A(nother) bunch of sovereignists has recently proposed establishing French as the reference language for EU legal affairs. In practice, this would mean that legal interpretative disputes could be surmounted by using the French version as the reference text. Chris Dickson, a journalist a the famous EU newspaper Agence Europe, interviewed me yesterday on that issue. Here's a translation of the article.
Brussels, 07/02/2007 (Agence Europe) - The Comite pour la langue du droit europeen (CPLDE) visited the European institutions in Brussels on Wednesday 7 February to campaign for French to become the reference language for EU legal documents. The French language is good for detail and accurate expression, explained CPLDE President Maurice Druon at a press conference. He said it was not about trying to make French a compulsory language in Europe, even for legal affairs. His aim is simply for a decision to be made among the 23 linguistic versions of EU legislation of the benchmark when deciding on differing interpretations, and he argued that French was the ideal candidate.
Language differences can certainly lead to problems of interpretation but it is far from certain that French would be the best solution. Asked to give concrete examples, Druon referred to the infamous Resolution 242 of the United Nations, where the difference between the vague 'withdrawal from territories' and the more specific 'retrait des territoires' means that only the French version covers all the territories in question and this had led to implementation problems that continue to this day.
Linguistic interpretation when deciding on ambiguous cases has long been in existence. This is nothing new, Nicolas Petit, a specialist in competition law at Liege University in Belgium, told Europe, adding that focussing interpretation on the French language is not necessarily very logical. He gave an example. During the 1960s, explained Petit, specialists studied the interpretation of Article 82 of the Treaty (competition), discovering that the Dutch term 'machtpositie' was more explicit and more manageable from a legal point of view than the French version 'position dominante'. Maurice Druon may not like it but it comes to business and competition, French would not necessarily be the safest language legally, said Petit.
The CPLDE's ideas, expressed in beautiful French by the different nationalities on the CPLDE do not express a genuinely urgent political strategy. It is more an expression of principle, explained a spokesperson for the EPP-ED group at the European Parliament, who organised the CPLDE's visit. If the committee wants to take action and get genuine pan-European political backing, it might be wiser to promote a solution less closely aligned with French interests. (cd)"
Note that Maurice Druon is also the author of "Les rois maudits", a great saga on the French kings in the middle ages.