Multilingual communication for whom? Language policy and fairness in the European Union

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This article compares the effectiveness and the fairness of four alternative policies aimed at managing multilingual communication in the European Union. The current multilingual regime, based on the formal equality among the official languages of the European Union Member States disenfranchises only a small percentage of residents. On the contrary, an English-only language policy would exclude 45% to 79% of adult residents in the 25 countries for which data are available, depending on the indicator used. A language regime based on English, French and German would disenfranchise 26% to 49% of residents, whereas a regime based on six languages would bring the shares of the excluded population down to 9–18%. In addition, results show that economically and socially disadvantaged individuals are less likely to speak languages other than their own native tongue, and therefore they are much more likely to be adversely affected if the European Union stops using their language. The current full multilingual policy of the European Union based on translation and interpreting not only is (and will be for the foreseeable future) the most effective language policy among the alternatives examined; it is also the only one that is truly inclusive at a relatively reasonable cost. The British withdrawal from the European Union is likely to increase rather than decrease the importance of a multilingual language policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)546-569
Number of pages25
JournalEuropean Union Politics
Issue number4
Early online date28 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Dec 2016


  • European Union
  • language policy
  • linguistic justice
  • multilingualism
  • translation costs


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