I was reading the requirements for the ongoing "Horizon 2020" EU grants. It explicitly indicates that the vehicular language for these grants is English. Not only the application must be written in English, but also any partner institutions located in different countries agree to communicate in English.

However, with the impending (ok, maybe not so much) Brexit, I am wondering if it is still justifiable to keep English as the main language for EU-related activities. Granted, Ireland will still be in the EU, but other countries such as France or Germany are already today much more economically relevant within EU and will be more so after UK leaves.

Do you think Brexit will cause a shift towards, say, German or French? Or the preponderance of English as the de facto language in the world will still be too much of a factor to overcome?

EDIT: To clarify the question to those who say it is a duplicate of this: As addressed in the comments, I do not doubt that English will not be dropped as language within the EU, because of Ireland and to a lesser extent, Malta. My question is about the prevalence of the language, if it will be relegated to a lower status in favour of French or German. Notice also that I'm speaking about the EU as an institution, not about communication among citizens of different origins.


6 Answers 6


The most common language for all high-level meetings and contact has been English, up to now. And I was reading recently that Brexit, paradoxically, is likely to further confirm English as the principal language of the EU, since any objections that its use favoured one member country over others disappears if Britain is gone.

And since English is the most popular second language of most member states, including the big ones like France, Germany, Italy - then English is likely to be the community language. It is surprisingly difficult to find Germans who speak French and vice versa.


Maybe. Before UK joined the EU (in 1973), English was NOT an official EU language.

Also, there is some research and polls about it, showing that it will likely affect EU linguistics.

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    English will continue to be an official EU language because it is used in Ireland and Malta. English will continue to be used as the linga franca of EU cooperation because it the language which two arbitrary EU citizens are most likely to share. Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 11:28
  • Is it an official EU rule to choose its primary language? Each two arbitrary - polls attached. Of course, there surely may be another pollls, with different results, but it is a disputed fact. I do not undermine english language - at all, really. But I really doubt if abstract Polish/Latvian/French commoner cannot live without english language. Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 11:30
  • The "research" link claims "Every member is entitled to choose one official native language in the EU.", however europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/countries/member-countries/… (on the EU website) says "Official EU language(s): Maltese, English" (and similarly for Ireland). On the other hand, the page for the UK lists only "English" whereas Welsh and Gaelic are also official languages in the UK. Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 11:40
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    Obviously an abstract Polish etc commoner can live without English. None the less, if you take two EU citizens from different countries (which is what matters for international cooperation), they are more likely to have English in common than any other language. The odds go up considerably if you only consider two citizens with degrees (which is the sort of people that are going to be involved in international cooperation). Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 11:43
  • I'm fully agree with the fact that it is a disputed question. The fact that OP placed a question already is a sign, that there is no strict knowledge about it. I think, that my answer is rather logical, and it has some links (and maybe there would be some more, if I have time). Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 11:43

No. English wasn't chosen because of the UK, but because it is the international language by default. That won't change even if the Brexit becomes a reality.

Choosing a new "default" language for the UE would be impractical.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – yannis
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:27

The EU has 24 official languages (<27 because some are shared). Major documents like laws, directives, treaties etc are produced in all 24 languages and correspondence is dealt with in all 24.

(To be strictly correct, only the most important documents are translated into Irish; it is the main language of only 1%-2% of the Irish population (c. 40,000-80,000 people)

The EU has 3 working languages - English, French and German.

EU Commission - EU languages

European Parliament - EU languages

Since the Scandinavians and then Eastern Europeans arrived the balance has shifted dramatically towards English.

The EU translation organisation reports that the original languages EU documents are produced in are: 81% English, 5% French, 2% German and 12% in the 20 other official languages.

Apparently 95% of EU secondary school students learn English before any other foreign language.

Should the EU adopt English as its official working language?

To the chagrin of the French, English is the EU's lingua franca (sorry!) Some argue that the UK leaving would actually clear the way for English to be acknowledged as the working language. While there may be noises from France and Germany about this no one expects this to be changed.

So, ironically, if there is a change as a result of Brexit it may well be recognition of (American!) English as the EU's working language.

  • 24 languages: europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/eu-languages_en Your link predates the addition of Croatia, which is not exactly recent any more... Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 13:36
  • Thanks for that @Somewanderingyeti - I should know not to trust the EP over the Commission ;-) Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 14:35
  • The page you linked to mentioned English, French, and German as working languages for the Commission. Like I explained, it is certainly not the case at the Court and, consequently, it's not the case for the EU in general. The translation stats, while confirming the dominance of English also show that neither English alone nor the triad of English, French and German are the sole working languages.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 19:33
  • Why American English?
    – legrojan
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 7:27
  • Because US English (or perhaps International English) is spoken more widely because of the size of the US and because of TV and cinema. It is less indirect and ornate, which makes it easier to learn (or is what is people tend to learn). Having worked a lot internationally I feel almost bilingual in English English and International English. English English is confusingly indirect, irreguallar and laden with a vast array of almost equivalent loan words. I had to make a real effort to speak English that was comprehensible to non-native English-speakers. Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 8:44

It might have an effect in non-trivial way and it's not completely correct to assume EU business is always conducted in English. For example, the Court and the legal service of the Commission work in French and many official meetings or events are conducted with interpreting.

It seems highly unlikely however to have an effect on the rules for Horizon 2020 or the next Framework Programme (Horizon Europe) as English has become the de facto language of academia and scientific publishing, certainly in the natural sciences.

Incidentally, it's also conceivable that the UK would ultimately participate in this programme, even as a non-EU country.


Without the UK the EU becomes even more irrelevant than it already was. Per capita gdp of the US is 62k while the EU (incl the Uk) is 37.8k. Take the UK out (which is one of its strongest economies) and its considerably less than half the US.

If you want to do business worldwide you have to speak English. Roughly 1/5 of the world's economy speaks English as their primary language and roughly half the world's economy can speak English on some level. The next most popular language would be Mandarin Chinese at 17%.

So your choice is speak English and reach half the world or speak Chinese and reach 17% of the world, most of which are dirt poor and live under a totalitarian far left government that could kick your business out on a whim.

Germany and France's economies are ridiculously tiny by comparison. California's economy is bigger than France and only a little smaller than Germany and keep in mind, most Germans and French understand English.

What sense would it make to spend a lot of time learning obscure EU languages when you could reach the same people speaking English and at the same time reach half the world's economy?

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    "Most Germans understand English" - not really. "Most French understand English" - certainly not!
    – legrojan
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 10:34
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    @legrojan - I suppose what is true is the English is the most common second language in both France and Germany learned in school. I wouldn't be surprised if Arabic / Turkic was the most common second language.
    – Mayo
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 21:00
  • Let’s take the World Bank figures. Luxembourg has almost twice the US’ GDP per capita. Macao and Switzerland each have around 1.3 times the US’ GDP per capita. Are either of them more relevant than the US on the world scale? I think this completely shatters your GDP-based argument.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 11:55
  • @Mayo, not so much, many people with North-African origins don't speak Arabic, nor do they speak the national sub-language of their origin country, they only know a few words with the proper accent and no more than that. "Wallahi c'est pas moi" or "salamoualeikom les gens" or " c'est haram" is not arabic for me. They're so accustomed to France that they wouldn't bear to live in Morocco in the first place, they just claim to be Moroccan only for indentifying or feeling part of something, nothing more.
    – abdul
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 20:02
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    @Jan- What you're saying would be the equivalent of saying a baseball player with one hit and one AB is the greatest hitter of all-time because he has a 1.000 batting average
    – Savage47
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 21:47

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