An important objective of many EC-funded projects is to support the creation of a EU-wide political space.
In other words, use language will a key factor in the success of e-participaton projects, and de facto position of English as lingua franca in these debates carries its own risks. Kraus’s 2005 paper gives a nice overview of the issues this raises.
In debates where everyone is forced to used English, “instrumental narrowing” occurs: a limited Euro-English is used as the medium of transnational communication. This reduces the level of debate, and there is a risk of further alienation from the political process if it is seen to require fluency in English.
Granting English official status as the exclusive European lingua franca would not obviously be consistent with the requirements of justice.
In Europe, “while many use the language to do business, they do not tell jokes or make love in it. Nor do their social movements mobilize [though they might organise] in English, either peacefully or in battle”. (My addition in italics).
Opting for European English has obvious political connotations which cannot be overlooked (excludes other languages from the debate, and debates in other languages). If English only is chosen as route for political dialogue, it would astounding if such a development were not to lead to conflicts as linguistic identity is relegated to a second class status.
This emphasises the need to explore the factors that impact on the quality of discourse at the stage in the project when trans-European deliberation are implemented.
“The first and fundamental step towards clarifying the problem of communication in the multinational European community must be to thematize the language question openly at the political level. The hitherto prevailing strategy of EU institutions, in general, and of the Commission, in particular, of not putting the question on the agenda in an attempt to avoid conflicts means that the domain of political culture is in danger of succumbing to the logic of negative integration”
It seems natural that we should be able to include all languages in the debates, and debates in all languages: how it can be made to work in practice is a problem that we’re all struggling with (or ignoring).
The main source for this note was: Kraus PA. “Democracy, Communication and Language in Europe’s Transnational Political Space” Berlin, December 2005 ISSN 1612-1899
There is much more available on this issue. A good place to start would be the experience at DebateEurope. An analysis can be found in the PEP-NET item ‘Multi-lingual online dialogues’. The main point: citizens were in effect forced to the English-language forum if they wanted to debate issues with people from other countries.