English

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Sources say English is set to be selected as a common language for the bloc, despite misgivings among some EU member states following Brexit

Brussels is to force European Union train drivers to speak English under rules designed to foster closer ties between member states.
Rules to be announced this autumn under the EU’s “Train Drivers’ Directive” will mandate that a single common language is enforced.
Sources say that English is set to be selected, despite misgivings among some EU member states following Brexit.
The EU has been pushing for “a single European railway area” for a number of years to facilitate easier movement on the railways across the bloc.
But rules stipulate that train drivers must possess a minimum language proficiency in every country they operate.
Officials have instead sought to standardise the language used by train drivers across all member states.
Brussels sources confirmed that an update to the Train Drivers’ Directive is planned for autumn this year. They warned that the decision could yet be delayed, however.

Controversial decision

English is being considered as the common language for drivers when driving to neighbouring countries, sources added.
John Penrose, Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare, said: “Who’d have thought our influence in the EU would be bigger now we’ve left? It looks as though someone in Brussels has been missing the British sense of humour.”
The decision is likely to rankle MEPs who called for English to be banished as a language in the wake of the UK’s Brexit referendum.
Polish MEP Danuta Hübner, chairman of the European Parliament Constitutional Affairs Committee, said in 2016 that English should not be recognised.
“We have a regulation … where every EU country has the right to notify one official language,” she said. “The Irish have notified Gaelic, and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you have only the UK notifying English.”
Officials in Brussels insisted that English would remain as an official language post-Brexit, however, as it has been since 1973 because other member states commonly use English despite nominating a different official EU language.
Former rail minister Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North, said: “I very much welcome the recognition from the EU that English is the global language.
“And I hope that this means that train drivers in the UK will be able to play their part in improving rail links from the UK to the Continent.”

‘World’s universal language’

Former Labour MP Tom Harris, who sits on the board of the UK’s HS2 project added: “It’s a great compliment to the UK that English is being considered by the EU as the world’s universal language.
“I do hope this will go down well with our French and German friends and won’t lead to protests at the Commission. If that happens, can I suggest they protest in English so that their complaints will be more widely understood?”
Many EU countries have retained state-controlled rail operations until comparatively recently, in stark contrast with the UK.
As Britain’s railways invited greater competition following the industry’s privatisation under John Major, the likes of Deutsche Bahn, Dutch firm Abellio, and Keolis – a subsidiary of France’s SNCF – won contracts in the UK.
In 2021, the EU caught up, mandating that member states must break up state monopolies and open their railways to competition from home and abroad.
This has strengthened services between countries – but left the European Commission with the decision to choose a common language to address safety concerns. Otherwise, if train drivers do not have the minimum proficiency in a certain language, services must be cancelled.