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Ever closer Union or Babylonian discord? The official-language problem in the European Union

  • FIDRMUC, Jan
  • GINSBURGH, Victor
  • WEBER, Shlomo

The policy of official multilingualism is one of the most important and fundamental principles of the Union. However, a large number of official languages imposes substantial financial, communication and legal costs. We address the merits of extensive multilingualism and formulate an analytical framework to determine the optimal number of official languages in the EU. First, we derive the sequence of optimal sets of languages which identifies 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 various voting rules, including the Nice Treaty, the proposed European Constitution and the Penrose law. 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 modest 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 tend to be more proficient at speaking foreign languages.

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Paper provided by Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE) in its series CORE Discussion Papers with number 2007020.

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Date of creation: 01 Mar 2007
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Handle: RePEc:cor:louvco:2007020
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  1. Bruno van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie & Didier François, 2009. "The Cost Factor in Patent Systems," Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade, Springer, vol. 9(4), pages 329-355, December.
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