By Christos Mouzeviris
Various Euro-enthusiasts hold the belief that Europe should have a common language. And for some federalism activists, “Esperanto” is ideal to be the future language of a united Europe.
Yet in a continent in deep economic and political crisis, plagued by an ever-increasing euro-scepticism, how could any leader convince the voters to take such a step? Moreover, it is evident that the majority of Europeans are not ready to live in a federal Europe, as one political entity. In most EU states, the Far Right has gained significant support, and the UK, one of the oldest EU members, will soon have a referendum on whether or not to proceed as such.
People are still very much attached to their national identity and reluctant to change. Any suggestion of anything “common” that should be “imposed,” as many would perceive it, could only make things worse for the idea of a united continent. Besides, the EU’s motto is “United in Diversity,” so how could this notion of a common language be successfully adopted by all?
It may be costly, but the EU is keen on keeping all of its 24 official languages in place, with their future safeguarded. In reality, if any language would dominate Europe, it would do so gradually, naturally and because people would chose it to be the “lingua franca.” But this language already exists; it is English.
So do we need to teach a manufactured language like Esperanto to our children? It would take a lot of funds and extensive education for teachers in order to speak the language perfectly, never mind printing new books for every school across the EU. Besides, nowadays, only a handful of scholars and Esperanto enthusiasts speak it.
Currently Europeans increasingly speak English, making it more difficult for Esperanto to take over. Unless, of course, we aspire for Esperanto to become the sole language of the EU institutions, while maintaining English as the language of the people. In such a case, EU regulations would not have to be translated in 24 languages but would be issued in Esperanto, saving EU budget money and time.
We must clarify, though, that we are not discussing about totally replacing our national languages, rather having a second official European language. And that has its perks, be it English or any other of the existing European languages, like French or German. Such a language could be used in parallel in all member states and would encourage further free movement of people, goods and services.
The European Federalist Party has included the necessity of the use of the English language in its manifesto. They believe that English should be used as the “vehicular language” and certain standard documents should be available all over Europe in both the national language and in English. For instance, the documents to register a business, to file a complaint with the local police or to be hospitalised at a local hospital should be made available in English throughout the continent.
Having so many native tongues across Europe, although it enriches our collective heritage, it also makes it more difficult for people to move around. If there were a second official language, the same in every EU country, people could move to any European nation without having to learn the national language beforehand. By living and working in a number of countries with ease, EU citizens would inevitably be learning more languages, while coming in contact with other European cultures. They would thus gather more work experience, new skills, ways of thinking and doing business. In that way Europe would create a multilingual, diverse and skilled European workforce.
In addition, companies would more easily establish themselves in another country and attract employees. Not just Europeans but also immigrants would find employment across Europe on the basis of competence. Migrant workers would not be bound to a few countries or types of jobs, because of solely speaking the language of their former colonial rulers.
It is peculiar to think that by establishing a second official language, the same one in each country of Europe, we could be promoting multilingualism and multiculturalism. But it is only when the language boundaries break that the borders of Europe will truly collapse.
Such a development, and the opportunities that could arise from it, should not be hindered by a (financial and broader) crisis, which was caused by protectionism, inter-governmentalism and corruption. The potential benefits are too great to ignore, for Europe and each of its member states, and for the European citizens most of all.