Speaking up for Languages at Labour Conference 2011


Today, Europe celebrates the 10th Annual European Day of Languages, a European Union initiative to appreciate linguistic diversity in Europe and promote language learning.

You might think it a bit of an anorak subject, and perhaps it is, but as a trainee interpreter of French and Spanish, it’s my anorak subject.

Britain cannot afford to lose languages, and it cannot afford to rely on the popular myth that everybody speaks English.

Ironically, it is only because English is widely spoken that we have a responsibility to promote, learn and use foreign languages.

As the party of openness and diversity, this should be a core Labour principle in foreign policy and in British diplomacy.

In the European Union, if a meeting cannot find any available English interpreters, that meeting is cancelled. Delaying the exchange of ideas, slowing down government, and hindering reform.

That’s bad for Europe, and bad for Britain.

In Brussels, Britain is often underrepresented because of a lack of language professionals.

In Business, Britain loses out to foreign enterprise because of a lack of language professionals. That means Labour loses the job creation and economic growth that goes with it.

English may be the lingua franca in many countries, but companies have to speak to customers in their own language.

So the business that do well are the business that go global.

As globalisation continues, languages are an obviously vital tool. Forging friendships, breaking barriers and sealing deals.

The Labour Party must be open to Europe.

Britain in the world needs languages, which is why, on the 10th European Day of Languages, Labour must not let Britain get tongue-tied or lost in translation, but be ready to promote, encourage and develop languages professionals.

Thank you.

S&D Barcelona Conference: Euroscepticism

Tomorrow and Tuesday I shall be in Barcelona to attend a conference of  the “Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament” (Press Release here). I was invited to participate in a round table discussion on Euroscepticism. Below is the abstract of my proposal:

How can Social Democracy counter nationalism and Euroscepticism while strengthening the EU?

The term ‘Eurosceptic’ is typically given to people of any political background who possess and advocate a highly negative attitude towards the European Union. Euroscepticism is, consequently, a set of political convictions that defines itself as ‘against’ the EU.

The central theme of my idea is that Euroscepticism only gains purchase on people’s thinking in contexts where public understanding of the EU itself is either partial or inadequate. Certainly, without access to the relevant facts – historical, institutional and ideological – the public is likely to be easily persuaded by a Eurosceptical stance.

Accordingly, what Social Democrats must do to counter Euroscepticism is to fill in the blanks and define clearly what Europe is for – not just through explanations of how the Commission, Parliament and Council operate, but through, more importantly, the articulation of a vision for Europe. Eurosceptics will be unable to capitalise on generalisations if Social Democrats provide specifics.

Key questions that arise in this situation are: What is Europe for? Why does it exist today? After decades of peace, what is its relevance? Given its geopolitical situation after 1989, what should we expect from a united Europe? What is the difference between a Europe of the Left and a Europe of the Right? To counter Euroscepticism, Social Democrats must provide compelling answers to such questions, so as to project an idea of Europe that is more than just a common economic market and, least of all, a bureaucratic mystery.