Monday, March 27, 2006


Never failing to entertain, French President Chirac (link)

stormed out of the first session of a European Union summit dominated by a row over French nationalism because a fellow Frenchman insisted on speaking English.

President Chirac and three of his ministers walked out of the room when Ernest-Antoine Seillière, the leader of the European business lobby UNICE, punctured Gallic pride by insisting on speaking the language of Shakespeare rather than that of Molière.

When M Seillière, who is an English-educated steel baron, started a presentation to all 25 EU leaders, President Chirac interrupted to ask why he was speaking in English. M Seillière explained: “I’m going to speak in English because that is the language of business.”

Without saying another word, President Chirac, who lived in the US as a student and speaks fluent English, walked out, followed by his Foreign, Finance and Europe ministers, leaving the 24 other European leaders stunned. They returned only after M Seilière had finished speaking.

The meeting was furnished with full interpretation services, and anyone in the room could speak or listen in any of the 20 official EU languages. Embarrassed French diplomats tried to explain away the walk-out, saying that their ministers all needed a toilet break at the same time.

More rear-guard actions are described:

Jacques Delors, the former President of the European Commission, used to ban journalists from posing questions in English in the press room.

When President Chirac had a one-to-one dinner last year with President Bush, he insisted on speaking his mother tongue the whole time, even though the US President could understand him only through an interpreter.

At one UN summit where there was no translation, President Chirac pretended not to understand questions in English and demanded that Tony Blair, who speaks French, act as his interpreter.

President Chirac has announced plans to start a French version of CNN to promote culture. He was furious when its managers disclosed that most of the output would be in English because otherwise few would understand it.


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