Will English Disappear as Official European Language?

If the UK leaves the European Union, and I’m not so sure that it ever will, it will mean the end of English as an official European Language. Each member country is permitted to designate one language as an official European Union Language. The UK is the only country that has so designated English. Ireland is an English-speaking country, of course, but it chose to designate Irish as its official European language.

English is the de facto working language of the EU, much to the chagrin of the French. I have no doubt that most of the working conversation between representatives to the EU and EU employees will continue to be English as will most unofficial communication between the EU and the rest of the world. English is just too ingrained in international communication to be displaced.

However, I wonder if English’s possible future lack of official status might mean that official documents will no longer be printed in English and that official communications will no longer take place in English. Will the Japanese and the Chinese have to learn French or German or Romanian or Estonian in order to officially communicate with the Eu?

In any case, the process of leaving the European Union will most likely drag on for years. Nothing official happens until the UK invokes Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, and David Cameron is dragging his feet on invoking it. In fact, he has said that it will be up to the next prime minister to do so, which pushes off any such decision until at least October. It is even possible that the next prime minister will not invoke the Article at all, which would leave the UK in the EU.

Once Article 50 is invoked, the UK and the EU are supposed to come to terms on the UK’s exit within two years. The process can only be halted or extended by unanimous agreement, which gives any EU country a veto. It is easy to understand why the UK government is not anxious to start the process. Once it does, it will be in a very weak negotiating position. It has no motive to invoke Article 50 until it has some assurances from other EU countries what the terms of its exit might be.

On the other hand, several leading figures in the EU including Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel have stated that no negotiations can take place until Article 50 is invoked. We appear to have a standoff that may cause UK bureaucrats to never quite getting around to invoking the Article.