14 July 2016
Is Multilingualism a Joke ?
In Brussels, apparently, there is a joke going around regarding the soon-to-be new UK Commissioner, as could be read in today's The Guardian: "EU officials have stressed that the next British commissioner cannot expect a post as influential as the one Hill has given up. The Brussels beltway joke is that the British commissioner should be put in charge of multilingualism – a job created in 2007 for Romania when it joined the EU halfway through the European commission".
Multilingualism is a crucial cultural patrimony of Europe and an important topic at all levels, be it economic, social or cultural. The period of the multilingual Commissioner showed that languages, language technologies and multilingualism figured high on several agendas - but were sooner or later dropped as soon as the short shelf-life of the post came to an end.
Now, since 14 days exactly, the term "multilingualism" appears again in the title of a unit at DG CONNECT (Unit G3): "Learning, Multilingualism & Accessibility" that gives its description as: "The mission of the unit is to make the Digital Single Market more accessible, secure and inclusive. To this end, the unit supports policy, research, innovation and deployment of learning technologies and key enabling digital language technologies and services to allow all European consumers and businesses to fully benefit from the Digital Single Market." (emphasis added).
The importance of languages for the Digital Single Market is slowly getting recognized (at least in speeches by Vice-President A. Ansip and Commissioner Oettinger). Therefore, I do not find the idea of a Commissioner for Multilingualism that bad, and surely not a "joke". Actually, somehow I would like the idea that an English native speaker becomes the Commissioner for Multilingualism. If only to see the French reaction to that "joke"...
margaretha mazura is Director of EMF Services, a consultancy in Brussels. She specializes in business models and funding opportunities for ICT projects. On a more "esoteric" level, she specialises in the history of fans (éventails, Fächer) and has an internationally recognized collection of fans. And if some time is left, she writes about them or acts as curator for fan exhibitions.