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What can your country do for the EU?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 12:00:48 PM EST

Cross posted from the European Journalism Centre Think about it website

John F Kennedy famously said "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". I want to pose a similar but slightly larger question to all the bloggers here: "Ask not what the EU can do for your country, but what your country can do for the EU?".

I know it's not quite such a stirring patriotic question. Most people identify much more strongly with their native country than they do with the EU, and that is partly why National elections tend to be so much more hard fought, emotive, and generate a much higher turnout than European elections.

However the question was brought to my mind by  Eamonn Fitzgerald's diary in which he argued that the EU should adopt English as its lingua franca and do away with all that tiresome and expensive translation and interpretation of EU documents and discussions.


I find the economic argument Eamonn cites unconvincing, even in the current crisis. The costs of translation are minuscule compared to EU costs as a whole, and translation will have to continue for generations in any case until everyone has at least a working knowledge of English. Machine translations (e.g. Google) are improving all the time in any case, and to a degree all languages are converging as new words and technologies are invented.  

Perhaps it can even be argued that, as English goes global, local dialects and variants of it diverge so much as to be come virtually distinct languages.  Thus adopting English as a "Standard" doesn't necessarily mean that different peoples won't use and develop it very differently. The Queen's Oxbridge English isn't even widely spoken in the UK!

Then there are the cultural arguments, the literary and poetic heritage. Not so long ago education (in England) consisted mostly of Latin and ancient Greek! National identities usually involve an essential linguistic element - Israel virtually re-invented Hebrew when it became a Nation - virtually none of its immigrants spoke it on arrival. Imperialism has always used the suppression of native tongues as a method of forced incorporation, so the languages which become dominant can also be the languages of conquest and cultural genocide.

However I see nothing wrong with English becoming the de facto technocratic language for business and intergovernmental exchange - in many ways it already is - as Eamonn noted.  But that doesn't mean we have to suppress native languages especially if they are still the widely used in their native countries.

I have long argued that the extensive proportion of the curriculum time devoted to the Irish language (Gaelige) in Irish schools could be better devoted to modern European Languages (in which the Irish are notoriously bad) but that is a different argument. Irish is effectively a dead language in all except tiny areas of the country and no-one is fluent in Irish without also being fluent in English. So I don't see a need to translate all official documents into Irish, but neither do I have a problem with Irish language enthusiasts seeking to sustain the language so long as it is not at the expense of other modern languages.

More often than not the argument that English should be adopted as the Lingua Franca is also made by the English as a way of getting one over the French (which used to be the almost universal language of diplomacy) and other major European nations.  After all, more EU citizens probably have German as their mother tongue.

But perhaps there is more than an attempt at political and cultural one-up-man-ship and hegemony to the argument.  Perhaps, in a truly integrated Union, we should seek to harmonise the best aspects of each society throughout Europe - the English language for business/government, the French Public Health provision model, German industrial/engineering standards, Italian style and fashion, oh - and I almost forgot - Irish Pubs!

Perhaps it would be an interesting challenge to bloggers here to ask them what aspect of their national culture/society/economy they think is the best in Europe and which they think should become the European norm if we were ever to decide we wanted to converge more as a social as well as an economic and political union?

Yes I know, diversity is good, and it would be terrible if we were all the same. But we can all learn from each other as well. So if you were asked to nominate one aspect of your country which you felt was the best in Europe - and which you felt could be profitably adopted as a European norm, what would it be?

Display:
... for example, which EU country can contribute the best South East Asian take-away shops? South Asian? Musical entertainment in cheese shops?

Inquiring minds around the world want to know!

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 02:27:06 PM EST
Swedish childcare and support structure for parents. Almost free, top-notch maternal care and child care. 12 months off with 80% of salary to care for the young one (to be divided between parents with bonuses for more equal partition), public childcare with a fee in percentage of salary, right to stay home with 80% of salary to care for sick child and the list goes on.

Not that it is perfect, I would like to raise the floor for subsidies. Since 80% of 0 is 0, you get at least ~18 euros a day but that is hardly survivable. 700-800/month would be more reasonable (that is about the level of student grants+loans).

I would nominate our higher education (free, availble, mandatory student influence etc) but I feel it has slipped for the last 20 years due to budget cuts and the Bologna process.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 03:21:23 PM EST
If we cherry pick the best aspects of each countries services, do we create an unsustainable level of public expenditure?  Are there forced choices between e.g. better health care and better child-care for reasons of cost?  Is the Swedish child-care system the best because they priorities it and spend a lot more on it, or is it extremely efficient and provides a better service at comparable cost?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 06:03:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
If we cherry pick the best aspects of each countries services, do we create an unsustainable level of public expenditure?

Probably. Unless we combine it with those 90% tax rates on the really rich.

Frank Schnittger:

Is the Swedish child-care system the best because they priorities it and spend a lot more on it

That would probably be it. Though it can of course be argued that good care in the beginning of life gives less costs down the line, but I have not seen any studies on it.

To digress a bit, the swedish school system is - at least in the political debate - in permanent crisis. Action programs from politicians comes at least ones a year. The finnish school system is hear seen as a model of effiency always outperforming the swedish in international rankings and ending up in the international top 5 (where swedish students btw do not really test bad, but good in languages, social studies and verbal skills and mediocre in math and science).

What is rarely mentioned is that the finnish school system is really, really similar to the swedish except for more resources/student and less political tinkering. To give more resources here you would have to prioritise and to stop changing the rules every year you need to give it up as perennial issue. Neither of which is a winner from the politicians that has made their career on it.

So, resources matter a lot.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 05:04:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And I thought those Finns did well because of all those long cold dark nights when there was nothing better to do than study... ;-)

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 05:44:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Finns and Swedes do read a lot more books, magazines and newspapers than most Europeans - as evidenced by the excellent bookshops. The online reading seems to be on top of the paper reading - except for the under 25s.

But there are other things to do on those long dark nights ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 06:00:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sven Triloqvist:
But there are other things to do on those long dark nights

Please explain, with grappics, with bullet points for the various options...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 07:27:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sending you an executive summary, 'Congress Explained',  in plain brown paper wrapper. It's subtitled 'Now you can enjoy what the finance world has done to our economy in the comfort of your own home'

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 07:32:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
'The comfort of your own cardboard shack', surely?
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 07:48:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Better still, send the summary in large cardboard package.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 07:50:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mandatory wikipedia reference.

Languages of the European Union - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Languages of the European Union Language Countries
As mother tongue (percentage of EU population) As language other than mother tongue (percentage of EU population) Percentage of EU population speaking language
English United Kingdom, Ireland and Malta 13% 38% 51%
German Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Italy 18% 14% 32%
French France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy 12% 14% 26%
Italian Italy and Malta[24] 13% 3% 16%
Spanish Spain 9% 6% 15%
Polish Poland 9% 1% 10%
Dutch Netherlands and Belgium 5% 1% 6%
Russian Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland 1% 6% 7%
Swedish Sweden and Finland 2% 1% 3%
Greek Greece and Cyprus 3% 0% 3%
Czech Czech Republic 2% 1% 3%
Portuguese Portugal 2% 0% 2%
Hungarian Hungary 2% 0% 2%
Slovak Slovakia 1% 1% 2%
Catalan Spain, France, Italy 1% 1% 2%

Note russian as 8th greatest language in the EU.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 03:24:40 PM EST
So this tells us that continentals educate their kids better to speak English amongst other foreign languages and the English don't?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 03:56:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... languages spoken more widely as a second language than as a first language, the UK is divided by a common language from the US, while the French are divided by a common language from the DRC.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 04:07:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So if we want French to be the dominant language in the EU we need the DRC to conquer the US?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 05:56:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I surrender.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 08:41:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What are called admin costs in the EU are only a little over 6% of the total of the €120 bn, for 2007 and the €864.3 bn 2007 - 2013.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 04:42:40 PM EST
English isn't a good language. It is the worst language I know of in terms of consistency between written and pronounced words and it requires enormous skill to make anything but very simple expressions.

I demand Latin to be made the one language in which all political communications in the EU should be made. No country will have the enormous advantage to be able to negotiate in its own language, while all others have to face a different language. If a contract is written in English and the is a dispute on what the wording really means, who will contradict the British reading of it?
I will never be able to speak or write in English even remotely as skillful as speaking and writing German, and this is probably true for most of even the youngest of our citizens.

When choosing a language of a country in the EU, it should at least undoubtfully be committed to the European project. Probably with appropriate training, I could speak and write one day as good in French as in English - and that would be as well true for many of the youngest of our citizens.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 06:38:03 PM EST
You make a good point about the negotiating advantage a native command of English confers.  But is English not gradually becoming the almost Universal language of business in any case?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 06:41:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But most jobs that require English don't require to excel in English, but just reasonable communication. And many jobs that require English, require as well another language, e.g. I could imagine, that still pretty often local component suppliers negotiate in German with local car companies, even when the car company manager has to be able to speak with the office in India, and the financial division in London. There is kind of a symmetry.

There are jobs, where excellent English is a must, but being an elected official should not be such a job. There would be a strong overrepresentation of people, who e.g. send there children to English boarding schools, have studied and maybe still close ties to the US or UK, or are simply fancy of English.
And anybody wonders, why Anglo ideas are imitated by continental Europe, despite they don't work?

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 07:34:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Poland, or at least in Warsaw, the German companies used English as the workplace language. Knowledge of German was a plus, but definitely not necessary for employees - less important than a knowledge of Polish.  In at least one case I know of (Daimler-Benz) some of the senior management didn't know German - there was no need for it in Poland, and the folks they interacted with from Germany generally knew English. The only reason to know it was if you wanted to eventually work in the corporate headquarters in Germany.
by MarekNYC on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 09:04:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Latin?

No, make it Esperanto, it is easy to learn and master if you have a german, latin or slavic language to start with (sorry basques, speakers of finno-ugric languages and others).

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 07:00:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"English isn't a good language. It is the worst language I know of in terms of consistency between written and pronounced words and it requires enormous skill to make anything but very simple expressions."

Another way of looking at it is that English is a flexible collection of parts from various languages, with no fixed rules, and can therefore adapt to meet the current local requirements. That case is clearly seen in "Spanglish."

So a European migration to English need not be to the standard BBC version, but could be a mixture of all sorts of components.

by asdf on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 07:10:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you believe that good lawyers anywhere make their pledges in Spanglish?

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers
by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 08:41:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know anything about legal systems, but I would guess that legal proceedings in any given jurisdiction are run using some specified language or languages. Spanglish could be specified.

One might wonder whether an English defendant brought into a court in 1100 would be charged in French or Anglo Saxon or "English." Apparently the answer is that it would be in "Law French."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_French

by asdf on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 10:15:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
However a problem emerges when legal language becomes so remote from everyday experience and usage, that only lawyers can understand it fully, and justice becomes estranged from "lawful".

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 10:38:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
However a problem emerges when legal language becomes so remote from everyday experience and usage, that only lawyers can understand it fully, and justice becomes estranged from "lawful".

Isn't that the whole point?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Mar 5th, 2009 at 04:02:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The whole point of creating a profession - in this case lawyers - is to create an in-club language, barriers to entry and to mystify and exclude the layman.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 5th, 2009 at 11:56:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What can my country do?  Oh, what can we do!

("You can even get stucco!  Oh, you can get stucco!")

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 07:51:43 PM EST
Your can do attitude is a plus, even if it sometimes borders on the naive and well intentioned counterproductive intervention.  There is also an enormous goodwill and generosity and the personal level, even if it sometimes seems to get lost at the societal or international level.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 10:36:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To raise a controversial issue, I would nominate the Irish primary and secondary school systems, not because they are the best, but because they are remarkably good considering the level of funding they receive and the incompetence of the Department of Education which adds very little discernible value to the process.

The primary system is remarkably good considering the high pupil teacher ration - up to 30 - and is a credit to the teaching profession.

The secondary system is good - and this is where I get controversial- partly because it works on a points system for third level entry which incentives students to get the highest possible points score if they want to be sure of getting into scarce or coveted college places - generally Medicine/Law the professions - but all the way down the line for all other courses as well.  

Students are thus generally highly self motivated and complain about teachers who are no good or don't make enough of an effort - a turnaround from my day where useless teachers were prized for giving us all an easy time.

There are of course huge downsides to this kind of system: a premium on exam technique and remembering facts, considerable pressures around exam time, a stigma associated with poor performance - although nobody need know what your score was, and the key issue is whether you got into a college course you wanted.

But the bottom line is that we have a relatively motivated student body, a requirement to develop study skills, a relatively objective entrance process for third level (with important caveats around the difference between fact retention and critical thinking skills) and a generally good performance level compared to our peers internationally.  

It does enable social mobility and limit the ability of "old boy networks" to influence college acceptance and job recruitment which used to be an even bigger problem.  The proportion of students going on to third level is very high, but this sector is even more chronically under funded.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 06:03:08 AM EST
Primary, secondary and adult education (ie training that is apart from the University system) should be much better paid and resourced - and free to all students. Learning how to learn is one of the most important gifts that society can bestow on its future citizens.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 06:11:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sven Triloqvist:
Learning how to learn is one of the most important gifts that society can bestow on its future citizens.

couldn't agree more...

unfortunately most 'education' is instruction.

italy's kindergardens and first level after are amazing. after that, not so good. uni level truly feudal...

i'd like to see italy give solar power to europe, (it would already be great if it made enough of its own energy to shake the dubious title of being the biggest energy importer in the world.

from rome on south the yields could be very significant.

the food, well that's a given.

i see the future of italy as a renaissance theme park, where tourists come to soak themselves in the aesthetics of antiquity, it's the closest to 'décontracté' that europe has to offer, and its efforts to imitate other first world countries are mostly an embarrassment.

it is said italy contains 70% of the world's cultural treasures, it costs a fortune to restore, store and maintain them. if tourism were more focussed on that aspect, then perhaps more funds would be allocated to pay those bills, and more artworks could be accessed by the public.

italy needs as much corrective import of other countries' attitudes, especially with regard to responsibility and reliability, as it has its own cultural jewels to share.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 08:43:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
melo:
responsibility and reliability

If you could bottle it and brand it, we could sell it!

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 08:49:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
France should teach others :
  • How to cook.
  • How to drink.
  • How to build cars. No kidding. Witness the DS Citroën.

France should learn from others :
- The rest. Not much, actually.
by balbuz on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 04:31:50 AM EST
Humility?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 07:40:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
France should learn from others :
- The rest. Not much, actually.

Sorry, misunderstanding here.

Let's go :

Not much meant "the rest amounts to not much".
It did not mean "France doesn't have much to learn from others".

So the attempted humor was "what else is there in life besides cooking and drinking ?".

Humor on Internet in a foreign language is tough. And explaining failed humor is impossible.

by balbuz on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 12:18:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, for a start you lot need to learn about curries.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 12:19:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was very amused by that comment...thanks.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 12:26:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for clearing that up!

Is praising France for the DS Citroën not looking back a bit far?  What current French cars are world class?

Other than haute couture is France still the leader of world fashion?

Isn't French cuisine rather conservative and no longer uniquely French?

</hides>

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 12:45:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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