[Listen to Adrian Taylor] Transeuropean dimension in politics: the challenge of languages

On Tuesday 17/04/2018, #CitizensRoute2019 organised its 4th e-tribune “Addressing the challenges of the transeuropean dimension in politics”, inviting transeuropean political movements to discuss the challenges posed by the 2019 European electoral campaign and exchanging views about their ways/choices to cope with them.

Erik Edman (Diem25 Belgium), David Carayol (Newropeans), Yves Gernigon (PFE), Adrian Taylor (iCAN, New paradigm for Europe), Maarten de Groot (European Citizens Initiative), our guest-speakers,  discussed the issue around several items. Each of them introduced one of the eight preset questions opening the debate among them and with the participants.

Listen to podcast of Adrian Taylor introducing the issue about “the challenge of languages”:

The challenge of languages

When you join a party, you may do so for any number of reasons:

    1. Ideology (fighting for a better world in the way defined by the party);
    2. Belonging (usually to social group that is associated with the party);
    3. Friendship (it is a club of like minded friends);
    4. Advancement (it brings you material advantage).

The fact is that, regarding many parties, the first two points barely apply any more. Many traditional ideological differences have worn away, as have the social institutions that traditionally fed certain parties with members (e.g. churches, trade unions). Many citizens therefore perceive parties as being elitist clubs of friends who are seeking self-advancement.

We have to think of language in parties with this background in mind. What is the role of language within any given party? It could be used to:

  1. Communicate: we can use it to understand what others want in the political platform we are jointly developing, and to express our views;
  2. Enchant: a good speech can be a work of art, using cultural allusions, irony, beauty and humour. This will be the first victim, as if most people speak (likely) English as a foreign language, they will have to keep their word choice simple in order to be understood;
  3. Win: in the worst case, those who speak a tongue better can use that fact to win a debate within the party, even when their arguments are weaker than that of the opponent, simply as they master the language.

Look at the combination of the points above: the risk is that we now build parties that are perceived to be self-advancement clubs, whose views are dominated by those who happen to speak English best…

But there is not so much we can do about this in the short term (read EP elections 2019). However, there are mitigating forces, especially as time moves forward:

  1. Brexit brings one advantage: the number of English mother tongue speakers will shrink radically in the EU, and hence many fewer intra-party debates can be win by individuals, just because they grew up speaking the language at home;
  2. Technology is and will continue to come to our aid. Machine translation, either written or spoken, is constantly improving, as are the number and ways in which it can be introduced;
  3. Even for those with relatively poor language skills, the willingness to join together in (real – not virtual) meetings and to get involved can create the bonding needed to overcome the challenges left where language fails (especially when helped by technology). But this needs time and money to come together in one place.


Nevertheless, the implication is that short term we will find European parties are dominated by “English speaking” elites. And they will still need to find a way to communicate with citizens on the ground in multiple languages, without mis-translation and misunderstanding. No mean feat!

#CitizensRoute2019 online-Tribune on Tuesday 17/04

Addressing the challenges of the transeuropean dimension in politics

  1. the challenge of not falling in the trap of going national
  2. the challenge of building European teams at the head of transnational lists
  3. the challenge of network structures
  4. the challenge of costs
  5. the challenge of languages
  6. the challenge of running for 28 national electoral systems
  7. the challenge of reaching to a European citizen that hardly exists
  8. the challenge of media coverage

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