Expert View

Macron and Europe now speaking English

by Denis MacShane | 09.05.2017

Denis MacShane is the UK’s former Minister of Europe and a senior Adviser at Avisa Partners in Brussels.

One striking aspect of the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, is his excellent command of English.  In contrast to the monolingual UK political class, the leaders of France and Germany can shape Brexit policy using a common language – ours!

This makes all the more odd Jean-Claude Juncker’s throwaway line that “slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe”. Of course, Juncker loves to tease and crack jokes. Before he rose to the European Commission presidency he was noted for popping out of Brussels meetings for a smoke and to exchange gossip with journalists.

Last week’s jibe was pure Juncker and he would have been delighted at all the London anti-EU press and politicians rising to the bait.

Ironically, a hard Brexit might make it easier for the EU to adopt English, already its lingua franca, as its main working language, once it is no longer associated with a powerful member state.

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Marine Le Pen was the French favourite of many Brexiters. Nigel Farage endorsed her on BBC Any Questions last Friday, the day after a French court ruled that to call her fascist was not defamatory. Macron is well aware of how many in the Brexit camp hoped that after Brexit and Trump, a President Le Pen would consummate the triumph of xenophobic populist nationalism in France.

President-elect Macron’s contempt for those behind Brexit, especially May’s foreign secretary, is open. In a March interview with Monocle, Macron said that Europe would see losses from Brexit “but it’s the British who will lose the most.  You cannot enjoy rights in Europe if you are not a member – otherwise it will fall apart. The British are making a serious mistake over the long term. Boris Johnson enjoys giving flamboyant speeches but has no strategic vision. Nigel Farage and Mr Johnson are responsible for this crime: they sailed the ship into battle and jumped overboard at the moment of crisis. What has been happening since? On the geopolitical level as well as on the financial, realignment and submission to the US. What is going to happen is not ‘taking back to control’: it’s servitude.”

The biggest town that Le Pen won on Sunday was Calais. So  as he looks to capture National Assembly seats in the northwest coastal region, Macron is likely to step up his campaign promise to renegotiate the unpopular Le Touquet Treaty, under which France effectively polices the UK border in Calais.

All this will be expressed in fluent English which Macron speaks as well as any Brexit minister. He’s probably too busy to read the patronising dismissals of him as a lightweight without real political experience by the Brexit commentariat in London who were hoping for a Le Pen win.

So just as the UK prepares to leave Europe, the continent’s main leaders speak perfect English, seek to embrace UK-style reforms, and may even end up making English the EU’s official language.

Edited by Paul Taylor