European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was only joking when he said the English language was on the way out in Europe due to Brexit, he said on Friday.
“Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe,” Juncker told a conference in Florence in May, speaking in English before then switching to French and drawing applause from his audience.
Asked on Friday if French would indeed be the future language of Europe, Juncker said in English: “It’s always dangerous to make jokes about that.”
“I gave a speech in Florence in May and I was saying as English is slowly disappearing from Europe I will express myself in French. The French were happy. The British – I had a shitstorm coming from the other side of the Channel,” he told students in his native Luxembourg.
Juncker has had something of a love-hate relationship with Britain since becoming head of the EU executive almost three years ago in the face of objections from then Prime Minister David Cameron.
Brexit has however raised some questions about the future status of English within the bloc, since once Britain leaves it will not be the official language of any member state for EU purposes.
It is a native language in Ireland and Malta but countries can only nominate one for EU use and they chose Gaelic and Maltese respectively.
The EU recognises 24 official languages and three — English, French and German — as working languages.
In French, Luxembourg-born Juncker added: “I think that the European Union’s linguistic regime gives the different languages equality, except Luxembourgish.”