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

William Davidson Institute Working Paper No. 887

CORE Discussion Paper No. 2007/20

41 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2007  

Jan Fidrmuc

Brunel University - Department of Economics and Finance; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - The William Davidson Institute

Victor A. Ginsburgh

Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) - Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE); Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) - European Center for Advanced Research in Economics and Statistics (ECARES)

Shlomo Weber

Southern Methodist University (SMU) - Department of Economics; New Economic School

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 2007

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.

Keywords: Languages, Disenfranchisement, European Union, Linguistic

JEL Classification: D70, O52, Z13

Suggested Citation

Fidrmuc, Jan and Ginsburgh, Victor A. and Weber, Shlomo, Ever Closer Union or Babylonian Discord? The Official-Language Problem in the European Union (July 2007). ; CORE Discussion Paper No. 2007/20. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1006746 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1006746

Jan Fidrmuc (Contact Author)

Brunel University - Department of Economics and Finance ( email )

Uxbridge UB8 3PH
United Kingdom
+44 1895 266 528 (Phone)
+44 1895 269 770 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - The William Davidson Institute

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Wyly Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1234
United States

Victor A. Ginsburgh

Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) - Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE) ( email )

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1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348
Belgium
+32 2 650 3846 (Phone)
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Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) - European Center for Advanced Research in Economics and Statistics (ECARES) ( email )

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Brussels, B-1050
Belgium
+32 2 650 3839/4 (Phone)
+32 2 650 3595 (Fax)

Shlomo Weber

Southern Methodist University (SMU) - Department of Economics ( email )

Dallas, TX 75275
United States
214-768-3577 (Phone)
214-768-1821 (Fax)

New Economic School ( email )

Moscow
Russia
+ 7-495-9569508 (Phone)

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