• EC vice-president Frattini is defending the Italian language, as his home country fights for more EU influence (Photo: European Commission)

Frattini upset over Italian language slip-up

18.01.07 @ 17:52

  1. By Renata Goldirova

Italian EU commissioner Franco Frattini has in an unusual step criticized his own institution for not translating a website promoting the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in Italian.

"I cannot suppress my bitterness and dissatisfaction over this decision that hits the Italian language", Mr Frattini said in a statement circulated among journalists.

The statement adds that "the commission cannot and must not ignore certain aspects of its past and presence which are crucial for our collective memory".

The commissioner, himself an Italian, was referring to the fact tthat the Rome Treaty was signed in Italy. He also argued that the Italian-speaking community is one of the largest within the 27-nation bloc.

On the website of the commission's External Relations directorate-general, an explanatory text on the March anniversary celebrations is available in the three working languages of the EU - French, English and German - as well as Spanish, but not available in Italian.

"I ask this grave deficit to be urgently repaired", he concluded in the statement.

Misunderstanding

The European Commission for its part called the incident "a misunderstanding" and pointed to the fact that the responsibility for the website lies with the External Relations directorate.

"There are no fixed rules for a DG [directorate-general] when it comes to languages", a commission spokesperson said.

He added that "all official websites" related to the EU's 50th birthday and launched by the Directorate General for Communication - officially responsible for the matter - are carried out in all 23 official languages, "including Italian".

But Mr Frattini's complaint is yet another proof how languages are becoming a touchy issue within the bloc.

Last year Germany raised concerns over the declining importance of its language, with Bundestag president Norbert Lammert writing a letter to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to say that the German parliament would refuse to debate EU documents that were not printed in German.

In addition, in a joint statement with the French national assembly, German MPs denounced the "unacceptable drift toward a monolingual system" dominated by English.

Italy's influence at stake

But the language issue seems to be a more delicate one for Italy, amid concerns by Italian political circles that Rome is slowly losing its influence in the EU.

Lately Emma Bonino, an Italian minister for European affairs, criticised the fact that her country is under-represented in the European Commission structures, with only a few Italians in top jobs.

But Antonio Missiroli, chief analyst at the European Policy Centre, characterised commissioner Frattini's move as "balanced in defending his country's interests, as he recently fired back at Rome, saying it must do its homework when it comes to training its nominees for EU high positions".

Mr Missiroli added that Ireland or Nordic states are generally "better organized in promoting their candidates and lobbying."

"Italy cannot rely on its size and prime-minister Romano Prodi's good EU credentials".