" Even if the British do vote to remain in the EU, there are many in France and in Brussels who think that after June 23 the eurozone countries should press on with greater integration. The seductive idea here is that a purer core, committed to greater integration and with France playing a leading role, can pioneer a degree of political integration that is currently anathema to the likes of Britain and Poland. Jean-Claude Piris, long-time head of the legal service in the Council, wrote an eloquent manifesto for such an avant-garde back in 2012: “The Future of Europe: Towards a Two-Speed EU? “
That Piris, a Frenchman, wrote his book in English is an acknowledgement of something that is not in doubt in the June 23 vote, but would have distressed de Gaulle and all succeeding French presidents: The chief language of the EU is now, de facto, English. Even if the British vote to pull out of the EU, the main working language of the EU will remain English. It is the second language of most of the officials and diplomats from central and eastern European countries, many of whom do not have adequate acquaintance with French to follow a discussion in the Council working groups in that language. So, whether by force majeure or faute de mieux, most of the business of the working groups is conducted in English. A requirement, introduced in 2004, that Commission officials would need to prove ability in three languages in order to attain promotion has not had the intended effect of shoring up the use of French."
Tim King, POLITICO
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However, at the risk of distressing the ghost of de Gaulle, I would argue that a British exit from the EU would be calamitous for the future of the French language in the EU institutions. At present, the English language can be demonized as belonging to the overweening member state that is perfidious Albion. The French government can therefore argue that English must be counter-balanced by support for its main rival as a second language: French – one of the EU’s four founding languages, an official language of three member states and a close relation of other Romance languages such as Italian, Spanish and Portuguese (never forgetting that Romania is a member of the International Organization of La Francophonie).
A vote in favor of Brexit would not, however, be an unalloyed triumph for the English language.
But remove the U.K. from the EU scene and the English language will be seen and accepted for what it is — not so much an expression of British imperialism as the dominant lingua franca, knowledge of which is now a sine qua non for most aspiring bureaucrats and diplomats. For the moment, the EU’s language policy ensures that French is afforded special status, but the ground is shifting and pressure for change will increase should Britain leave the EU.
A vote in favor of Brexit would not, however, be an unalloyed triumph for the English language. What would win out would not be the language of Shakespeare that many cultural institutions in Britain were celebrating last weekend on the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. Instead, what would take root would be a cheapened, debased form of English as spoken and written by non-native speakers. Once the British were removed from the administration of the EU institutions, it would be left to Ireland to provide the EU’s native English-speakers. Ireland is, famously, a nation of poets, but it is a small country and probably not equal to the task of protecting the English language against the linguistic crimes committed by the Dutch, the Scandinavians and others who think they know better. "