Although Euro-English and Globish, a simplified form of English, have gained popularity in the EU among non-native speakers, France still holds onto the idea of French being the preferred language for Brussels bureaucrats.
However, Paris is currently criticizing the bloc for recruiting new employees through evaluations conducted in English.
The city of Brussels is currently in the process of hiring new employees in areas such as space, defense, and economics. However, the selection process includes tests that are only available in English. Paris argues that this preference for English-speaking candidates gives them an advantage over other applicants and has brought two complaints to the EU’s highest court, with one being made public on Monday.
For France, English-only tests amount to discrimination and violate the EU treaties. The bloc’s rules generally provide that all EU citizens should be treated equally, regardless of nationality. Rules on recruiting EU officials also ban language-based discrimination in general, and accept it only under certain conditions.
A French representative, speaking on the condition of anonymity, stated that it unfairly favors candidates who are fluent in English. They explained that this issue is not exclusive to France, as other member states also have similar concerns.
An additional European diplomat without permission to speak publicly has verified that Italy backs the French stance and emphasized that this is not a stance against any particular language, but rather in support of multilingualism.
The resistance against the dominance of English in France reflects an ongoing discussion about the country’s diminishing global influence. President Emmanuel Macron has been actively promoting the use of French on a global scale and emphasized its significance during a speech at the inauguration of the Cité international de la langue française, a cultural center dedicated to the French language at Villers-Cotterêts castle.
The Commission was not able to comment at the moment.
The European Personnel Selection Office is responsible for administering pre-employment exams for EU institutions. They frequently release decisions, referred to as “competition notices,” which outline the requirements for each selection process. In 2022 and 2023, France focused on two of these notices that included exams conducted solely in English.
The EU’s General Court, responsible for resolving disputes involving EU institutions, is anticipated to make a decision on the matter within a year. In the past, it has overturned EPSO competitions that unfairly limited language options. Recently, the EU’s Court of Justice, the highest court for appeals involving EU institutions, sided with Italy and Spain in similar cases.
Paris has lobbied extensively in favor of keeping French as a lingua franca within the EU; when it held the Council presidency in 2022, for example, it decided that all preparatory meetings and notes would be in French.
French is one of the 24 official languages of the EU and is informally recognized as one of the Commission’s three primary working languages, along with English and German. It is also one of the two spoken languages of the Council.
Although legally all 24 languages within the bloc are considered equal, in reality, entrance exams are often offered in French and German, in addition to English.
In 2023, France will have 3,271 of its citizens working at the Commission, making it the third largest national representation in the bloc’s institutions, following Italy and Belgium.
French citizens are not adequately represented in the EU’s top-level personnel, which goes against the Commission’s goal of maintaining geographic diversity among its workers.
Gregorio Sorgi provided information for this report.