The first thing I usually do when diving into the New European is the vanity move to check which headline editorial picked for Germansplaining. Following that, I make a beeline for the letters section – it’s not just hacks who can write – which is hugely insightful and often fun.
In TNE #368 I came across a letter from Paul King, who is eager to learn more of what the European Union is or isn’t up to in Britain’s absence. “Are they speaking English to each other, despite our departure?”, he pondered,
continuing with: “Are their students lamenting the demise of Erasmus, as our young people are? In what ways are we missing out?”
You’ll be pleased to hear that my EU sources agree that English “is used more often than ever before in practice.” French is on the retreat, mainly spoken by elderly Brusselites from a Mediterranean background. Its use is even waning within back-office admin, which has historically been largely staffed with Frenchmen and Walloons.
Legally, EU regulation No 1 “determining the languages to be used by the European Economic Community” from 1958 is still valid. English was added to the original four official languages in 1972, and as these are not contingent on membership, the English language remains even after the UK has left the club, unless a motion is actively sought and passed to remove it.
This won’t happen, as Ireland and Malta won’t suddenly switch to conversing in Irish and Maltese. Brexit has left its mark, however. Auditors have compiled a list of “Misused English words and expressions in EU publications”. It is nearly 100 words long: punctual instead of periodic, actual instead of current, shall instead of should, sickness insurance instead of health insurance.
A personal favourite: “There seems to be a widespread instinct that ‘ask’ is not a sufficiently respectable word and needs to be replaced by something of Latin origin (usually ‘request’). This leads not only to clumsy sentences like: ‘the European Parliament requested the Commission to clarify the Court’s right of access’ … but also to the incorrect construction ‘to request for’.”
The study is actually from 2016, and things can only go downhill from there. The Irish and Maltese cannot possibly make up for the loss of excellent English speakers, who politely told their EU colleagues to stop ‘pidgining’.
Fast forward to Mr King’s next question: Erasmus.
Nearly 14,000 German students came to the UK in 2016-17. In 2021-22 that number was down to 10,000 – pandemic-related referrals of scholarships included. Despite Suella Braverman herself benefiting from it during her European and French law studies at the Sorbonne, the UK has opted out of the programme.
Reflecting on my own student experience – I spent a year in Paris at the Sciences Po University – I could only afford it because, as an EU citizen, I was entitled to the same housing benefit that French students received. Yes, the French bureaucracy was painful, but it was rewarding.
Today, an easily accessible uni year in the UK is history for EU students. Those who still wish to come face exorbitant costs as well as a complicated administrative and visa process akin to that in the US.
Erasmus meant a monthly allowance of €400 and no fees at all. Even those without the Erasmus grant only had to pay the same fees as UK students (£9,000). Now they are slapped with punitive overseas student fees (£10,000
-£38,000). Compare this with Germany: in Cologne, the Semesterbeitrag is
€320.05 and in Munich €85.
Rather than lamenting, students stay pragmatic: statistics show a surge in popularity for Malta and Ireland. Students also signal that business schools in Stockholm and Copenhagen match London in quality of education and networking, at about a tenth of the cost. Even a small and rather unknown Swedish university like Lund fares very well among the Erasmus crowd.
What worsens the situation is that, for some time, the Erasmus+ scheme has also assisted trainees in gaining work placements abroad. So everyone
is missing out, including schoolkids: according to the trade organisation Tourism Alliance, in 2022 around 40,000 EU pupils travelled to the UK, down from more than 300,000 in 2019. A massive drop. One reason (although your government says it plans to change this) is that group travel is nearly impossible, kids individually have to show their passports and non-EU pupils often need visas.
So school trips now go anywhere but the UK. And I cannot decide whether, in the long run, that’s worse for them, or for Britain.