From AP via Yahoo! News: "A Frenchman Speaking English? Mais Non!"
When top business executive Ernest-Antoine Seilliere announced to the meeting of the EU's 25 government leaders that he would "speak in English, the language of business," Chirac had heard enough.
As opposed to the language of love: German (efficient, precise love).
Together with French Finance Minister Thierry Breton and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Chirac promptly quit the ballroom where European leaders were meeting and returned only after Frenchman Seilliere, the head of the UNICE business lobby, stopped speaking.
"We people speak in both French and English around the table in the European council and obviously a lot of business is conducted in English," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday. But he did not want to blow the incident out of proportion.
"People do get up and go for all sorts of reasons," he said.
Typically officials at EU gatherings speak in their native tongue, and their remarks are translated.
The incident occurred at the start of the two-day summit on economic issues, often pitting free marketeers from the Anglo-Saxon model against those, like the French, backing a more closely supervised economic system.
Seilliere was warning against protectionism in his speech, but French officials said Chirac's decision to leave had nothing to do with the content, only the language.
The diplomat denied that Chirac had officially left the meeting. "He didn't leave the summit, he just briefly made himself absent."
Euphemisms: The universal "language of (attempted) diplomacy."
European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet, also a Frenchman, spoke in his native language.
Paris has long led a losing battle to keep French a dominating force in politics, business and diplomacy, only to see English make ever deeper inroads.
Could it be that the use of the French language is waning because the ideas stated by those who would speak it as these gatherings, fail to resonate with anyone, once translated into the other participants' languages?
It even has to fight the tide of "Franglais" at home — the use of English terms in the language of Moliere itself.
And the EU has bulged from six members, of which three spoke French, to 25 now, many of whom increasingly use English. Questions at the EU press briefings used to be exclusively French, now English dominates.
The EU provides plenty of guarantees for all official languages of the member states and has an army of translators to back it up.
Even if the language issue was important enough for Chirac to walk out, some barely noticed.
"That was not dramatic at all," said Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson.