Putting an old Czech proverb to the test on prospective Czech MEPs

European Parliament, photo: European Commission

There is a Czech proverb which says "The more languages you speak, the more you are a person." As Pavla Horakova now reports, Czech Television and Radio Prague recently carried out their own little survey: asking foreign journalists based in Prague to help them test to what extent that maxim holds true for future Czech Euro-MPs.

"I... err... I may that Czech people are prepared... but not so big..."

European Parliament,  photo: European Commission
A deputy from the ruling Social Democrats, high up on the European Parliament candidate list, tells Czech TV in broken English why he thinks Czech people are suspicious of the EU - a question put to him by the Prague-based American journalist Dinah Spritzer. As he struggles, Dinah feels sympathy:

"As an American, coming from a country where language skills are so poor, I think I have great compassion and sympathy for people who don't have language skills. The thing is that a lot of these future MEPs grew up under communism when there was so little opportunity for learning from native teachers."

Many European Parliament candidates passed the brief test with flying colours - and smiles on their faces. But some - like Pavel Svoboda of the right-of-centre Freedom Union, just weren't in the right mood:

"I am not in the basic school, and you are asking me like I am in the basic school..."

Dinah Spritzer:

"I think they should have been better prepared to receive that question because it is probably a good question. However, I've heard various comments from people from Western countries who say their politicians would never put up with that kind of treatment from journalists. One British journalist said to me he doesn't why Czech politicians are constantly answering quizzes by Czech journalists. Because many of the quizzes make them look very dumb. So why answer them."

Many of those who declined to speak to the foreign journalists argued that Czech would become one of the EU's official languages. The Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs Jan Kohout says it is not that simple:

"I have to say that for the official meetings there will be translation into the Czech language The problem is with the working parties and of course it would be a great advantage to know fluently the English, German or French language because all the EU business is about contacts, about knowing people, about communication and the language is a tool to approach the others and to really try to find some common issue."

After a day spent among the future MEPs, the American journalist Dinah Spritzer says she begins to see why the language competence of their politicians means so much to Czechs.

"At first I was really cynical because I thought, well, they will have translators when they become MEPs. But it's really not the case; you really need to have language skills for corridor talk and small break-out meetings and I think I've become more understanding of why this is so important to Czech people."

Having a couple of foreign languages under their belt may not necessarily make someone a better politician, but in a new Europe of 25 countries and at least as many languages, it certainly helps.