- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

PARIS — France and the European Union are on a collision course over whether French will continue to be acceptable for labeling food products sold elsewhere in Europe.
European civil servants in Brussels recently ruled that labels "in a language easier understood by consumers" than French are preferred. To all concerned, that means English.
French patriots immediately saw a plot to enhance the "hegemony of the Anglo-American world" and some wrote of an alarming trend toward a fast-food product vocabulary brought to Europe by "les Anglo-Saxons."
What is even more dramatic to French purists is the threat that French culinary delicacies such as boeuf bourguignon, branddade de morue or Haehis parmentier, easily available throughout Europe, will have to be translated into English.
Labels on chicken wings, coleslaw and spare ribs will need no translation.
"France has lost the right to defend its language," headlined the respected daily Le Figaro.
According to Clide Duneton, a writer and expert on the French language, the EU decision on food labeling is part of the "latent war by supporters of the use of one language which cannot be anything but English."
And that, he said, will divide Europe into two camps, one that understands English and one that does not, "creating an Anglophone elite and condemning the other to illiteracy."
Unless France bows to the latest EU decree — soon to be made obligatory — it will be considered in contempt.
However, French legal experts have come up with a novel defense by accusing the EU Commission of violating an earlier accord to something called the "enriching factor" in the forging of European unity. To the French, linguistic diversity makes Europe a better place.
Yves Marek, adviser to the French Senate and author of an earlier law on food labeling, insists that the protection of national languages "has been enshrined in EU laws."
France, he said, should not fight a defensive, rear-guard action on the subject of food labeling "but should demand the withdrawal of a plan which in effect weakens the objective of European unity."
Newspaper editorials described the latest EU initiative as "an attack on cultural diversity, an act of hypocrisy."
If France capitulates, wrote Le Figaro, "the outcome will not only affect food labeling, it would mean that the defenders of the French language have suffered a defeat likely to be exploited by its adversaries."
The "battle of labeling" goes back to 1992, when France banned the use of English in advertising some food items. The European Commission subsequently decided that "the defense of national languages would help the construction of Europe."
The latest EU edict specifies that no country should "impose" its language on food products but should use the language most understood across Europe.
As it is unlikely that Greek, Finnish, Portuguese or Flemish are in that category, the wrath of the French turned upon English.
The French were not appeased when the European Union added a clause specifying that labels in English should be accompanied by a picture of the product.
The battle is not over, and France plans to carry it to the European Court of Justice.

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