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Ever Closer Union or Babylonian Discord? The Official-language Problem in the European Union

Author

Listed:
  • Fidrmuc, Jan
  • Ginsburgh, Victor
  • Weber, Shlomo

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 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 are more proficient at speaking foreign languages.

Suggested Citation

  • Fidrmuc, Jan & Ginsburgh, Victor & Weber, Shlomo, 2007. "Ever Closer Union or Babylonian Discord? The Official-language Problem in the European Union," CEPR Discussion Papers 6367, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6367
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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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    Cited by:

    1. Fidrmuc, Jan & Ginsburgh, Victor & Weber, Shlomo, 2009. "Voting on the choice of core languages in the European Union," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 56-62, March.
    2. Victor Ginsburgh & Shlomo Weber, 2012. "Culture Languages and Economics," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2012-009, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    3. Victor Ginsburgh & Shlomo Weber, 2016. "Linguistic Distances and Ethno-Linguistic Fractionalisation and Disenfranchisement Indices," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2016-25, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    4. Ginsburgh, Victor & Moreno-Ternero, Juan D. & Weber, Shlomo, 2017. "Ranking languages in the European Union: Before and after Brexit," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 139-151.
    5. repec:bla:worlde:v:41:y:2018:i:7:p:1775-1789 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Ginsburgh, Victor & Weber, Shlomo, 2015. "Linguistic Distances and their Use in Economics," CEPR Discussion Papers 10640, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Victor Ginsburgh & Juan D. Moreno‐Ternero, 2018. "Compensation schemes for learning a Lingua Franca in the European Union," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(7), pages 1775-1789, July.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Disenfranchisement; European Union; Languages; Linguistic standardization;

    JEL classification:

    • D70 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - General
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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