El neoliberalisme lingüístic a la Unió Europea. L'enfocament de la política lingüística i les accions polítiques de la UE en matèria de multilingüisme

Autor:Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Càrrec:Post-doc researcher
Pàgines:1-14
RESUMEN

The European Union has always placed linguistic diversity at the core of Europe’s DNA. The EU’s motto "United in Diversity" is recurrently mentioned when referring to the multiplicity of languages in the continent, which are discursively portrayed as one of Europe’s greatest assets. This EU political rhetoric on multilingualism, however, does not match the policy actions undertaken by the European Union, which point at a decreasing interest in multilingualism. This article seeks to analyze the evolution of the EU’s multilingualism policy over the period 2005-2016 from a Discourse Analysis perspective, which shows an increasing commodification of languages and a utilitarian approach on the EU’s language policy. It argues that while the idea of promotion, protection and respect of linguistic diversity remains in the current EU political rhetoric on languages, the actual policies adopt a market-oriented approach, which considers languages as mere commodities for economic growth, mobility and jobs. The article ultimately argues that the EU has fully embraced linguistic neoliberalism as its policy on multilingualism -defined as the exclusive focus on language skills for market-oriented purposes.

 
CONTENIDO
LINGUISTIC NEOLIBERALISM IN THE EUROPEAN UNION. POLITICS AND POLICIES
OF THE EU’S APPROACH TO MULTILINGUALISM
Vicent Climent-Ferrando*
Abstract
The European Union has always placed linguistic diversity at the core of Europe’s DNA. The EU’s motto “United
in Diversity” is recurrently mentioned when referring to the multiplicity of languages in the continent, which are
discursively portrayed as one of Europe’s greatest assets. This EU political rhetoric on multilingualism, however, does
not match the policy actions undertaken by the European Union, which point at a decreasing interest in multilingualism.
This article seeks to analyze the evolution of the EU’s multilingualism policy over the period 2005-2016 from a
Discourse Analysis perspective, which shows an increasing commodication of languages and a utilitarian approach
on the EU’s language policy. It argues that while the idea of promotion, protection and respect of linguistic diversity
remains in the current EU political rhetoric on languages, the actual policies adopt a market-oriented approach, which
considers languages as mere commodities for economic growth, mobility and jobs. The article ultimately argues that
the EU has fully embraced linguistic neoliberalism as its policy on multilingualism –dened as the exclusive focus on
language skills for market-oriented purposes.
Keywords: European Union; language policy; linguistic neoliberalism; commodication; language ideology.
EL NEOLIBERALISME LINGÜÍSTIC A LA UNIÓ EUROPEA. L’ENFOCAMENT DE LA PO-
LÍTICA LINGÜÍSTICA I LES ACCIONS POLÍTIQUES DE LA UE EN MATÈRIA DE MUL-
TILINGÜISME
Resum
La Unió Europea sempre ha posat la diversitat lingüística com a element principal del seu ADN. El lema de la UE
“Units en la diversitat” es fa servir recurrentment per parlar de la multiplicitat de llengües del continent, que sovint
es tracten discursivament com un dels valors més importants d’Europa. No obstant això, aquesta retòrica política de
la UE sobre multilingüisme no va lligada a les accions polítiques dutes a terme per la Unió Europea, que mostren un
interès decreixent en multilingüisme. L’objectiu d’aquest article és analitzar l’evolució de la política de multilingüis-
me de la UE durant el període 2005-2016 des de l’òptica de l’anàlisi del discurs. L’anàlisi mostra la mercantilització
creixent de les llengües i l’enfocament utilitarista de la política lingüística de la UE. L’article argumenta, a més, que
mentre que la idea de promoció, protecció i respecte a la diversitat lingüística continua sent la retòrica dominant en
la política actual sobre llengües de la UE, les accions polítiques reals adopten un enfocament mercantilista, en què les
llengües són considerades béns comercials per al creixement econòmic, la mobilitat i l’ocupació. L’article demostra,
en denitiva, com la UE ha adoptat de manera plena el neoliberalisme lingüístic en la seva política de multilingüisme
–denit com l’enfocament exclusiu de les competències lingüístiques amb nalitats purament mercantilistes.
Paraules clau: Unió Europea; política lingüística; neoliberalisme lingüístic; mercantilització; ideologia lingüística.
* Vicent Climent-Ferrando, post-doc researcher. European Research Consortium MIME (Mobility and Inclusion in a Multilingual
Europe). University of Augsburg (Germany), vicent.climent@upf.edu
Article received: 02.07.2016. Review: 21.09.2016. Final version accepted: 09.10.2016.
Recommended citation: Climent-Ferrando, Vicent. «Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of
the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism», Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016, p. 1-14. DOI:
10.2436/rld.i66.2016.2843.
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 2
Summary
1 Introduction
2 Analyzing the EU legal framework: the limited competences on languages
3 Analyzing the evolution of the market-oriented approach on the EU policy on multilingualism
4 Opposing voices to the utilitarian approach on multilingualism
5 Concluding remarks
6 Bibliography
Documents analyzed
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 3
1 Introduction
The motto United in Diversity was rst adopted by the European Union in 2000 to express the common goal
of the European project, which is to “achieve unity of purpose through peace and prosperity in Europe while
acknowledging and fostering the wealth of its different cultures, traditions and languages” (European Union,
2000). To mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in 2007, this idea was reinforced with the motto
Together to express the notion of different peoples working for common objectives and goals (European
Union, 2007).
Languages occupy a central element in Europe’s diversity. As proclaimed by the European Commission
to refer to Europe’s linguistic diversity, “the harmonious co-existence of many languages in Europe is a
powerful symbol of the EU’s aspiration to be united in diversity, one of the cornerstones of the European
project.” 1.
Despite its limited competences on language and culture –as education, culture and language policies
remain the responsibility of EU Member States– the European Commission claims to be “committed to
safeguarding this linguistic diversity and promoting the languages spoken in Europe2”. It broadly categorizes
linguistic diversity into three main layers: the 24 ofcial languages of the EU, some 60 to 80 regional
or minority languages, ve of which with a “semi-ofcial status” (Catalan, Basque, Galician, Welsh and
Scots Gaelic3), and non-autochthonous languages spoken by migrant communities in Europe. As indicated
by the European Commission itself, this commitment is based “for reasons of cultural identity and social
integration and cohesion, and because multilingual citizens are better placed to take advantage of the
economic, educational and professional opportunities created by an integrated Europe. A mobile workforce
is key to the competitiveness of the EU economy” and claims that “a successful multilingualism policy can
strengthen the life chances of citizens: it may increase their employability, facilitate access to services and
rights, and contribute to solidarity through enhanced intercultural dialogue and social cohesion” 4.
Despite this positive political rhetoric on linguistic diversity and the importance of languages to strengthen
the EU’s unity, the EU’s policy actions on multilingualism seem to go in the opposite direction. There has been
a decreasing political interest in multilingualism over the past few years, as the Commission has gone from
having one entire portfolio on Multilingualism over the period 2007-2010 (Commissioner Leonard Orban),
to a Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth (Androulla Vassiliou, 2010-2014), to
the nal elimination of the portfolio of Multilingualism with the current Commission (Commissioner Tibor
Navracsics 2014-present). To the progressive elimination of the Multilingualism portfolio we must add the
downsizing of the Commission’s Multilingualism Unit and the removal of the former unit dealing with
Multilingualism Policy; Skills and Qualication Strategy from the Directorate-General on Education and
Culture to the Directorate-General on Employment5, expressing the new political intentions to instrumentalize
languages for market-oriented purposes.
This article seeks to trace the evolution of the EU policy on multilingualism over the period 2005-2016
and to analyze the current EU political ideology behind the rhetoric on languages. It argues that while the
ofcial EU political rhetoric continues to portray linguistic diversity as one of Europe’s greatest assets, the
1 European Commission’s website on languages. Available here http://ec.europa.eu/education/policy/multilingualism/linguistic-
diversity_en [Last consulted 03 December 2016]
2 Europeans and their Languages. Eurobarometer 306 Directorate-General for Education and Culture, Directorate-General for
Translation and Directorate-General for Interpretation and coordinated by Directorate-General for Communication, 2012
3 The Council of the EU has agreed that certain languages, recognized by the Constitution of a Member State, even if they are not the
country’s ofcial EU language(s), can be used in formal EU meetings and EU documents. An agreement on the use of Basque, Catalan
and Galician in documents has been concluded between the EU institutions and the Spanish government. The United Kingdom
government has a similar agreement concerning the use of Welsh and Scottish Gaelic. In these cases, translations are provided by
the government of the Member State concerned when needed at its own expense. Interpretation from (but not into) Basque, Catalan
(also known as Valencian) and Galician is provided upon request for certain Council formations with regional representatives, as
well as in the plenary meetings of the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee. The cost of
this interpretation is covered by the Member State in question. The Welsh and Scottish authorities have a similar arrangement. These
languages are often referred to in EU jargon as semi-ofcial languages.
4 Op.cit. 2
5 See Press Release of 10 September 2014, The Juncker Commission: A strong and experienced team standing for change, available
here http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-984_en.htm [last consulted 03 October 2016]
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 4
actual policies on multilingualism point at an increasing commodication of languages, conceptualized and
represented as a set of bounded, marketable communicative skills that can be advertised, bought and sold. The
analysis aims to show how the current EU policy on multilingualism – and consequently (language) policy
action – is based on a standard language ideology that focuses on a functional, market-oriented importance
of language skills for growth, jobs, labour, mobility and competitiveness. In so doing, it recontextualises
discursive elements from a neoliberal skills rhetoric, devoid of the tie-securing function of language (Kraus
& Kazlauskaite-Gürbüz 2014), that is, the symbolic and social cohesion functions of language.
This commodication of languages has been singled out as one of the semiotic components of globalization
in what has been referred to as the new political economy of multilingualism (see Heller 2003, 2010;
Krzyzanowski & Wodak 2011). This article argues that while it is true that this commodication of languages
in the EU policy on multilingualism was initiated at the beginning of the 21st century with the Lisbon Strategy
(2000-2010), which based its priorities on a European Knowledge-Based Economy (see Krzyzanowski &
Wodak 2011), it has been further consolidated in the current EU programmes (2010-2020) –the so-called
Europe 2020 strategy– which primarily focus on employability, mobility and the (language) skills and tools
necessary to achieve these economic targets.
The article builds on an analysis of 43 different policy documents, EU recommendations, communications,
resolutions, EU Council conclusions, reports, and press releases from the main EU institutions –mainly the
European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. To gain inside knowledge,
contacts have been maintained with the Commission’s ofcials in the former Multilingualism Unit, with
the Chair of the European Parliament’s Intergroup for Languages, Jordi Sebastià6, as well as with various
relevant stakeholders at EU level such as government representatives of regional and minority languages
such as the European Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity (NPLD).
The corpus has been analyzed using Thompson’s Depth Hermeneutics Approach (1984), developed in
Discourse Analysis, which allows us to provide a three-layer analysis: the socio-historical analysis, which
looks at the political, economic and social context in which discourses and practices on multilingualism are
produced; the formal and discursive aspects of the analysis –which looks at the rhetorical devices and chains
of reasoning used as legitimating strategies– and the interpretative analysis, closely intertwined with the
previous two, as it connects the second phase with the rst one and allows us to unveil how certain forms
of discourse are implicated in the sustenance and maintenance of particular ideologies. This framework will
allow me to capture the modulation, reproduction, opposition and contestation of EU political discourses on
multilingualism in the EU and how these are related to real policy developments, strategies, ideologies and
practices used to adopt a market-oriented approach to Europe’s linguistic diversity.
To capture this discursive evolution, I have used Blommaert’s language ideological debates (1999) as a
conceptual framework. In the eld of politics, discursive struggle and contestation are generically captured
under the label of debate. The political process develops through a series of exchanges involving a variety of
actors: politicians and policy-makers, academic and non-academic experts, non-governmental organizations
and media. Debates are, political-ideologically, the points of entrance of all these stakeholders into policy
making: they are (seen as) the historical moments during which the polity gets involved in shaping policy
(Blommaert 1999: 8). For our purpose, it is crucial to note that this process is mainly a process of shaping
textual tools captured under the term of public opinion: interpretation of policies, analysis of policy statements
in the eld of language and their close link to the political, social and economic context in which these
practices are embedded.
Following Thompson’s Framework, the analysis will be carried out in two main parts. After this introduction,
the second part –the sociopolitical analysis– will be aimed at highlighting both the EU’s (limited) policy
competences on education, culture and language policies, and the rapidly-changing political and economic
scenario in the EU, a necessary analysis to help explain the increasing market-oriented approach in the EU’s
language policy. The third part will focus on an analysis of the narrative, the rhetorical devices and the chain
of reasoning used to shape an increasingly utilitarian cognitive framework of the EU’s language policy,
6 Interview held on January 21st 2015. European Parliament
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 5
which is becoming the dominant habitus, using Bordieu’s classical notion (1991), that is, the way the EU
frames, conceives and conceptualizes languages.
2 Analyzing the EU legal framework: the limited competences on languages
In the eld of languages, education and culture, the EU Treaties give the European Union the task of supporting
actions of Member States aimed at developing the European dimension in education, particularly through
the teaching and dissemination of the languages of the Member States (Treaty of the European Union, article
165.2), while fully respecting cultural and linguistic diversity (Treaty of the European Union, article 165.1).
Linguistic diversity is, therefore, embedded in the legal framework of the EU. The Charter of Fundamental
Rights of the EU, adopted in 2000, which the Treaty of Lisbon makes legally binding, also places an
obligation on the Union to respect linguistic diversity (article 22) and prohibits discrimination on grounds
of language (article 21). Respect for linguistic diversity is therefore a fundamental value of the EU. Despite
being included as one of the key values of the European project, it should be noted that the EU holds limited
competences in this eld. The principal responsibility on education and languages still remains within the
power of Member States.
The legal foundations for the language regime of the current EU were laid down in the Council’s Regulation
1 of 15 April 1958, which states that “the ofcial languages and the working languages of the institutions
of the Community shall be Dutch, French, German and Italian” (article 1) and that “regulations and other
documents of general application shall be drafted in the four languages” (article 4, Council of the European
Economic Community, 1958: 385). It also provided for persons or Member States to choose their preferred
language, out of the four ofcial and working languages, in communication with the Community institutions
(article 2, Council of the European Economic Community, 1958: 385). The 1/1958 Council’s Regulation has
been modied to include the ofcial languages of the new Member States, with the exception of Irish, which
acquired the status of ofcial language only in 2007 with a temporary derogation7.
We also nd another level of ofcialdom only applied to ve languages. The European institutions reached
an agreement at the request of Spain (2005-2006) and the UK (2008-2009) on granting specic language
provisions to Catalan, Basque, Galician, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic8. In July 2005, the EU Council created a
new category of languages, next to the existing category of “ofcial languages” and called these “co-ofcial”
languages. This was done at the request of the Spanish Government, which wished to include Catalan,
Basque and Galician in EU affairs due to the intensive lobbying of these communities. Co-ofcial languages
can receive certain services in the EU, such as interpretation during meetings, translation of nal legislation
or the possibility for citizens to correspond with EU institutions in the language.
Since 2005, the Welsh Assembly Government worked intensively on an initiative to include Welsh in EU
affairs as a co-ofcial language. Through the close collaboration between the UK Government and the Welsh
Government, this was achieved at the EU Council in July 2008. Following this, a similar agreement was
signed with the EU’s Committee of the Regions in 2008 and a more limited agreement was also signed with
the European Commission on 9 July 2009.
In both cases, translations are provided by the government of the Member State concerned when needed and
at its own expense. In practical terms, these language communities have often complained about the non-
compliance with these norms as well as the fact that it is the language communities themselves that must
cover the translation costs, and not the State.
To this layer in terms of ofcial status of language we must add the rest of the so-called regional or minority
languages of Europe. Dened by the Council of Europe as s “languages traditionally used by part of the
7 See Council Regulation (EC) No 920/2005 of 13 June 2005 (OJ L 156, 18.6.2005, p. 3) stating that ‘the institutions of the European
Union shall not be bound by the obligation to draft all acts in Irish and to publish them in that language in the Ofcial Journal of
the European Union’, except for regulations adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the Council. This derogation has been
extended for a period of ve years (until 31 December 2016) by Council Regulation (EU) No 1257/2010 (OJ L 343, 29.12.2010, p.
5).
8 For more information please visit http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-825_en.htm [last consulted 03 December 2016]
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 6
population of a state, but which are not ofcial state language dialects, migrant languages or articially
created languages9”, these languages have no legal recognition at EU level. As acknowledged by the European
Commission itself, “nearly all regional and minority language communities face difculties in ensuring the
survival and development of their languages10” and while always reminding that the Commission has no
competences on language issues, including minority languages, it claims to “work with national governments
and interest groups to promote their teaching and learning, thereby helping them survive”.
One of the rst elements derived from an initial analysis of the EU legal framework on language policy is
that the imperative of maintaining linguistic equality and protecting linguistic diversity in the EU is, rst and
foremost, designed to uphold the diverse linguistic identities of the Member States rather than those of its
citizens (Kraus & Kazlauskaite-Gürbüz, 2014). This approach reproduces what Blommaert and Verschueren
(1998) have called the dogma of homogeneism, that is, the idea of linguistic diversity as the sum of one
nation-one language, which is reproduced at EU level.
3 Analyzing the evolution of the market-oriented approach on the EU policy on multilingualism
The different degrees of ofcial support to the languages of the EU, along with the peculiar policy and
discursive frame sustained over the past decade or so have had direct repercussions in the way the EU has
shaped its policy on multilingualism. As we shall see in the lines that follow, the dominant ideology sustained
during the period analyzed has been increasingly based on the functional importance of language skills
to increase competitiveness, reinvigorate the economy and to boost people’s employability and mobility
through (majority) language learning.
This ideologized representation of language policy from a language skills perspective has progressively
allowed for the recontextualization within the language policy domain of a hegemonic neo-liberal economic
discourse of language skills for the economy. In so doing, the dominant policy discourse on languages in the
EU has served to induce changes in social and pedagogical practices within the languages domain as part of
a neo-liberal restructuring of all European policies.
As pointed out by Kraus and Kazlauskaite-Gürbüz, “the EU’s approach to language policy has oscillated
between two normative poles. On the one hand, linguistic diversity is seen as a pillar of Europe’s cultural
inheritance, as an asset that is of paramount importance when it comes to achieving the intercultural
understanding on which a trans-European civil society has to rely. On the other hand, multilingualism is
primarily regarded as an economic asset and thereby becomes a potential competitive advantage in a global
context characterized by cognitive mobility” (2014: 517).
While it is true that this approach began to surface in the Lisbon Strategy and its Knowledge-based Economy
in 2000 (see Krzyzanowski & Wodak 2011), the clear dominance of the economic approach to languages
explicit in the Communication outlining the Commission’s policy objectives on multilingualism: A New
Framework Strategy for Multilingualism (2005).11 This Framework Strategy –the rst-ever adopted by the
Commission on multilingualism– emphasized three elements needed in the EU’s multilingualism policy: 1)
the encouragement of language learning and linguistic diversity in society; 2) the promotion of a healthy
multilingual economy and; 3) equality of access for EU citizens to EU legislation, procedures and information
in all ofcial EU languages. Despite the rhetorical insistence on the value of linguistic diversity as the
EU’s founding principle, the analysis shows the almost-exclusive focus on the market-oriented approach
to languages, with special emphasis on the acquisition of language skills for mobility and employability
purposes, as we shall see below.
When referring to the rst objective, the encouragement of language learning and linguistic diversity in
society, the Framework Strategy systematically refers to the formula Mother Tongue + 2, an approach to
multilingualism approved in March 2002 by the Heads of State or Government of the European Union whose
9 Denition provided by the Council of Europe and shared internationally as the standard denition for minority languages
10 The Regional Languages of the EU, available at http://ec.europa.eu/languages/policy/linguistic-diversity/regional-minority-
languages_en.htm
11 COM (2005) 596 nal
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 7
“long-term objective is to increase individual multilingualism until every citizen has practical skills in at
least two languages in addition to his or her mother tongue12”. The discursive insistence of the 1+2 formula
–recurrently observed in the EU rhetoric on language learning– discursively replicates the abovementioned
dogma of homogeneism, in which the discourse on one state-one language is reproduced at personal level,
considering monolingualism as the norm in all European citizens (all European citizens are intrinsically
monolingual) and learning two foreign languages for mobility, employment and competitiveness as the goal
to be achieved. This dominant ideology, systematically reproduced in all policy initiatives on multilingualism
during the timespan analyzed, has also been the approach taken in the current policies on language, the so-
called Europe 2020 Strategy.
The second objective –the promotion of a healthy multilingual economy– focuses entirely on the language-
economy binomial, entrenching the utilitarian logic to the EU’s language policy, which is embedded in the
broader policy of the above-mentioned 2010 Lisbon Strategy and the Integrated Guidelines for Growth and
Jobs (2005-2008)13 which sought to make the EU “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based
economy in the world”14 by 2010 and identied the improvement of language skills a priority towards
achieving these objectives.
As for objective three –equality of access for EU citizens to EU legislation, procedures and information in
all ofcial EU languages the Framework strategy adopts a restrictive denition of multilingualism when
considering it, once again, as the sum of one language-one nation by stating that “the Regulation adopted by
the Council15 stipulates that legislation must be published in the ofcial languages and requires its institutions
to deal with citizens in the ofcial languages of their choice. In this respect, multilingualism, despite being
used in the EU’s relations vis-à-vis its citizens, is conceived as the sum of State languages, neglecting the
multilingual nature of the vast majority of EU States.
The analysis indicates a systematic reference in policy actions to the notions of language skills, language
competences and benchmarking within the discourse on multilingualism, which appear systematically linked
to the concepts related to the economy such as competitiveness, growth and jobs, adopting a mere functional
approach which places languages at the service of the economy. The benchmark framework is easily equated
with a skills-based approach to domains of language use, for example, in terms of the skills requirements for
accomplishing job-specic tasks. The notion of functional communication applied to languages is further
reected in the task-based character of the performance descriptors associated with benchmarks: each
‘benchmark’ describes ‘a person’s ability to use foreign languages to accomplish a set of tasks (Pawlikowska-
Smith, 2000). In sum, the systematic reference to the notions of communicative prociency and language
skills linked directly to economic competitiveness and the rhetoric around economic issues reveals its
ideological basis in normative representations of hegemonic patterns of language use.
This ideological approach on the EU’s language policy developed a powerful momentum in 2007 with the
creation of an entire Commission’s portfolio devoted to Multilingualism (2007-2010), which gave higher
visibility and political importance to multilingualism in the EU. The almost-exclusive focus on the economic
aspect of the EU’s language policy intentions became explicit during the presentation by Commissioner for
Multilingualism, Leonard Orban, of the Commission’s programme on languages: “Politically, I will steer
the Commission’s work on bringing an active multilingualism policy into a variety of policies which are the
key to the functioning of the EU and the internal market: culture, education and competitiveness16”. While
insisting in a narrative of positive self-representation of Europe’s linguistic and cultural diversity as a source
of richness, the focus of the programme revolved mainly around the strategic importance of languages as
an asset for the European economy: “multilingualism can give any industry a competitive advantage if it
helps them to tap local markets and create new products which also cater for multilingualism”, and paid
12 Barcelona European Council, 15 and 16 March 2002, Presidency Conclusions, part I, 43.1.
13 COM (2005) 24 of 02 02 2005
14 Lisbon Council, 23-24 March 2000. Presidency Conclusions
15 Regulation 1 of 1958 European Economic Community (ECC), determining the languages to be used by the European Economic
Community
16 Hearing of Commissioner L. Orban before the European Parliament’s Committee on Education and Culture, 27 November 2006
available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=IM-PRESS&reference=20061127IPR00312&language=CS
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 8
particular attention to the learning of big hegemonic languages for trade and business “our efforts to support
multilingualism are not limited to EU languages; we are also encouraging training in Chinese, Japanese,
Arabic, Turkish and Russian17”.
These political intentions translated into concrete, tangible policy outcomes over the following years: the
elaboration of the ELAN report Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills
in Enterprise (2007), the goal of which was “to provide the Commission and decision-takers in Member
States with practical information and analysis of the use of language skills by SMEs and the impact on
business performance18 ”; the creation of the Business Forum on Multilingualism (2007) aimed at “exploring
how language skills can have an impact on trade and jobs in the European Union, which issued, in turn, a
series of Recommendations19 (2009) and a subsequent report Languages Help Businesses (2009-2011)20,
encouraging the Commission to embed the business approach on language in its Europe 2020 strategy.
The Business Forum also resulted in a series of concrete policy initiatives focused exclusively on the economic
performance of Europe as a result of language competence, namely, the CELAN Project on Language
Strategies for Competitiveness and Employability (2010), the report on Language Management Strategies
and Best Practices at European SMEs (PIMLICO report, 2011), or the Language Guide for European
Business (2011), to name only a few. To this we must add the setting up by the European Commission of the
Languages for Jobs Expert Group (2010), the purpose of which was to “produce policy recommendations
which can bring about a better match between demand and supply of language and communication skills on
the European labor market”.21
The rhetorical insistence on the market-oriented approach, systematically replicated in all the EU policy
developments on language, is also perceived in the initiatives put forward by Council of the European Union,
the EU body representing the Member States. The EU Council Conclusions of May 2006 dened the specic
indicators for language competences whereas in the EU Council Conclusions of November 2006, it was
reafrmed that “foreign language skills are a prerequisite for a mobile workforce and contribute to the
competitiveness of the European Union economy”22. These ideas were further supported in the subsequent
May 2008 EU Council Conclusions on Multilingualism, the EU Council Resolution of 21 November 2008
on a European Strategy for Multilingualism and the May 2014 Council Conclusions on Multilingualism and
the Development of Language Competences, to name some the most relevant decisions taken by the Council
in the eld of multilingualism.
Despite the reiterative rhetorical insistence on linguistic diversity as part and parcel of the European identity,
as a shared heritage and an asset for Europe –a narrative systematically observed in all policy actions– the
dominant frame that has been actively transformed into policy actions has been the economic-oriented,
competitive-based approach on language skills and competence. As pointed out by Kraus & Kazlauskaite-
Gürbüz (2014: 518) “whereas these recurrent statements continue to stress the importance of linguistic
diversity as a European value, they do not translate into tangible policy actions or a programmatic frame that
would provide a set of consistent guidelines on political criteria for promotion of linguistic diversity in the
realms of society which are most openly exposed to the standardizing pressures connected with European
integration”.
Despite the rhetorical insistence on the values of languages for the EU project, multilingualism is therefore
discursively conceptualized and, most importantly, politically developed in terms of its utility and gate-
opening qualities in the realm of competitiveness, growth and jobs. This market-oriented approach has been
graphically conceptualized by Krzyzanowski & Wodak (2011), who offer a bird’s-eye view of the semantic
eld of the EU policy on multilingualism in 2008:
17 Op.cit.
18 European Commission’s Press Release MEMO/07/79 Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills
in Enterprise. 23/02/2007
19 Languages Mean Business. Recommendations from the Business Forum on Multilingualism
20 Report How Languages Help Businesses. Business Forum on Multilingualism
21 Languages for Jobs. Providing multilingual communication skills for the labor market. Report from the thematic working group
“Languages for Jobs” European Strategic Framework for Education and Training. European Commission, 2010
22 Council Conclusions available at OJ C 172, 25.7.2006, p. 1. [last consulted 29 September 2016]
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 9
Figure 1. Semantic eld of multilingualism in the EU’s language policy of 2008 (Krzyzanowski & Wodak, 2011)
This dominant frame has been further entrenched in the current EU programmes, the so-called Europe 2020
programmes of the current European Commission (2014-present). Three political decisions conrm this
trend: 1) the new Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, Tibor Navracsics, has not included
a specic reference to multilingualism in his portfolio. 2) The former unit dealing with Multilingualism
Policy, Skills and Qualication Strategy has been transferred from the Directorate-General on Education and
Culture to the current Directorate-General on Employment. And 3) one of the latest EU agship initiatives,
the European Digital Single Market, has neglected Europe’s multilingual reality, sparking heated reactions23
across a wide range of stakeholders –from academia to lesser-used language representatives– as the Digital
Single Market prioritizes the big hegemonic languages, namely English, with no mention whatsoever to
Europe’s multilingual reality.
4 Opposing voices to the utilitarian approach on multilingualism
The dominant ideology being currently shaped around the marketable value of languages –especially the big
economically-protable ones– and the economic incentives of language promotion for economic growth,
jobs and a competitive labour market and a mobile labour force, has been met with contestation from a variety
of stakeholders at a European level but mainly by regional, minority and lesser-used language communities.
While it is true that the Committee of the Regions has repeatedly insisted on the need to promote linguistic
diversity, which includes the historical linguistic minorities of the EU, “calling on the Commission and the
Council to take more of an account of the need for a specic policy on linguistic minorities that is adequately
funded and underpinned by a rmer legal basis”24, it has been the European Parliament (EP) which has
attempted to provide a wider approach to languages, through numerous resolutions and reports over the past
decades.
Especially relevant is the EP’s report Multilingualism: Between Policy Objectives and Implementation
(2008), which had as a primary goal to assess the language policy developed by member states and other
stakeholders of the European Union over the period 2004 to 2008. The conclusions already noticed the
23 Manifesto. Europe’s Digital Single Market must be multilingual. See website created for this purpose http://www.multilingualeurope.
eu/ [last consulted 23 April 2016]
24 Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘protecting and developing historical linguistic minorities under the Lisbon Treaty,
September 2, 2011
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 10
increasing utilitarianism given the EU’s language policy. While noting that “there is a lot of interest,
support and demand for promoting linguistic diversity, preserving minority languages, it highlights that
“multilingualism and linguistic diversity are sometimes conicting policy agendas. Language learning policy
has tended to be inuenced by ‘harder’ priorities like economic competitiveness and labor market mobility,
and linguistic diversity policies by ‘softer’ issues like inclusion and human rights. Multilingualism policy has
been more highly prioritized than linguistic diversity policy in terms of concrete actions” (2008: iii).
In a subsequent resolution, the European Parliament overtly acknowledged the fact that “the importance
of multilingualism is not conned to economic and social aspects and that attention must also be paid to
cultural and scientic creation and transmission, as well as to the role of languages in shaping one’s identity”
(European Parliament, 2009: 61). This idea was further highlighted by the Parliament report “Endangered
Languages and Linguistic Diversity”25 (2013) and by the Members of the European Parliament belonging
to the Parliament’s Intergroup for Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages, created in
December 2014 with the goal of supporting and giving greater visibility to Europe’s lesser-used languages.
Much more recently (2016), the European Parliament has commissioned two reports related to languages:
one entitled “European Strategy on Multilingualism: Benets and Costs”, which gives an overview of the
almost-exclusive market approach to languages in the European Commission’s language policy over the past
years, and a “Report on Minority Languages and Education”, which highlights the importance of valuing all
languages for identity and social inclusion.
Of particular relevance is the critical voices raised by the European Network for Linguistic Diversity (NPLD),
a pan-European network comprising regional governments, research centres and associations working to
promote Constitutional, Regional and Small-state languages (CRSS) whose main goal is to raise awareness
of the need to provide a stronger support to the lesser used languages. In an open, public letter addressed
to the European Commission, the NPLD overtly expressed its “concern on the utilitarian, market-oriented
approach to the languages of Europe, which prioritize big, hegemonic languages and will leave a remarkable
number of lesser-used languages, small-state, regional or minority languages, aside”26. This concern has been
replicated by a number of other relevant stakeholders at a European level, such as the Civil Society Platform
on Multilingualism or the Poliglotti Multilingualism Expert Group, among many others.
The analysis of the interplay between the EU political rhetoric and the actual policies on multilingualism has
served to surface the tensions between two dimensions of the EU policy on multilingualism: a sentimental
dimension, which is often advocated in the EU narrative under the name of linguistic diversity and associated
with the notions of culture, identity, respect, intercultural dialogue and EU values, but does not translate
into concrete policy initiatives; and the utilitarian dimension, which has been clearly prioritized and focuses
entirely on the functional importance of language skills and the economic value of languages for the economy,
growth, and jobs. Whereas the rst dimension –the sentimental one– would be applied to the EU’s regional
or minority languages (and much more recently to migrant languages, which are increasingly gaining ground
in the EU’s language, education and integration policies), the utilitarian dimension would be applied to the
EU’s hegemonic languages. Figure 2 below represents graphically the current EU’s approach to languages:
25 European Parliament, Directorate General for Internal Policies. Policy Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies, 2013
26 NPLD Press Release. New European Commission: no place for multilingualism. Available at http://www.npld.eu/news-and-
events/latest-news/103/new-european-commission-no-place-for-multilingualism [last consulted 28 June 2016]
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 11
Figure 2. The current semantic eld of the EU approach to languages
5 Concluding remarks
This article has traced the evolution of the European Union’s language policy over the past decade and has
examined the discursive process through which elements from a neo-liberal discourse have been progressively
incorporated into the EU’s discourse on language. This linguistic neoliberalism has become the dominant
representation and the dominant cognitive frame within the language policy domain of the European Union
and is playing a pivotal role in the structuring and development of policies on language in the EU.
It is this ideologized representation of language within such a cognitive framework that allows for the
recontextualization within the language policy domain of a hegemonic neoliberal discourse based on the
economy, which has been progressively transferred into the realms of the EU’s policy on multilingualism
from the eld of economics. By transferring the economic rhetoric into the language policy sphere, the
EU has followed a pattern of entextualization, that is, it has inserted a market-oriented narrative into the
metadiscursive sphere of languages, indicating the preferred ways of “reading” these policies, a strategic
practice often aimed at the acceptance of a certain metadiscourse by a community.
In so doing, languages, especially hegemonic languages, have gradually become commodities, which have
now become an essential skill from a market perspective, equalized to other type of skills needed in the
labour market such as numeracy, digital or ICT skills. As pointed out by Krzyzanowski & Wodak 2011 “the
European Union Strategy on Multilingualism has not really become an EU policy eld in its own right and
the policies it produced mainly became measures supporting the implementation of key provisions from
other policy areas” (2011: 132).
In sum, the EU narrative on the intrinsic value of linguistic diversity as the cornerstone of the European
project has been subordinated to the economic goals of growth, competitiveness and jobs, and has evidenced
the lack of a principled, real commitment and normative coherence of the EU towards its languages. The
economic focus of the EU approach to language policies cannot be analysed in isolation as it has been
determined by the overall strategic economic goals and political priorities of the Lisbon Strategy rst, during
the 2000-2010 period, and the current Europe 2020 Strategy.
Vicent Climent-Ferrando
Linguistic Neoliberalism in the European Union. Politics and Policies of the EU’s Approach to Multilingualism
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 66, 2016 12
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