Leonard Orban
European Commissioner for Multilingualism
"France and Romania, a good example
of peoples united in diversity"
Franco-Romanian meeting
Brussels, 26 June 2007
Mr Chairman, Mr Ambassador, dear friends,
It is a great honour for me to take part in this Franco-Romanian meeting. My thanks
to MEDEF and, in particular, the Chairman of the "Europe" Committee, Mr Bedier,
who took the initiative of organising the event.
Since 1946, MEDEF, formerly the CNPF, has become a major player on the French
economic scene, with a mission to create a favourable environment for business.
The European dimension has, of course, become ever more important to you.
Please allow me at this juncture to talk to you in two capacities: as the
Commissioner for Multilingualism, of course, but also as a Romanian.
France and Romania have a long tradition of friendship and cooperation. Many
young Romanians have, at school, at university or at home, experienced and
appreciated French culture, literature, history and the French language…. And I
know that, in France, Romania is also considered a close cousin in the East, a
country whose Latin roots mean that any Frenchman can feel at home there.
French television viewers are often surprised to hear Romanian journalists,
politicians, athletes and other personalities speaking perfect French. In Romania,
certain well-rooted organisations have fostered this French presence, for example
the Institut français in Bucharest, our three cultural centres (Cluj-Napoca, Lasi and
Timisoara), five Alliances françaises (in Brasov, Constantza, Craiova, Pitesti and
Ploiesti) and the Lycée français "Anna de Noailles" in Bucharest.
I am happy that this presence is a source of recognition and mutual understanding.
As a Commissioner, I cannot help but be delighted by this merging of cultures,
which is perfectly in keeping with the Commission's approach to culture, namely to
draw the benefits from "unity in diversity". Our differences enrich us all. Let us also
remember that 2008 will be, at the Commission's initiative, the European Year of
Intercultural Dialogue.
Beyond this community of culture, Franco-Romanian economic relations, already
emphasised by previous speakers, are equally strong. France is one of Romania's
main trading partners and, after Italy and Germany, it is the most important export
market for Romanian businesses. And our links are still growing. Companies such
as Renault, Michelin, Altstom, Gaz de France, Orange, Danone, Veolia
Environnement, Carrefour and Accor are now important players in Romanian
economic life. In this context, the recent accession of Romania to the European
Union presents a real opportunity, offering access to the Community market and
ensuring that our relations will continue to develop. That is the very purpose of our
meeting today.
As Commissioner for Multilingualism, may I just point out that, since the arrival or Mr
Barroso as President of the European Commission, much has been achieved. And
this detailed work which the Commission President has asked me to perform is not
unrelated to our economic ambitions. In a few words, I would like to tell you why the
Commission has made multilingualism a priority.
Firstly, a person's language is part of his identity and culture, and respect for these
two facets is fundamental to the Union. Moreover, speaking several languages is
part of the daily life of many European citizens. I think that, as a general rule,
learning languages helps us to better understand others and their way of thinking.
However, multilingualism is also important in the context of the Lisbon Strategy, the
objective of which is to make us more competitive, to create more jobs and to
provide better opportunities for all. For individuals, a knowledge of languages can
offer career opportunities or open up the possibility of working abroad. For
companies, a multilingual staff can provide access to European or even global
markets. Languages are a way of making European companies more competitive.
Since I became a Commissioner, I have endeavoured to define a policy for
multilingualism for 2007, 2008 and beyond.
To this end, I intend to base my work on the results of a study carried out for the
Commission into the impact of poor language skills in companies on the European
economy. This study emphasises that real trade opportunities have remained
unexploited because of a lack of language skills in companies.
A forum of businesses on multilingualism will be created in the second half of 2007
to look for ways of enhancing language skills in companies, so as to help them to
break into new markets.
I would also like to point out that, in 2003 the Commission launched the action plan
on language learning and linguistic diversity for 2004-2006. A ministerial conference
will be organised at the start of next year to discuss the progress made and the
various areas for collaboration in the future.
The Commission will be drafting a report on the implementation of the action plan in
October of this year, in collaboration with the Member States.
Moreover, a new communication on multilingualism will be proposed in late 2008,
based on the results of the action plan and the contributions and suggestions from
the Member States and interested parties.
Finally, the Commission is going to set up a group of multilingualism experts and
practitioners to make a contribution relating to multilingualism to the European Year
of Intercultural Dialogue 2008.
These are just some initiatives which give an idea of what the Commission is doing
in this area. One of your greatest writers, Stendhal, said that "the first instrument of
a people's genius is its language". I would like to conclude by asking you to support
our efforts and to concentrate on developing even better language skills in your
companies. And, of course, I wish you every success in forging economic links
between France and Romania!