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Discurs meu al Parlament Europeu, 2012

Closing Conference, EUNoM Project, 
European Parliament
25 October 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

For three years it has been my privilege to work together with a group of university lecturers, researchers and business partners in the EUNoM project.

The universities, who promoted the project, are the main stakeholders in the outcome of the project, in that their role in this postindustrial, globalised society is being questioned. No longer are they the holders of all knowledge. Pharmaceutical laboratories, aeronautical industries, agricultural research, ICT companies and many others can invest vast amounts in original research and in technological development. And the traditional university library with its neatly laid bookcases has been superseded by vast libraries offered by publishers, Google and others. 

Universities are think-tanks by definition. Whether they are called to do so or not, they are duty-bound to serve their natural catchment areas, foreseeing and leading, as far as possible, processes of regional innovation and development, in partnership with the authorities and business.

In this highly competitive open market, the “brain drain”, a catchword invented by the British Royal Society to describe the outflow of scientists and technologists to North America in the years after World War II, is now occurring on a massive scale and in particular towards the most dynamic and research-oriented economies. And in this context knowing foreign languages, being able to cope with linguistic diversity, are valued skills. As we have seen in our work, virtually all round Europe English is taken to be the first foreign language. The only exceptions are countries which have several national languages, which relegate the learning of English to a later stage in pupils’ schooling. 

But we have also seen that “English is not enough”, an expression ironically valid in both the British Isles and on the continent, but in different senses. In the labour market proficiency in English is now widely taken for granted, and no longer has the added value it had until recently. The European Union’s aim of 1+2, decided at the Barcelona Council, was perhaps promoted by Commission officials from France and similar countries in the hope of getting a share of the second foreign language market in schools, but it does nevertheless aim in the right direction. 

What has not moved forward so successfully is the general plurilingual competence of the EU population in recent years, as shown by the latest special Eurobarometer . We know that right now, 

“Just over half of Europeans (54%) are able to hold a conversation in at least one additional language, a quarter (25%) are able to speak at least two additional languages and one in ten (10%) are conversant in at least three”. (p. 5)

Why proficiency has not improved as rapidly as expected has also been looked at during our project. Teachers having to cope with rapid changes in demand, with the low prestige, in some countries, of language learning, with new teaching methods and technologies, are under considerable pressure, as is time in the timetable for languages in schools wishing to offer a wide range of other subjects. 

We have looked at multilingual policies and strategies among universities and other institutions. We have seen how crucial issues of identity, of belongingness, are when it comes to the choice of languages. It simply isn’t true (though most monolinguals find it almost impossible to appreciate) that language is merely a tool for communication; or to put it another way, language transmits far more than the literal content of the words used.

We have looked at the complexity of the many issues involved. We are witnesses large-scale migrations of speakers of many languages, both within and from outside the Union. We can see smaller language groups struggling to offer, or continue offering services and products (not just cultural) through their language, in the face of the undeniable economies of scale which also mean that their own bilingualism, while an advantage in many respects, can also go against their own language group by forcing them to opt for their second (more widely-used) language.  

Aside from the Report which, as you have seen, contains some conclusions and recommendations, the project has produced and leaves online a website with most of the papers presented at the symposia (and abstracts of the remainder); a monographic issue of the European Journal of Language Policy; and one, and perhaps two, books which we are planning to produce in the next few months. 
We have tried, throughout the project, to reach out from universities to stakeholders in each of the topics we discussed.

Are we to move to personal plurilingualism across Europe?  Are we to take Emperor Charles V as a model?

Unde solebat, ut audio, Carolus V Imperator dicere, Germanorum linguam esse militarem: Hispanorum amatoriam: Italorum oratoriam: Gallorum nobilem. / When Emperor Charles V used to say, as I hear, that the language of the Germans was military; that of the Spaniards pertained to love; that of the Italians was oratorical; that of the French was noble.

Alius vero, qui Germanus erat, retulit, eundem Carolum Quintum dicere aliquando solitum esse; Si loqui cum Deo oporteret, se Hispanice locuturum, quod lingua Hispanorum gravitatem maiestatemque prae se ferat; si cum amicis, Italice, quod Italorum dialectus familiaris sit; si cui blandiendum esset, Gallice, quod illorum lingua nihil blandius; si cui minandum aut asperius loquendum, Germanice, quod tota eorum lingua minax, aspera sit ac vehemens. / Indeed another, who was German, related that the same Charles V sometimes used to say: if it was necessary to talk with God, that he would talk in Spanish, which language suggests itself for the gravity and majesty of the Spaniards; if with friends, in Italian, for the dialect of the Italians was one of familiarity; if to flatter someone, in French, for no language is tenderer than theirs; if to threaten someone or to speak harshly to them, in German, for their entire language is threatening, rough and vehement.

I fear that such a diglossic distribution of functions (other versions also include the language spoken by the Emperor to his dogs and horses!) is not the specific aim of the EU.  Suffice it to say that there are also cognitive advantages of plurilingualism, which in terms of developing personals skills which are assets in a competitive economy which values innovation and creativity; and that researchers have just scratched the surface of this crucial issue.

As coordinator of this project I am happy to thank the close to 30 universities and research institutes whose staff have taken part in the five symposia and this conference. 

I am sure I speak on all of our behalf in thanking the institutions that have hosted each of these events, and especially, on this occasion, the joint venture led by the Erasmushogeschool and the Socialist and Democratic Group of the European Parliament. Your kindness, hospitality and efficiency have given this last event in our project an international projection that would otherwise have been impossible. 

The project would have been impossible without all of the speakers, who included not only specialists from our member institutions, but also, as is the case today, outstanding specialists who have accepted our invitations as keynote speakers. The depth and range of the topics covered made drawing conclusions a really challenging task, so our gratitude extends to the rapporteurs and the drafter of the final report presented here today.

As an Englishman, as Michael Strubell, I am grateful that this Parliament offers services so that I can freely speak my language in this chamber and be understood thanks to the professional interpreters, whose work I would like to publicly thank.

I com a català i catalano-parlant, com a Miquel Strubell, no puc sinó esperar que ben aviat jo, i nou milions llargs de ciutadans europeus, podrem gaudir del mateix dret. / And as a Catalan and a Catalan-speaker, as Miquel Strubell, I can but hope that very soon I, and over nine million other European citizens, will be able to exercise this same right. 

Seria frívol dir que molts d’ells esperen la independència, dintre de la Unió, de Catalunya, perquè així la nostra llengua esdevindrà una llengua oficial i de treball més de les institucions europees, al costat de l’hongarès, el suec o el letó. Però és trist haver de reconèixer que els Estats membres no semblen deixar cap altra manera d’arribar a aquest objectiu legítim. / It would be frivolous to claim that many of them look forward to the independence of Catalonia, within the Union, for this way our language will become just another official and working language of the European institutions, alongside Hungarian, Swedish or Latvian. But it is sad to have to acknowledge that member States seem not to allow any other way of attaining this legitimate aim.

And finally, our thanks to the European Union, without whose support, through the Lifelong Learning Programme, this network project would not have been possible. Nearly all of us have worked on other co-funded projects, and I for one and truly grateful not just at a professional and academic level, but also at a personal, human level: I have made many friends, and they have helped me destroy stereotypes I was in some cases unaware of. We are all fortunate enough to be Europeans, and are committed to its future.  I sincerely hope we can all continue to work together in the future to make Europe, and the world, a better place to live. 

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