Europhrenia – Ghost MEPs in the Brussels machine

April 15, 2010 § Leave a comment has revealed that 18 “ghost MEPs” have recently begun wafting down the corridors of power in Brussels and Strasbourg. Having emerged from the linguistic sludge of the Lisbon treaty, which increases the number of MEPs from 736 to 754. they will not officially be allowed to vote in the European parliament until June 2014, after the next elections, but in the meantime are endowed with “observer status”. The fact that these immaterial observers from beyond the democratic realm will not actually work as MEPs does not prevent them from collecting here below annual salaries and tax-free allowances. These happy wraiths from 12 member states can also claim back business class travel, staff and office allowances. By the golden dawn of 2014, when they can start hitting EP vote buttons, they will have cost €30m. Who are they and what do they want? No-one yet knows.


French is just too provincial

February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

My latest blog at presseurop

Clouseau still got the message across

One of the most consistently informative and entertaining blogs about the European Union has to be Jean Quatremer’s Coulisses de Bruxelles. However, a recent post (for relevant English extracts click here) has caused some Czech, German and indeed Irish ed hackles to rise. Monsieur Quatremer was griping about the predominance of native English speakers working as spokespersons at the European Commission. Maybe he has a point that the perifidious English have chalked up another victory, and they’re not in the euro etc etc, but the following sentence really clinches it for this blogger here. “While most of them speak French perfectly, some of them mangle the pronunciation – even though French is, after English, the second language in the press room.”

“Mangle” is the key word here. In a city like London, for instance, you’re likely to hear “hoyse”, “hoose”, “aahs”, “aousse” to denote the building which you live in. This is not called mangling pronunciation. This is called having an Ulster, a Canadian, a London, or God forbid, a French accent. The French, however, still bewilderingly cling to the belief that in a polyglot world there is such thing as an “accentless”, universal French, failure to attain to which leaves you in a kind of social limbo, intelligent but somehow pitiable like a sort of performing monkey. This is not a law only applicable to non-French, and God knows, I’ve been hearing the patronising “vous avez un petit accent” for what feels like six hundred years. Even if from Lille, Marseilles, or Rennes, you’re expected at some point in life, though as yet no initiation rite like a circumcision ceremony exists, to begin speaking “without an accent”. This idea is so deeply rooted that when you make the obvious point that there is no such thing as a language without an accent you see eyes glassing over with incomprehension.

To understand this is crucial to understanding the French outlook on the world, but also the decline of French language and culture globally. Paradoxically, the obsession with a pure universal French that doesn’t mangle pronunciation is just another sign of pure French provincialism, like its ridiculous debate on national identity. The genius of English is that there are a hundred ways to call a house a hyse, and no-one really cares. French might still be the second language at the Commission, but given the prissiness of some French ears, it would be less stressful for all concerned if it were Spanish, Italian, or for that matter, Greek, whose peoples are more than delighted when you drag their subjunctives and articles and conjugations backwards through a bush. Visit Europhrenia blog here…

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