What do we propose?
Law of 24 February 1984 defines (among other things) that French, German and Luxembourgish are administrative and judicial languages in Luxembourg (Article 3) and that all administrative requests, if made in one of the three languages, have to be answered in the language of the request (Article 4).
In our view it would be premature to simply add English as an administrative and judicial language as defined in these articles.
Rather, we believe that there should be domains in which English acts as an administrative language and other domains where it doesn’t.
The law could formally specify these domains. They should in our view be chosen while weighing costs and benefits. Considered benefits should include facilities for English-speaking residents in their everyday lives.
Petition 1417 thus calls for English to receive a specific formal status in the Law on languages.
It does not call for simply adding English as a general administrative language equivalent to French, German and Luxembourgish.
It also doesn’t call for any changes to other existing pieces of legislation such as the laws regulating access to Luxembourgish nationality.
It obviously doesn’t intend to change the fact that Luxembourgish is defined as the national language and French as the legislative language.
What we don’t want
We absolutely don’t want to play language communities off against each other. Luxembourg had had no language conflicts since the Second World War. This is in contrast to other regions like Belgium, Corsica or Catalonia for example.
Very early alphabetization in more than one language is a highly successful model.
Luxembourg is a place where people speak more than one language. A formal status for English will not modify that but confirm it.
Luxembourgish is currently not endangered as a language. On the contrary, ever more people are learning and speaking it. Our proposition for English will not change that, far from it, it will be favourable for the balance of languages in the Grand-Duchy (see argument #2 below).
Why should English receive an official status?
There are a number of important arguments in favor of English as an official language.
- Facts on the ground
English is already becoming the most used secondary language. It is the lingua franca of the large international community. It is widely used in the financial sector, in EU institutions, at university, but also in the art scene and music scene.
This is in part the result of an active effort by the government to attract international companies and talent.
But English-speaking residents often face challenging situations, as a major part of official processes and everyday situations require at least French.
- Resolve a major paradox
When English-speakers learn Luxembourgish, they invest time into understanding a society and culture, but they don’t solve their language challenge in Luxembourg: In administrative matters, French is often required in practice.
This is kafkaesque.
The question is: What exactly would we expect English-speakers to do?
If they learn Luxembourgish they still have problems when French is required, but if they learn only French, they miss out on the opportunity to participate in local society.
The situation would be better if English had a formal status so that people can concentrate on learning one local language of their choice.
They could then concentrate on the national language, Luxembourgish, especially if they plan to acquire Luxembourgish Nationality.
- Language situation in EU institutions
Luxembourg is one of the most pro-European countries in the EU. It is also one of the four official capitals of the EU, hosting important EU institutions.
English is increasingly used inside EU institutions, for pragmatic reasons, despite Brexit.
In the future, a functioning EU will more and more require a common secondary language. Realistically, that language should be English.
Why not anticipate a little?
- Development of non-financial sectors
Luxembourg has ambitions in the knowledge sector (University of Luxembourg), telecommunications (Satellites, Communication infrastructure etc.), IT (Google etc.), financial technologies, even in space…
The language framework is currently out of step with these ambitions.
Highly skilled workers prefer to have a clear understanding of what language they will be expected to speak when they move to another country.
- Financial sector
The financial sector is Luxembourg’s most important sector by far, generating more than 35% of GDP. It weighs in reality even more, if you take into account the fact that other sectors depend on it.
That dependence represents a risk for Luxembourg.
In this context, a strong new additional argument for Luxembourg as a location would be welcome.
- Ease of learning English for Luxembourgers
As English incorporates Germanic, French and Latin elements, it is particularly easy to learn for Luxembourgers, who already learn French and German (and some even Latin) very early on.
As a consequence, especially younger Luxembourgers already mostly speak English very well. This will limit the cost of implementation.
For Luxembourg it is an occasion to demonstrate the power of very early alphabetisation in several languages.
As a matter of fact, English-speaking countries have had a crucial historical impact on Luxembourg. During World War Two, Luxembourg’s independence was eventually protected and maintained as a result of American and English interventions on the continent.
This is not necessarily an argument in favour of any particular official language policy, but it certainly isn’t an argument against.
Why two petitions?
Due to a surprising coincidence, two independent petitions with a similar subject had been deposited nearly at the same time in the registration period end of October. Petition 1417 was deposited on October 16th. (Petitioners can’t know about other petitions that have been registered but not yet validated).
In contrary to Petition 1414 our goal was not to directly introduce a general fourth administrative and judiciary language equivalent to Luxembourgish, French and German along articles 3 and 4 of the Law on languages.
As described above, we ask for a specific, more limited, formal status for English.