Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has said “English is losing its importance in Europe,” remarks that are certain to reignite tensions with the U.K. over its decision to leave the European Union.
Juncker, who made his remarks Friday in Florence, Italy, said he would talk in French also because “France has an election.” The French presidential runoff Sunday pits Emmanuel Macron, a pro-EU independent centrist, against Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate who has promised her own Brexit-style referendum in France if she wins the presidency. Most polls show Macron comfortably ahead, and senior EU officials and leaders have taken the unusual step of all but endorsing Macron ahead of the vote.
In his remarks Friday, Juncker called the U.K. decision to leave the bloc “a tragedy.”
“We will negotiate fairly with our British friends, but let's not forget that it is not the EU that is abandoning the U.K.,” he said, “it is the U.K. that’s abandoning the EU, and that makes a difference.”
Juncker’s view of the English language are an exaggeration. Although the U.K. might be leaving the bloc, English is an official language in both Ireland and Malta, which are both EU members. The language has also been dominant across the 28-member EU since 2004 when eastern and central European countries joined. Indeed, the language remains widely spoken across much of the EU—with more than a third of the population claiming fluency in at least 13 member states—not counting the U.K. and Ireland.