The French get a lot of benefits from having the OECD based in Paris. A continual stream of conference visitors flood into Paris, happily spending their money on hotels, food, entertainment, gifts and so forth. Most of these visitors are funded by their governments. Then there are the 2500 permanent employees, various consultants and contractors – a small army of highly paid individuals funded by the 34 member countries. Overall the OECD must be a significant net benefit to France.
There are two official languages used in the OECD: English and French. All meetings are interpreted simultaneously into French and English; all documents are translated into French and English.
The financial accounts of the OECD do not disclose the full cost to the organisation of operating with two official languages, except one note that the interpretation and translation of conferences was €5.6 million in 2011. I understand about 10 to 15 per cent of the staff of the OECD are employed as translators/interpreters.
I’ve been to a number of OECD meetings over the years – everyone speaks in English except the French delegate. Friends tell me the same: almost universally it is only the French delegate who insists in speaking French, all others will use English.
Similarly, almost all documents are written in English and subsequently translated into French.
In effect a French indulgence is costing the other members a very large amount of money and causing delays with the need for the translation of documents.
This is an indulgence that the other members cannot afford, nor should they tolerate. If the French delegation wish to continue this charade of insisting on French translations and interpretations, it should pay 100 per cent of those costs.
The 33 other member countries should decide to withdraw funding for interpretation and translation.
Note: of course the cost of translation and interpretation is much more in the European Commission – there are 23 official and working languages. Around 25 per cent of the EC’s staff work in translation and interpretation. Linguistic diversity is a key principle of the European Union so it would be difficult to argue for a reduction in the number of languages there.
But that argument does not hold for the OECD which comprises members speaking many languages that are not French or English. As noted, it is effectively only the French delegates who insist on speaking French (although privately most are fluent English speakers). Gallic pride certainly has its price – but I don’t see why the other 33 countries should pander to that pride.