Tuesday 29 April 2014

The EU Presidential Debate

Tonight I watched the first European presidential debate on YT.

Until now, it seems to me it's the single most significant novelty of an otherwise lackluster EU elections campaign.

Putting aside all the representation issues in EU politics, it's the very first time that such a debate has ever been attempted at the EU level. 10 years ago, it would have been unthinkable.

It also has been a remarkable event because it was conducted live, and in English, without the aid of simultaneous translators: again, this would have been unthinkable, 15 or 20 years ago. If anything, the audience would have been impossibly small, and probably only 1 or 2 candidates would have had the minimum  level of fluency to withstand the debate.

Remarkably, the only native English speakers were the moderators: Schulz and Keller are German, Verhofstadt is Dutch, and Juncker is French. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek leftist candidate, 'has declined the offer' from the organizators. This is Tsipras speaking English: at first he doesn't seem a complete disaster, but after a while he has to switch back to Greek. He's probably not very comfortable or experienced in having a conversation in English.

On the other hand, there was a marked difference between the level of proficiency shown by the four candidates participating in the debate. Every one of them seemed to be able to understand perfectly what was asked, but the only candidate who could be really said to speak fluent English was Keller. At second place, there is the overall winner of the debate, Verhofstadt. He still has a recognizable accent, but he's ready to speak (and he has shown to be the best orator, but that's another matter). Schulz is on another, lower, level: he makes many mistakes, has a thicker accent, sometimes hesitates for a moment before finding his words. At the last place is Juncker: his French drawl sometimes is barely discernible, at least to me. If he had Keller's level of fluency he probably wouldn't have fared last in the informal twitter polls after the debate.

Tsipras has most probably renounced the debate because of his poor English. Here in Italy, at least for today the debate has been ignored by national media: I don't think that they have enough people able to understand the debate, at least when it was broadcast live. Has it been fair to the debaters with a lesser mastery of the English language? Probably not, but it's a step in the right direction, and a brave experiment.

If anything it shows that to build a real European union a true lingua franca, a true Latin of the Empire is needed. And of course it cannot be anything else but English, but on a level that probably only let's say 2% of the general EU population can claim. It should be more than 50%, and attain that will be a momentous achievement, in the decades to come.