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Paris sued the Commission over discrimination against the French language

France is ready to defend the “language of Molière” in the EU Court of Justice, according to Politico.

France has not given up hope that all of Brussels will speak French, even though the use of Euro-English and Globish, a simplified version of English, has become widespread in the EU.

Brussels currently recruits new staff in areas such as space, defence and the economy using a selection process that includes some tests that are conducted in English only. Paris has strongly criticised this selection criterion. According to France, these criteria favour English-speaking candidates over their rivals. Paris has therefore filed two complaints with the EU’s highest court, one of which was made public on Monday.

France has suggested that English-only tests are discriminatory and violate EU treaties. The bloc’s rules provide for equal treatment of all EU citizens, regardless of their nationality. The rules on hiring EU employees also prohibit discrimination on the basis of language in general and allow it only under certain conditions.

A French diplomat said on condition of anonymity:

It discriminates against non-anglophone candidates.

Diplomats are forbidden to make public statements on the issue. According to them, this is not only France’s struggle, but also that of other EU member states.

Another EU diplomat confirmed that Italy is in solidarity with France on the language issue. He stressed that “it is not a position against a particular language, but in favour of multilingualism”.

France’s opposition to the ubiquity of English echoes a domestic debate about the country’s loss of influence in the world. French President Emmanuel Macron is keen to increase the use of French around the world, and on Monday, he reiterated the importance of francophony in his speech inaugurating the Cité international de la langue française, a new cultural centre dedicated to the French language, at Château Villers-Cotterets.

The Commission has not commented on the matter. The European Personnel Selection Office, which administers the pre-employment examinations set by the EU institutions, regularly publishes decisions (so-called “competitive notices”) containing the criteria for each selection procedure. France drew attention to two decisions published in 2022 and 2023 which concerned certain examinations conducted in English only.

The EU General Court, which hears disputes involving EU institutions, is expected to rule on the matter within a year. It has previously annulled the results of EPSO competitions for unreasonably restricting the choice of languages. This year, the Court of Justice of the EU, which is the final court of appeal in cases involving EU institutions, ruled in favour of Italy and Spain in similar cases.

France is actively promoting the retention of French as the lingua franca of the EU; for example, when it holds the Council Presidency in 2022, it will decide that all preparatory meetings and notes will be conducted in French.

French is an official language of the EU (one of 24) and is unofficially considered one of the three working languages of the Commission (the others being English and German), as well as one of the two spoken languages of the Council.

Although in theory all 24 languages of the bloc are equal, in practice entrance exams are often conducted not only in English but also in French and German.

In 2023, 3,271 French nationals will work in the Commission, making it the third most represented country in the bloc’s institutions after Italy and Belgium. However, French nationals are under-represented among senior EU staff compared to the Commission’s targets for geographical balance among the bloc’s staff.

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