Notes on European political culture




Monsieur Van Rompuy

The President of the Council of Europe today addressed the Alliance Française, the international interest organisation for global users of the French language. Taking the floor It came 5 days after the International Day of Francophony, Van Rompuy spoke, in eloquent French, on the theme ‘Culture, globalisation and Europe: Google contra Proust?’.

It is clear If anything Von Rompuy speaks the language of Europe: universality versus particularity, universal values, human rights, evoking the European front guard from de Tocqueville to Marx. Latin traditions, Christian seditions, Aristotle, Calvin, Monnet and Benda.

The speech came one week after former French Prime MInister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, special envoy on Francophony to President Nicolas Sarkozy, had insisted that France would be ‘gentle, but firm’ in its insistence that the French language should continue to be one of the three working languages of the European Union (along with German and English), despite the latest enlargement and linguistic watering down.

At the same time, there have already been widespread reports of the persistence of the ‘other’ lingua franca, of fears of increased protectionism through the appointment of Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the new top positions in the European Union. As a Flemish native speaker who grew up on the French speaking periphery of Brussels, Von Rompuy can easily be imagined as having a natural animosity toward the French language. Yet the aversions that are speculated on in Brussels are whether a certain anit-French commercial politics will be on the rise in the period of the coming Commission.

The French linguistic self-assertion revolves around the equality equality of status given to claims to the French linguistic way of life and the French culture of commerce, regulation and dirigisme. My bet is that both have a vigorous future, even while they un-European to the core. Or, perhaps, rather therefore. Von Rompuy’s analysis is impeccably dialectical: impossible to distinguish between a universalist culture that excludes its Islamic cultural other, from a particularist European Judeo-Christian culture raising itself to integration something greater and more comprehensive.

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