The boundless arrogance of a Brussels big shot.
Ever since the British electorate voted to bow out of the European Union, the hacks and mediocrities who run that power-obsessed, democracy-despising organization have been taking every opportunity, big and small, to diss the U.K. The latest insult came from Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, who in a speech to “diplomats and experts” in Florence proffered the snotty assertion that, thanks to Brexit, “English is losing importance in Europe.” He made that statement in English, but then, to underscore his point and enhance the snottiness quotient, switched into French.
Juncker called Brexit a tragedy. Yes, it's a tragedy for Juncker and other stuffed shirts whose collect a hefty paycheck, at the expense of European taxpayers, for doing little more than flying around the continent giving speeches to “diplomats and experts.” Of course, that's not all the EU does. At the lower levels of its EU hierarchy, sitting behind big desks in handsome offices in shiny, impressive buildings all over Brussels (and elsewhere), are innumerable unelected technocrats who earn huge sums to hold unnecessary meetings, write unnecessary reports, and impose restrictions on Europeans that are not only unnecessary but positively destructive of individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and economic prosperity. Brexit is a tragedy for all of these EU apparatchiks because it's the first step in a process that will almost certainly end with them having to look for a real job.
Juncker's focus on the so-called decline in the importance of English was typical EU rhetoric – implicitly equating the continent and its people with himself and his fellow EU drudges. Will Brexit make English somewhat less important in this silly, solemn, self-regarding body? Who cares? Look at it this way: the UN, itself a nonsensical enough sodality, has 193 members but only six official languages – English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. The EU, with 28 members, boasts no fewer than 24 official languages, plus five that are designated as “semi-official.” (Hence, one of the big upsides of EU is that it provides a staggering amount of employment for translators.)
When contemplating the EU, one should never lose sight of the fact that in some sense, the whole sprawling operation exists primarily to do what all bureaucracies exist to do – namely, to churn out documents. In the case of the EU, these documents number in the tens of thousands. Most of them are effectively meaningless. Some of them, however, turn yet another screw in the ever-intensifying control of Brussels over ordinary Europeans' lives. In any event, every one of those documents needs to be translated into every one of those 24 languages. The mind boggles: how many trees are cut down every year to produce documents for an organization that piously pretends to be obsessed with preserving the environment? (I found it interesting to read the other day that at least one of the EU's 24 official languages, Irish, has sort of been put on hold as an official language because so few Irish people actually know it – 99% speak English – that it's hard to find people capable of translating to or from it.)
To be sure, the European Commission (the part of the EU that Juncker runs) has three “procedural” languages – English, French, and German – and Brexit may change that. Or perhaps not. After all, two other EU countries besides the U.K. – Ireland (as noted) and Malta (where 88% speak English) – have English as a native tongue. More important, in virtually all of the countries of the EU, English is, practically speaking, the only real second language. Yes, in the Netherlands, most people also speak French and German – but rarely as well as they do English. German is also pretty big in some central European countries – but more with old folks than younger ones. The fact is that when you come right down to it, the only truly universally shared language in Europe is English, period, and Brexit's not going to change that.
There is, however, one thing that will soon be losing importance in Europe. And this is the point at which it's necessary to mention that Juncker, who wields such immense authority over an entire continent, comes from one of that continent's smallest countries: the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Bounded by Germany, France, and Belgium, the duchy is a bit more than half the size of Rhode Island and has a population somewhat smaller than that of Milwaukee. Juncker spent most of his career as a politician there. For fifteen years he was Luxembourg's Minister for Work and Employment; for four years he was its Minister for the Treasury; and for eighteen years he was its Prime Minister. Yet nobody outside of Luxembourg had ever heard of him. Then, in 2014, he became president of the European Commission, and the world knows his name.
The EU, you see, while being, on the whole, a terrible blight on the lives of the ordinary Europeans, is absolutely terrific for people like Juncker. Indeed, it was created by and for people like Juncker. It enables them – these fanatically ambitious public officials from inconsequential countries – to rise to political positions worthy of their egos. If it weren't for the EU, none of us would ever have heard of Juncker, and nothing he said would ever have made headlines outside of Luxembourg. So when the EU falls, Juncker, along with everyone else of his ilk, will lose not just some of his importance but every last little bit of his importance. (Unless, of course, he manages to snag some UN sinecure.) Brexit, in short, doesn't mean a diminution in the importance of English – it marks the beginning of the end of the importance of Juncker. And the faster he and his fellow EU honchos resume their anonymity, the better.