Europe is a continent of many languages. The only way of preventing European politics from drifting into a logistical desaster of Babylonian scale seems to be a common working language and politicians seem to agree that this language is English. But how about their own command of the language? E&M put some of Europe's leaders back to the school desk.

Günther Oettinger

Photo: Jacques Grießmayer

Unlike lots of other politicians, Mr. Oettinger has a very particular relationship with the English language. As the former Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg, in the southwest of Germany, he was never really responsible for overseas negotiations and speeches on the international political stage. So why should he care about his Oxford English in a region where people stick so much to their dialect that they have even difficulties talking proper German?

Nevertheless he proved that he had foresight in an interview he gave to a German television channel a couple of months ago: "Englisch wird die Arbeitssprache" ("English will become the working language"), he affirms towards the camera in a cute southern accent.

Now that the economic crisis has swept around the world like a giant and unstoppable wave, even Mr Oettinger has been flushed away westward into another country. Since 10th February 2010, he is no longer "prime minister" of Southwestern Germany but the High Commissioner of Energy for the European Union, with nice and spacious offices in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.

A great place of course to demonstrate the "English-is-the-working-language theory", since Mr. Oettinger is now working at least 50 kilometres closer to the borders of an English speaking country than he ever did before.

But where there is light, there is shadow: even an expensive instrument doesn't make you a good musician. And so it is with Mr. Oettinger. Once he was appointed as a Commissioner, it turned out that reality fell short of expectations concerning his English skills. A pity that he finally revealed this dark secret right in the middle of a conference organised by the renowned Columbia University of New York that took place in Berlin in January 2010.


Eternalised on Youtube, Oettinger's short summary of the global political issues soon became a true gem of the internet community – deleted at first, than uploaded by devoted users a second time. Tens of thousands became witnesses of the bold "Oettinger-Germish", his funny habit of pronouncing English expressions in a particularly German way. It's impressive to see the almost artistic tongue performance that can be admired when it comes to "governmental regulation" or "gross drivers of free market economy", and a "drastically limiting", of course "under the common umbrella of the European Union".

At least Mr. Oettinger's translators did a fabulous job here. It's not just the content of the speech that leaves you speechless, it's also the fact that Mr. Oettinger seems to be left alone in the dark, as he can't really follow his ghost writers' thoughts.

At least we can follow him as he once again unwraps his cute Germish, saying: "We ah oal sidding in one boad." Well, I'm really curious where that boat is going.

Text written by Boris Ludwig.

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