euro-graphWriting in the Financial Times today, Patrick Jenkins is very rude about Esperanto – the artificial language some people champion as a bold new lingua franca for Europe.

The concept of a language created rather than evolved, spoken only by enthusiasts, and one which ironically – in our increasingly globalised world – is surely doomed to failure, given the dominance of English, has always reminded me of the euro.

Jenkins’ criticism of Esperanto might be valid (despite the dedication of its advocates), but his comparison to the euro is perhaps unfair. Esperanto is spoken by an estimated 2 million people worldwide. The Euro is the second largest reserve currency in the world. In addition, currencies are always “created” – indeed, they are created quite literally when a government or monarch stamps a design on a piece of metal and convinces other people to exchange it for food, clothing and shelter. The concept of using a medium of exchange to circumvent a pure barter system is artifical in any context.

Jenkins continues, however, to give reasons why the Euro is still in trouble despite the deal thrashed out by Europe’s leaders last Friday. He argues that the crisis is not being taken “seriously enough” and that:

To change that the eurozone must be given a serious system of governance with its European financial stability facility financial assistance programme made big enough to lead a credible bail-out of any nation in need. At the same time it must ensure banks bear more pain and bank shareholders stump up more capital. Only then can the governments, banks and economies of the eurozone really start to recover.

So, is the Euro still in trouble? I thought the crisis was over? Markets had certainly responded well to Friday’s summit. Then Greek debt was downgraded again by ratings agency Moody’s, who now say there is a “virtually 100%” chance that the country will default.

We asked Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister and former prime minster, to comment on the eurozone crisis. Here’s what he had to say:

Every currency has its crisis now and then. I am not particularly worried with German growth between four and five percent and the rest of Northern Europe performing very well. There has to be adjustment policies in the South but this was the case for us in the Northern EU as well a couple of decades ago.

Of course we can have a common currency in the EU just as the US can have its US-dollar. The fluctuations in competitiveness among the US states are even larger, I would say, than the fluctuations in the eurozone. We need to learn how to handle these fluctuations politically and this is a process of trial and error that will take its time.

There is still a certain degree of narrow national sentiments being expressed in the tabloid headlines which remind us that the unification of Europe is still in its early stages.

The question is, of course, will European leaders learn how to “handle these fluctuations” in time?

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11 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Bill Chapman

    I m sorry that Patrick Jenkins felt the need to be rude about Esperanto. I m taking a few minutes away from the World Esperanto Congress in Copenhagen to say he s wrong. It is true that Esperanto is spoken by those who speak it. Which language is not! However, it s important to distinguish between Esperanto speakers and Esperanto enthusiasts. The former use the language because it is there and is useful to them.

    Esperanto has certainly enriched my life. I ve used it on my travels for many years.

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your comment. How do you see Esperanto contributing to the growth and wellbeing of Europe? I have to admit, I’m slightly sceptical. English is already well-established and close to achieving (if it hasn’t already) “critical mass” in terms of number of speakers in Europe. Shouldn’t we rather focus on promoting English as a foreign language?

      Also, in your experience, how many Esperanto speakers also speak English? I would guess (though it’s just a guess) it’s the majority.

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      Hi Brian,

      It’s worth pointing out, though, that Grayling also made it clear that “Data are not held for the number of interpreters that are employed or subcontracted for each non-English language.” So, we have no idea how many Esperanto translators are actually employed / subcontracted each year. It’s unlikely to be thousands.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Brian Barker
      Because the UK likes to appease all and sundry [including nutjobs] and it likes to waste money!

  2. avatar
    Bill Chapman

    The short answer is that I don’t really know. Between a third and a half, I suspect. I spoke to a Latvian yesterday who doesn’t speak a word. In the case of many of those who do speak English, like Maja from Slovenia, many choose not to speak it, feeling more “at ease” or “at home” in Esperanto than in English, where their competence is measured against that of native speakers.

    Of course there is widespread teaching of English throughout Europe, but the results of that investment of time and money are poor, in my view. I´ve lost count of the number of times have told me something like “I learn English since nione years” but are unable to direct me to the station!

  3. avatar
    Debating Europe

    Well, this might be an idea worth suggesting through Debating Europe to MEPs, etc. ;-)

    English has a huge advantage over Esperanto, though – and that’s the sheer number of people that already speak it. It doesn’t need to work to achieve “critical mass” because it already has it (or nearly has it). Isn’t there a stronger case for recognising English as the “European language” and having it taught as the second-language of choice in European schools?

  4. avatar
    Brian Barker

    Obviously neither English nor Esperanto have reached a critical mass either in terms of competent fluency or in terms of universal acceptance.

    There are two urban myths however which need to be exploced. Firstly that “everyone speaks English” and secondly “no-one speaks Esperanto” . Neither of these are true but need to be challenged.

    Consider also that the failure of English in air traffic control caused the biggest-ever air crash in aviation history in Tenerife. See as well as

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Brian Barker
      It was the poor command of the English language alongside ‘Spanish practices’ that resulted in the Tenerife Air Disaster.

      Besides DESPERANTO suffers from the same foibles as French – its too regimented, its too Latin-based and its not accommodating regarding non-European words, expressions and concepts.

  5. avatar
    Henri Masson

    “The closest thing to a universal human language today is English, he added, but English in many ways fails to live up to Zamenhof’s dream, which was to hehp create a more egalitarian world.“

    Jonathan Pool, political scientist from the United States
    (He works on the political and economic consequences of linguistic circumstances and language policy).
    National Geographic, 20009, December 15

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