The French Academy, the custodians of the French language, has called on President Emmanuel Macron to suspend the country’s biometric identity card for its “excessive” use of English translations, which it claims are unconstitutional. The move comes amid right-wing accusations the government is “erasing” French identity.
The biometric ID card, introduced in August 2021, contains a microchip and a QR code. But what’s really got the venerable academy’s back up is that every category has been translated in English, so it’s awash with words like “name”, “given name”, “date of birth”, “nationality”, “place of birth” “date of issue” and so on.
The body is denouncing a violation of the 1994 Toubon law, which made French the language of administrative documents, along with Article 2 of the French Constitution, which stipulates that “French is the language of the Republic”.
For the first time in its 400-year history, the academy has asked the Prime Minister to intervene, also threatening to take the matter to France’s Council of State, which deals with constitutional matters.
Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, director of the Academy, told Le Figaro that normally the body would issue a simple statement on the matter.
But she added: “Nowadays, however, everyone’s comments are on the same footing, so a different approach is needed.”
Reacting to the move, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen said: “Thanks to the French Academy for defending our language in the face of the continuous invasion of English, while Macron believes there is no French culture!
“It is time to elect a president of the Republic who is proud of the French language and the French culture.”
Generation Frexit leader Charles-Henri Gallois also congratulated the Academy.
He said: “Bravo to the French Academy which defends our beautiful language! This new identity card comes from a European regulation.”
The European regulation of June 20, 2019, states: “The document title should also appear in at least one additional official language of the institutions of the union,” so only the words “identity card” have to be translated.
But the regulation allows for all “well-established designations” to be translated into another EU language, if desired.
France opted for the fully bilingual version – a move the academy described in an open letter last year as “overzealous”.
Carrère d’Encausse, a historian and former MEP, said: “Under the pretext the EU is advocating an ID document in two languages, an essential principle is being undermined, namely that French is the language of the French republic.”
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All other EU countries also opted for English. Italy and Poland translated all the terms, others just the title.
Germany went for triple translation: German, English and French.
The controversy comes in the wake of France taking over the rolling presidency of the EU council with President Macron under pressure to deliver and defend his European credentials.
Earlier this week French authorities felt obliged to remove a temporary installation of the EU flag from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, after rightwing opponents of Macron accused him of “erasing” French identity.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega