Britain under-represented in European Union Institutions

European Union institutions are currently under-represented by British natives, in part due to low-level language skills. Just 5% of positions in the European Parliament and Commission are filled by Britons, despite the United Kingdom comprising 12% of the total population of the European Union.

English is commonly used as a universal language in international situations and, as we commented in a previous post, the number of students of foreign languages in other European countries is high above the figure in the United Kingdom. What’s amazing to me is that some people still argue that there is no need for native English speakers to learn other languages, when in conducting international relationships with other EU countries, understanding another language, culture and country is paramount. As Michael Shackleton, Head of the London European Parliament Office, commented “The balance of the use of language has been in favour of English, but to understand what people are thinking about you also have to get a sense of them and how they see the world.”

Inclusion in EU institutions provides a country with their opportunity to have their voice heard and to put across their point of view. Therefore, it is extremely important that there are suitable representatives from each country. In May, an Open Day was held for school leavers and graduates in the UK, to give them information and encourage candidates to consider a career in Strasbourg or Brussels.

The recent trend of falling numbers in language students in the UK is worrying given the current situation within the European Union. The percentage of students taking a language at GCSE level has fallen from 61% in 2005 to 44% in 2010, and the number of French students continuing the subject to GCSE level fell dramatically from 347,000 in 2001 to just 178,000 in 2010.  The UK’s position within Europe is extremely important, and as a result, bilingual speakers in the country are essential, in order to work with other European countries to maintain international relations, as well as to provide the opportunity to make the nation’s voices heard within the European Union.