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Ever Closer Union or Babylonian Discord?

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  • Jan Fidrmuc

    ()

  • Victor Ginsburgh
  • Schlomo Weber

Abstract

Extensive multilingualism is one of the most important and fundamental principles of the European Union. However, a large number of official languages (currently 23) hinders communication and imposes substantial financial and legal costs. We address the merits of multilingualism and formulate an analytical framework to determine the optimal number of official languages in the EU. Using the results of a 2005 Eurobarometer survey of languages in the EU 27, we first derive the sets of languages that minimize aggregate linguistic disenfranchisement of the Union’s citizens for any given number of languages. We then proceed by discussing the political-economy framework and feasibility of a potential linguistic reform in the EU under alternative voting rules. We argue that a six-language regime would be a reasonable intermediate choice: a lower number of official languages results in excessive linguistic disenfranchisement whereas adding further languages increases the costs but brings only limited benefits. We also show that even though a linguistic reform reducing the number of official languages to six is unlikely to gain sufficient support at the present, this may change in the future since young people are more proficient at speaking foreign languages.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan in its series William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series with number wp887.

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Length: pages
Date of creation: 01 Jul 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wdi:papers:2007-887

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Keywords: Languages; Disenfranchisement; European Union; Linguistic standardization;

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  1. Francois, Didier & van Pottelsberghe, Bruno, 2006. "The Cost Factor in Patent Systems," CEPR Discussion Papers, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers 5944, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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