Heard in Europe

European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip vented frustration at Belgium’s notorious connectivity problems during a recent event in Brussels, saying bad network was hindering his efforts to learn French.

The Commission’s ‘digital VP’ was singing the praises of connected cars at a Brussels Press Club event last week (July 12), when his mind suddenly turned to laggard EU countries.

“Every month, we have to drive from Brussels to Strasbourg,” Ansip said in reference to the monthly trip EU institutions take to attend the European Parliament’s plenary session in the eastern French city near the German border.

“I normally use the time to work on my French, with the [smartphone] app Lingvist,” he explained.

But in his experience, getting one hour of useful teaching takes two and a half hours of driving, due to frequent “network drops” when driving through Belgian highways.

The former Estonian Prime Minister then drew comparisons with the excellent network coverage in Scandinavia. “In Finland and Sweden – low-density countries with nearly empty roads – there are no connectivity problems. Whereas here in Belgium, it is difficult to use mobile services.”

“Is it because too many people [with smartphones] are picking mushrooms in the forests?” Ansip wondered in a typical display of Nordic wit.

Asked by Heard in Europe “la prochaine fois, en français?,” he answered humbly, despite acceptable accent and grammar. “Le français, c’est difficile,” Ansip confessed speaking in the language of Molière, explaining that he had already taken 600 hours of classes but had not yet reached full fluency.

Indeed, Lingvist’s homepage offers to “learn a language in 200 hours”. This represents one third of Ansip’s effort so far, roughly similar to the ratio of useful time to online time he experienced on the road.

Lingvist was set-up by a researcher at CERN, the Geneva-based nuclear physics research centre, whose background is similar to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British inventor of the Internet. Founder Mait Müntel is also an Estonian who wanted to learn French, and in the process raised more than €8 million from investors.

Of course “pour joindre l’utile à l’agréable,” Ansip could also read more EU news in French, for example on EurActiv.fr. But this still requires a bit of bandwidth.

Note: Readers worried about Ansip’s safety while using his smartphone on the road, rest assured: despite austerity and Blablacar, Commissioners still have chauffeur-driven cars.

Photograph courtesy of Ant & Carrie Coleman. Published under a Creative Commons license.

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