European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has claimed the English language is losing relevance after the Brexit vote.
“Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe,” Mr. Juncker announced to a conference in Florence, Italy, before switching into French and drawing applause from his audience of European Union (EU) officials, local leaders, and Italian students.
“I agitated between English and French but I will express myself in French,” he said, concluding: “And in France, we have elections on Sunday and I’d like them to understand what I’m saying about Europe and about nations.”
He also admitted Europe’s role in the world was diminishing. “We are losing our economic power and our economic clout. We’re currently down to 25 per cent of global GDP. In ten years’ time, that percentage will shrink down to 15.
“We’ll be a smaller continent, our economies will shrink accordingly, we’ll face a demographic crisis.”
Bitter @JunckerEU delivers speech in French as "English is losing its importance".
He needs to stop living in his little European bubble! 🌍 pic.twitter.com/J3GyKnbiUA
— Leave.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) May 5, 2017
Later in the speech, Mr. Juncker accused Britain of “abandoning” the European project but also admitted the bloc’s deficiencies played a part in people supporting Brexit.
The English language jibe comes as tensions between the EU’s Brexit negotiation team and the UK Government peaked this week.
Prime Minister Theresa May accused the EU of attempting to meddle in the UK’s general election, after a series of inflammatory leaks about private meetings last weekend.
Reports in the German press claimed Mr. Juncker said Mrs. May was “delusional” about Brexit and that he was “10 times more sceptical” about a successful deal being reached following a dinner with the prime minister.
There were also surprise claims the EU had dramatically increased the size of the “divorce” bill it is demanding the UK pays before leaving the bloc, to 100 billion euros.
Mr. May hit back Wednesday, accusing European officials of threatening the UK in a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the June 8th snap election.
“Whoever wins on 8 June will face one overriding task: to get the best possible deal for this United Kingdom from Brexit,” she said. “And, in the last few days, we have seen just how tough these talks are likely to be.
“Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press. The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened.
“Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June.”