The snippy retort has raised eyebrows in Germany and across Europe, most notably because Germany has long been one of the European countries with the least “language pride”, happy to operate in English as the ‘lingua franca’ of international diplomacy and business. Westerwelle’s comments are particularly surprising coming from a soon-to-be foreign minister, who presumably will need to use his command of English frequently when meeting with foreign dignitaries from around the world.
And incidentally, this BBC reporter was actually reporting for the World Service, which is an English language global news service that doesn't broadcast within the UK, but rather across the world to Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
The French are notorious for this kind of defensive language pride. Could this be a sign that the Germans are starting to feel more confident about defending their own national identity? The BBC reporter’s question was about how German foreign policy would change with Westerwelle as foreign minister. Though he grumpily refused to directly answer the question, his rant may have revealed plenty about how Germany's foreign policy will change under his leadership. Was this a calculated signal to the international community, or a momentary bout of crankiness?
Germany is now the largest and most economically powerful country in Europe by far. Yet Germans are also renowned for their humble and realistic approach to their relative size and importance on the world stage. They have historically accepted the fact that German is not a world language and that English is the lingua franca (hence even though there are three co-equal working languages of the EU – English German and French – German is not often used in an official working capacity). This has set them apart from the French who many view as delusional about the importance of their language in the world. Germany, because of it’s WW2 legacy, has for the past half-century been very self-effacing and accommodating – particularly with English. As is often noted, 'it's not allowed to have German pride'.
Does Westerwelle’s rant signal the rebirth of a newly assertive Germany?