-OpEd-

PARIS — A lot is being said and written about the "Molière clause," first introduced by Vincent You, an elected representative in the western French city of Angoulême, and which mandates the use of French language on construction sites. This is, first and foremost, a case of guaranteeing safety at dangerous sites. A large number of local authorities, regions, departments and cities, are voting in favor of this Molière clause. Hence the outrage from a certain number of representatives who see it as a concealed attempt to favor local employment or, to put it in cruder terms, to promote "national preference."

Since business owners are required to pay for an onsite interpreter for workers who don't speak French, we can easily imagine that it deters them from employing foreign workers. Unless, of course, you consider that it encourages the same workers to learn French ... Beyond the issue of safety, which is a real issue that shouldn't be overlooked, there are actually two driving ideas here: integration and a lasting, sustainable society.

A human being isn't a machine with arms that you can lug around from country to country as you would with a monkey wrench. A human being also has a culture and a language, a way of life and feelings which, although they are universally human, are rooted in culture.

It would be a happy globalization if we take that into account. Europe is a space of free trade and movement, but it doesn't mean that workers can be traded from one country to another like packing slips. Countries also trade culture. A person who settles away from home has to adapt to a new culture.

If he doesn't make an effort to learn the language, it's because he considers the host country to be nothing more than a hostel in which he's passing through. And this will be as disastrous for the said hostel, which will then become a passageway, open to the four winds, as it will be for the guest, who will then become a sort of zombie reduced to his technical abilities.

It would be natural, therefore, for us to demand of all foreigners who come to live in France that they speak French. This is what most countries are doing. And yet, we tremble when we see in our schools parents who don't show up to meetings with teachers because they're incapable of discussing their children's future in the language of Molière.

Guaranteeing safety at dangerous sites — Photo: Frédéric Bisson

That guests should adapt to the language of their newly-adopted home — and not just guests who work on construction sites — is a form of politeness as well as a necessity for the host country, and a pledge of unity for the guest himself, one that would make him belong in the host country. For he will have to adopt the basic traditions of the country he has chosen to live in, if he wants to live there decently — even if he has left part of his heart in his original home. Language is culture's architecture and the spirit of the place, so to speak.

Only an ideologue could still speak of discrimination in this case, as Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has done. Discrimination means a criminal differentiation. But to refuse France to someone who doesn't want to accept our art of living isn't discrimination, it's merely drawing the conclusions from his choice. Nobody would think of speaking of discrimination when we ban people who can't operate the machinery from construction sites.

Workers aren't robots. Their culture counts as much as the working force they represent, and that is the guarantee of a lasting society. It's madness to want to let workers run from one country to the next, wherever there's a job to be found, without learning the language and customs, without taking root anywhere, and all, without a doubt, to the great benefit of pure economics.

Europe is a space of free trade and movement, but it doesn't mean that workers can be traded from one country to another like packing slips.

Vincent You said that the "Molière clause" he invented "only shocks an out-of-touch elite." It is, indeed, the cosmopolitan elite who, used to going from country to country speaking different languages, thinks that each country should be turned into a sieve. In doing so, they show a poor knowledge of human demands. The cosmopolitan elite, made of big business people, politicians or academics, is useful and necessary to a country. They are the protectors of its openness to the world. But the most important thing for any society is to maintain itself over time.

Wandering capital can easily move from one company to the next, and even increases by doing so. Wandering workers need integration, and language is essential, in this respect.

It is a curious thing that we've come to understand the importance of sustainability so easily when it comes to nature, but that we still struggle to grasp it when it comes to humans. It is curious indeed that Europe's fundamental values are understood, at least by those who talk about it, as a permanent and unstoppable flow of capital and humans, without respect for anything besides frenzied change and profitability. It's not money that is essential, it's culture. That's what forms the spirit of a place.


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