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EU official’s French hurts Paris pride

Associated Press / March 24, 2010

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BRUSSELS — Lady Catherine Ashton, accused of being unqualified for her job as Europe’s foreign minister, has upset the French with her flawed command of what was once the language of international diplomacy.

Her diplomatic response: I will learn better French.

Over the past two decades English has replaced French as the language most used in the halls of European Union institutions. So when Ashton was made head of EU foreign policy in November and predominantly used her native English, it hurt French pride. When she spoke French, it hurt their ears.

“She speaks French,’’ Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in response to a question about Ashton’s language skills. Then he added, “It is not a marvel.’’

Pierre Lellouche, France’s Europe minister, invited Ashton during a friendly talk several weeks ago to the Millefeuille Provence language school, close to the sun-splashed city of Avignon. He even followed it up with a more formal invitation. He also offered the opportunity to other top EU officials like Jerzy Buzek, European Parliament president.

“Pierre Lellouche has written a letter to say we are at her service, in Avignon,’’ Kouchner said.

Ashton got the message.

“She is very, very willing to improve it,’’ her spokesman, Lutz Guellner, said yesterday. “When, how exactly, remains to be seen.’’