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1. Introduction

Language feeds identity, from every individual to entire cultures, defining one from the other along historical lines. When properly channelled, multilingualism brings Europeans together: “united in diversity”. In concrete terms, this fits well with the EU Lisbon Strategy for prosperity and social cohesion.

Against this backdrop, the EU's multilingualism policy has three goals:

  1. To encourage citizens to learn and speak more languages, while improving mutual understanding;
  2. To stress the key role of languages and multilingualism in the European economy, while seeking new ways to further develop it;
  3. To ensure citizens have access to EU legislation, procedures and information in their own language.

In 2008, the EU was home to 500 million citizens in 27 states, with 3 alphabets, 23 official languages and 60 regional languages.

Minority languages are spoken by over 40 million people in regional groups across Europe. German is the most widely used mother-tongue, while English is the most widely spoken second language in the EU.

Beyond Europe

'European World Languages' are spoken on other continents as first or second languages, forming rich and new variations that feed back into the 'home' mother-tongues. For example, Australia, India, and most North and South American countries use one or more of English, French, Portuguese and Spanish as official language(s).

In 2006, the European Parliament recognised the strategic importance of these European World Languages “as a means of solidarity, cooperation, and economic investment”. It said the concept should be used as “one of the main political guidelines of European policy on multilingualism”.

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