EUEsperanto Congress: language option in the EU

EUEsperanto Congress: language option in the EU




Michael LUIK



In the near future important decisions have to be taken in the field of communication and languages in the European Union, such as,
– how to cope with the communication, translation and interpretation problem of a European Union of 25 Member States or more with an equivalent number of languages?
– which language or languages should be on the common European currency bank notes and coins? which language for efficient communication, for example, within mixed military units (EUROCORPS) or for common urgent actions like those necessary within the framework of the European Police Agency (EUROPOL)? how the citizens of this Union should communicate with and understand each other, should there be at least one common foreign language, should a universal or inter-ethnic language already be taught early at school and how cultural diversity can be safeguarded as well as how an incentive can be created to learn the language of one’s neighbour?

The Intergovernmental Conference on the revision of the Maastricht treaty starting in 1996 will have to shape the institutional structures including the communication and language aspects for a European Union of these 25 and more members, taking into account basic principles such as:

All languages and cultures, including regional or minority languages (1), are essentially of equal value; therefore, the European Communities and later the European Union have declared their intention to treat all official languages of its Member States equally and without discrimination.

The preservation of linguistic and cultural diversity (2), the safeguarding of each cultural and linguistic group’s identity as well as the guarantee of everybody’s civic rights are preconditions for sound and peaceful inter-ethnic coexistence and the long-term political cohesion of this Union.

The application of the principle of equality and non-discrimination in the field of language and communication plays, in particular, an important political role in the institutions of the European Union, because everybody can best read, express himself and "fight" for his ideas in his mother tongue.

Every citizen of the European Union must maintain the right to communicate with the European institutions in one of the official languages of the Member States, but, if he wants to work as acivil servant or employee in one of the European Union institutions, he must fulfill certain professional and linguistic conditions. Communication between people of different mother tongues is only possible either in a common language or at least, if every partner understands the language spoken by the other. The second solution (passive knowledge of all other languages) is impossible in a Community with 11 official languages and perhaps more in the future. Therefore, for reasons of rationality and efficiency, one common language must take over the function of inter-ethnic and inter-cultural communication.

Today, within most European institutions, because staff members are required to speak two or more languages, there is not, no doubt, a language problem (3), i.e., the language problem starts where one person can work and discuss points in his mother tongue and the other can not (two categories of people)! Under the present use of so-called working languages within the European institutions, this conflict between equality and efficiency will undoubtedly escalate as the number of EU members increases to 25 or more. A political Union based on linguistic discrimination within its institutions and in daily life carries the germ of its dissolution!


If one intends to guarantee linguistic and cultural diversity combined with efficiency, equal rights and non-discrimination for each language group in a multi-national Community, there are only from the theoretical and logical point of view, three fundamental options for solving the language and communication problem:

Option A: All official languages have to be treated in the same way!

Remark: this does not even solve the problem of regional or minority languages within the Member States.

Advantages of this option:
– people get the assurance (feeling) that they are part of the Union.
– Equal treatment and non-discrimination in the linguistic and cultural field is a fundamental element for the longterm (will contribute to) political cohesion of the European Union.

Disadvantages of this option:
– neither citizens of the Union nor qualified staff member of the European institutions are able to acquire a passive knowledge of all the official Member States languages!
– Even from a technical point of view, equal treatment of and non-discrimination against all official languages can not be real when considering the communication within the institutions of a European Union of 25 or more Member States (translation and interpretation services). There are clear physical, human and financial constraints evident, such as to costs, time and human resources (capacities) which are needed to translate all internal documents in time. This also applies to the interpretation done from and into all languages in hundreds of daily meetings between the multi-national staff members, the experts or the national delegates.

The need for efficiency in daily work and decision making therefore requires a more rational but also nondiscriminatory approach.

Option B: One common language which must take over (fulfill) the function of inter-ethnic communication!

Remark: the often proposed solutions to use two national languages, or even three to five, as official working languages within European institutions are no real options since they do not comply with the criteria of equality and non-discrimination. They would even make discrimination in the fields of language and culture worse; in such cases, two, three or even five national language groups would be privileged in speaking and writing in their mother tongue while all the remaining language groups would have to master the dominant languages at least, all of them passively and one actively.

The concept of ‘receptive Multilinguism ‘is often favored by politicians of the large countries with a wide-spread national language; it says for people to have a passive knowledge of other languages while speaking their mother tongue. This concept can only work on an equal and non-discriminatory basis, with two or three languages at most. With three, four, five or more official languages it becomes impossible for everybody to possess apassive knowledge of all languages. Furthermore, all those who cannot express themselves in their mother tongue, because their language is not an official working language, would be discriminated against in two ways, first, they would have to know one more foreign language than the others and, second, they would not be allowed to speak and write in their mother tongue.

More personal and professional dissatisfaction would be the result and a two class language system would exist not only in the European institutions, but also eventually among the citizens and countries of this Union. This would neither improve the public’s image of the European integration process, nor would it make the European institutions more acceptable to the tax-payer in those member states whose language would not be recognized as official working language of the European institutions.

Advantages of this option:

– Rationality, efficiency and logic as to time, costs and minimum of discrimination are leading to the option: ‘one language for multilateral communication purposes’.
– With view to the organisatory (internal) aspect of the European institutions, the often negative public image of a tower of ‘Babel’ and of heavy bureaucracy, because of 11 official languages, could be replaced by a positive recognition of a rationally organized and efficiently working organization. This and a quicker decision making process might lead to greater public support and a better image of these institutions in Member States and outside.
– If the common language is nobody’s mother tongue, the equality and non-discrimination conditions would be fulfilled.

Disadvantages of this option:

– the citizen of the European Union who did not learn the common language might not feel involved in this Union.
– This option does not stimulate-the learning of one’s neigbbour’s language and consequently the integration into local and regional communities.
– Furthermore, the largest part of the citizens of the Union might feel discriminated against in relation to their colleagues and neighbours, if this common language is the official language of another Member State. An increasing group of citizens and countries might therefore become hostile to this peaceful integration process.
– Finally, if a Member State’s language becomes the language for inter-ethnic communication within the Union, it will, in the long run, lead to a "cultural one-way-street" for all those citizens who do not have that language as their mother tongue. This will not only lead to a cultural domination of those who can speak and write in their mother tongue, but also bring economic advantages to this language group, thus creating a feeling of uneasiness amongst most people who might not identify themselves with such a European Union anymore. Under these conditions, the long-term political cohesion of the European Union will come under strain.

The only alternative (out of this dilemma) is: the use of

a) a neutral language which is not the language of a member country or state like Latin in the Middle Ages (although today an official language of the Vatican state) or

b) a universal language system but a universal language model like a "planned language" for the purpose of interethnic communication has not yet been taken seriously into considerationby the political decision makers (4).

Option C: Two foreign languages obligatory for everybody.

– One for assuring/guaranteeing equality, efficiency and inter-ethnic (multilateral) communication, that is, a nondiscriminatory universal language model (planned language),
– and one for guaranteeing diversity, cultural and linguistic identities, better understanding of one’s neighbour, his culture, background and his position; this can be any (foreign) national /regional /minority language as to the persons private or professional preference.


In the 80’s, the Ministers responsible for education in the Member States had already decided within the framework of the European Community that pupils in school should learn at least two foreign languages. Why cannot one of these languages be a universal language model which even makes the learning of a first foreign language easier and quicker? (remember the function of Latin in traditional education and see the results of a "language orientation course" of the Institute of Cybernetics at the University of Paderborn (D) in the years 1976 to 1984 and similar experiments in other countries (A, CB, FIN) (5).

Advantages of this option:

– It is the best solution in language learning and use for combining non-discriminatory multilateral communication with conserving cultural identities and linguistic diversity.

Disadvantages of this option:

– For the moment, no political decision has been made regarding the studying of universal language systems or models (existing or new ones) as a means of a feasible daily inter-ethnic communication,
– nor has there been any official research into which existing universal language model would be most appropriate for such a purpose.

Conclusion out of the theoretical options:

The praticality, i.e. feasibility in daily life, of these three options must finally be tested in two major areas in which the daily communication or language problem is particularly manifest; in such a multi-national political community like the European Union these two areas are its common institutions and its professional and educational system:

a) Within the context of the common institutions of th is Union, efficiency, democracy, equality and non-discrimination must be in the foreground (main criteria) thus replying to the practical needs of daily cooperation and living together of people with different cultures and languages;

b) Within the educational system democracy, cultural and linguistic diversity, equality and non-discrimination must be in the foreground (main criteria) particularly concentrating on foreign language learning, an efficient non-discriminatory interethnic communication as well as on the safeguarding of cultural diversity.

Therefore, the European institutions and the education systems in each Member State are the two major public frameworks within which these general options now have to be examined.


Question: Which of the above mentioned options exist for guaranteeing and combining efficiency, equality and diversity for the specific tasks…



As to the conditions of daily activities of the multi-national institutions or organizations of the EU, two aspects have to be distinguished:

Their contacts with the citizens (external aspects) and their own internal organization (internal aspect).

a) External aspects

External aspects in this context should be seen as all contacts between the institutions or organizations of the European Unionand its citizens including its political representatives; all official decisions, regulations, recommendations the citizen needs to know, hislher correspondence with these bodies, hislher right to become an elected member of the European Parliament and to practise hislher mandate on a non-discriminatory basis.

Major criteria in this context: Diversity, democracy, equality and non-discrimination

As everybody must have the right to read a decision of the European level, an official document or to write a letter in his/her mother tongue, the only solution which is non-discriminatory in this context, is:

Result: OPTION A (all official languages)

Comment. The lack of efficiency, i.e., the necessity of translation and interpretation in the external context of the European institutions (including all tasks in relation to the mandate of a Member of the European Parliament), is the price for democracy in diversity.

b) Internal aspects:

in this context should be seen as all activities within the institutions or organizations of the EU which can be seen as not finalized for other institutions or for the public or which are linked to the qualification of any citizen to become a staff member of one of its institutions. For all internal aspects of EU Institutions, in particular, for reasons of efficiency (time, costs) and of a minimum of discriminatory conditions, the best solution consists in one working language. This should not exclude the right and possibility of every staff member to write in his mother tongue, but he or she must accept the delay for translation into the working language; the conflict between a staff member’s professional reputation as to his efficiency and the possibility for him to write in his mother tongue can only be resolved by himself. As long as there is no decision about a neutral solution concerning a common language, one national language has to take over the function of an internal working language. but to compensate the discrimination of speakers of all other mother tongues, a "universal communication and language model" in the form of a ‘planned’ language should be introduced, on an experimental basis, first, and, if successful, be applied generally as a second official working language. This solution would also oblige a ‘native speaker’ to learn and know the second (nondiscriminatory) working language. In the long run, all new staff members entering the institutions would need to possess the professional qualifications of such a common (non-discriminatory) working language. Apart from these aspects of efficiency leading to one inter-ethnic communication and working language in the European institutions, the option ‘all official languages’ must be guaranteed in cases involving personal matters and external information. For example, – the basic right of any citizen of the Union to address the European institutions in any official language in order to become a staff member of these institutions; if he or she qualifies on the basis of the professional requirements for the concerned service, the candidate alsoaccepts the internal working rules; – each staff member maintains the right to express himself in his mother tongue in personal cases, such as court cases or legal procedures in administration according to the staff regulations;

– official declarations of the EU-institutions/organizations to the accredited press (speakers group);

Major criteria in this context:

Efficiency, equality and non-discrimination will lead to the optimal solution in the form of one common working language for all internal activities of EU institutions! – Therefore, the best solution would be:

Result: OPTION B (one common language for inter-ethnic communication)

Comment: As only a national language can fulfill this option for the time being, an agreement for a transitional phase has to be accepted!

The transitional period towards a common (non-discriminatory) working language could be organized as follows:

Short term solution:

One national language as an official working language and study of a universal language model (planned language) including experiments in this inter-ethnic communication language in some services of the European Union’s institutions. (e.g. EUROPOL – in the field of common terminology, EUROCORPS – in the field of commands for multi-national units, Commission – in the field of the preparation of a recommendation, Council in the field of interpretation as a relay language)

Medium term solution:

One national language and the finally chosen universal language model (planned language) as official working languages.

Long term solution:

The universal language model (planned language) as official working language.

Comment: If somebody wants to apply for and work in a multi-national institution he or she should possess the necessary professional and linguistic qualifications. It goes without saying that a pilot has to present his pilot’s license if he or she wants to be employed by an airline company; the same applies to a person who wants to become a staff member of the European institutions. The candidate would, therefore, need at least one foreign national language and the common working language besides his/her mother tongue.

c) Language options as to a common

As the number of bank notes or coins, their two sides and space
are limited and because the currency constitutes an important psychological element of identification in many Member States, languages, neutrality and common symbols will play decisive roles, not only in the acceptance of the currency by the population, but also of the whole European integration process.

Any exclusivity of a national language or national symbol on common bank notes and coins will have the counterproductive effect of an increased national awareness about the origin of the bank note or coin just received or given for a payment; owing to the unpredictable regional distribution of the common currency within the Member States Union, especially because of cash payments by travelers and tourists, the ‘indigenous people’ in of the-Monetary Union, especially because of cash payments by travelers and tourists, the "indigenous people" in some regions or towns will have more ‘foreign’ bank notes and coins in their pockets than those with their national language or symbol. The impression people will have in these areas may be that of feeling ‘dominated’ by ‘foreign economic powers’. Instead of using national symbols for an apparently greater acceptance of the common currency in Member States, it may be better to use common values and personalities in European history who best represent the continent’s common traditions and heritage on both sides of the common currency. As the bank notes and coins have limited space to show a symbol of each Member State, the criteria must be either neutral or common. Like the language options discussed, only two options remain feasible in this area:

All languages or one!

Considering that there is more space available on bank notes, one side could be Option A (all languages), the other side could be Option B (one common language, whether this is Latin or a tested and agreed universal interethnic communication language (help or planned language), it does not matter).
As to the limited space on common coins. both sides, under these criteria and targets, can only become: Option B, if any, with a symbol or hallmark of the mint.

d) Language options as to EUROCORPS, EUROPOL or other common institutions and offices in the context of the European Union (see options internal/external for European institutions)


The knowledge of the neighbour’s language and thus his culture, traditions and priorities is of major importance for inter-ethnic understanding and comprehension.

People, especially in Europe, need to know several languages, but the present movement towards a so-called ‘multi-linguism’ is running in favor of the already dominating languages and cultures.

Major criteria in this context. Democracy, cultural and linguistic diversity, equality and non-discrimination In order

a) to motivate people to learn one’s neighbour’s language as afirst foreign language at school, especially to achieve better integration and understanding,
b) to stimulate diversity in language learning at school in the long run, and
c) to ensure communication with other language groups in the Union on an equal footing, the best solution would be:

Result: OPTION C
(two foreign languages at school; one universal for inter-ethnic communication, one national for private purposes, understanding the neighbour, professional ambitions or necessary qualifications) (6)


option A: all official languages

can only be applied, in a non-discriminatory way, in the field of external relations of the European institutions (publication of decisions, contact of the citizen with the institutions, members of the European Parliament).

Option B: one common language

gives an unsatisfactory result as to three major considerations:

1. externally, that is in the contact with citizens, this solution would not only psychologically create more distance between the people and the European institutions, but also violate one of their fundamental civic rights to contact the institutions at the European level in their mother tongue (infar as their language is one of the official languages of a Member State).

2. internally, for the moment there is no neutral or non-discriminatory solution; the only practical answer would be the choice of a wide-spread national language as an official internal working language, discriminate against all those who do not have this which, in fact, then would language as their mother tongue. As there would be no interpretation done in staff meetings, this means that one language group would have a monopoly (be dominant) causing frustration and misunderstanding among the other language groups. (Motivation and efficiency will be reduced.)

This discriminatory situation will exist as the political decision makers have not analyzed the option of a ‘planned’ language as one possible internal working language in theEuropean (and international) institutions and organizations in depth, and as long as they are not ready to experiment with such a solution under practical conditions within the EU institutions. They would risk cultural and linguistic tensions in the medium term, not only among the staff members within the EU institutions, but the public image of the European integration process would also be discredited, jeopardizing the Union’s political cohesion in the long run.

Therefore, this option only gives a satisfactory answer to the internal aspects of the European Institutions and organizations in the case of the application of a non-discriminatory universal language model.

As, for the moment,only a national language is at the disposal in taking over the function of one common working language within the European institutions and organisations, a compromise of two working languages has to be elaborated on in that it reconciles the disadvantage of one national working language for all others who cannot write and speak in their mother tongue. This with the possibility of using a full-fledged and practicable planned language alongside the chosen and wide known national language in the medium-term. If the neutral and universal language model has proven efficient and practicable in all fields of the institutions’ daily activities, the remaining national working language in the European institutions can be phased out for internal use. All new staff members applying for work at the European institutions in the future would then need to master the common official (internal) working language as a prerequisite.

Two aspects should clearly be separated in this context: The contacts of the European institutions with its citizen and elected members of the European Parliament where all official languages have to be treated equally (external relations) and the internal relations where communication and equal treatment might be subject to professional criteria of qualification and efficiency.

3. as to cultural diversity, the laearning of only one common foreign language, whether a national or universal (planned or whether a national or universal (planned or auxiliary) one, presents a permanent threat to the age cultural and linguistic identity, expecially of smaller language groups, as there is no incentive to learn the language of one’s neighbour.

Option C: two foreign languages; one universal language model and one national language

From a theoretical point of view. this option would best combine efficient inter-ethnic communication and the safeguarding of cultural and linguistic diversity. From a practical point of view this option presents an unsatisfactory answer in the short run: neither have universal language models officially been tested yet, nor has one been selected for propedeutical (educational) purposes and as a multilateral communication instrument.

In the nevertheless, from the theoretical and practical point of view, for the European institutions as well as for theeducational system in Member States, this option seems to be the most appropriate solution for stimulating multi-lingualism, efficient inter-ethnic communication and entering into the culture and understanding of one’s neighbour, and at the same time protecting the existing cultural and linguistic diversity, while best safeguarding everybody’s local, regional and national identity.

This would therefore best suit the principle of subsidiarity and the concept of "Europe – from the bottom up!’

Brussel/Bruxelles – Voorburg, 15.9.1995 In the the working group:


1) "…the right to use a regional or minority language in private and public life is an inalienable right in conformiity with the principles embodied in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and according to the spirit of the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’ (Preamble of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of 1992, Council of Europe); if all regional language groups in the member countries of the EU were allowed to form culturally and linguistically sovereign Cantons or States, there, where they are in majority, this would lead to much more languages than the present 11 "official" ones for the 15 Member States.

2) see point 9, section III. of the Presidency conclusions of the European Council, Cannes, 26/27.6.1995: ‘The European Council emphasizes the importance of linguistic diversity in the European Union" and also the recent decision of the Council of the Union (12.6.1995, doc. 7755/95) on the language use in the European institutions and the request to the Commission to organize a study group on this subject.

3) Although the Interim report (4.9.1995) of the ‘Reflection group for the IGC 1996’ presided by Carlos Westendorp reconfirms the target to respect strictly the equality in the treatment of the official languages of the Union Theme 2, A. Basic elements, Languages) and does not foresee the need to modify the present Treaty of the European Union, a discriminatory practice in the
use of (internal) working languages within the European institutions and organizations often gives rise to national complaints and must be subjected to an objective analysis.

4) Such a politically sensitive subject was publicly discussed, for the first time. between representatives of the European Institutions and experts in the field of inter linguistic (language planning and planned languages) during a symposium on September 29, 1993 around the question: ‘Communication and the language problem in the European Community – To what extent a ‘planned language’ could contribute to its solution?", see under the same title publication of the Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung, Rue de Pascale 45-47, B 1040 Brussel/Bruxelles; examples of successful language planning in Europe and Asia were shown and attention was given to the use of "planned languages" as an efficient pedagogical instrument for easier learning the first foreign language at school. Dr. Detlev Blanke, Berlin, revealed in his contribution "Internationale Plansprachen’ (p. 64 of the mentioned document) that since the middle ages more than 900 attempts for a standard language system ("lingua universalis") have been registered for a non-discriminating inter-ethnic communication; according to his research, since 1973, 25 (!) new language systems have been proposed for rendering communication between people of different cultures and languages on an equal footing, among others, Neoispano, Uni, Glosa, Adli, Unitario. For older ‘planned languages’ like Volapk (1879), Intemacia lingvo/Esperanto (1887), Latino sine flexione (1903), Ido (1907). Occidental-Interlingue (1922). Novial (1928), Basic English (1930) and Interlingua (1951) scientific analyses do exist. ‘Me most wide-spread ‘planned language’ in the world, Esperanto, attracts about 95% of these studies, probably due to the fact that it has already existed for more than four generations and is practiced today by nearly all social groups in society around the globe.

5) Prof. Dr. Helmar Frank, "Das Paderbomer Experiment zum Sprachenorientierungsunterricht", p. 105ff, same publication.

6) Comment: According to experts, the learning of a universal language model like a planned language only needs a fraction of the time normally necessary for a first foreign language; such a language model without irregularities shall facilitate the learning of other languages in that the time spent on both languages is even shorter than the traditional instruction for the first foreign language (see language experiment, Frank/Paderborn); if, under scientific control, similar European wide language experiments could prove the same results, Option C would then constitute a better and shorter solution than the present first foreign language instruction in school!

Lascia un commento