English is currently one of the 24 official languages of the European Union (EU), and one of the three “working” languages alongside French and German.

Will the United Kingdom leaving the EU (Brexit) mean English will be dropped as one of the working languages, or even eliminated altogether as an official language?

  • 21
    Don't forget that most of the Irish population speaks English and does not speak Irish (the Wikipedia article on the subject says 94% speak English and 36% speak Irish). See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Ireland.
    – phoog
    Jan 23, 2017 at 4:38
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    Much less than 36% (more like 3%) can speak proper Irish according to reports from several Irish people.
    – snoram
    Jan 23, 2017 at 15:39
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    From your link: "The most widely spoken language in the EU is English, which is understood by 51% of all adults" Since far less than that 51% reside in the UK, why do you think the EU would drop this language? Jan 23, 2017 at 19:31
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit (a) Because media reports suggest that every EU member can require only one language and it seemed that UK was the only one requiring English (but facts were brief and sketchy, hence my desire for a high-quality Answer here), and (b) politicians can be fickle, capricious, and even vengeful, sometimes making less-than-beneficial/practical decisions. So in turn, I could ask you, why would you think the EU would always make practical decisions? Furthermore, nowhere in any of the law mentioned does the overall popularity of a language determine its official EU status. Jan 23, 2017 at 21:04
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    @BoundaryImposition: Yes. And politicians, bureaucrats, business executives, etc. speak English in a much higher proportion than the general population. If a Swedish and a Portugese official need to talk to each other, they will most likely do it in English rather than French or German. So English is likely to remain a working EU language for practical reasons. Jun 16, 2017 at 9:37

1 Answer 1


Contradicting Carpetsmoker's answer, let me cite the official statement on behalf of the European Commission Representation in Ireland linked from the article linked in that answer:

We note the media reports stating that in the event of a UK withdrawal from the EU, English would cease to be an official language of the EU.

This is incorrect. The Council of Ministers, acting unanimously, decide on the rules governing the use of languages by the European institutions. In other words, any change to the EU Institutions' language regime is subject to a unanimous vote of the Council, including Ireland.

That is, while it is true that any country can only introduce one language into the list of official EU languages, languages are not dropped from the list automatically. Removing a language from the list requires every EU member to agree on it, which is unlikely to happen.

  • The text says: "The rules governing the languages of the institutions of the Union shall, without prejudice to the provisions contained in the Statute of the Court of Justice of the European Union, be determined by the Council, acting unanimously by means of regulations.". I assumed that the various reports claims would governed by the "without prejudice to the provisions contained [..]" part, but didn't check this :-/
    – user11249
    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:23
  • Interesting... I wonder if they will keep French and Italian as well, if those ever decide to go out.
    – Shautieh
    Mar 22, 2017 at 14:31
  • This doesn’t address the subset of official languages that are “working languages,” which is a status English currently enjoys and the question seeks to know whether or not it still will.
    – KRyan
    Jun 16, 2017 at 12:55
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    @KRyan : I believe "working languages" are de facto, not de jure. As such, it will be a matter of practical convenience that most work will be done in English rather than anything else. Jan 16, 2018 at 13:21

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