On 8 July 2022, a Canadian parliamentarian [in French] was elected president of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF) for a two-year term.
The APF is the parliamentary arm of what is referred to as the “institutional Francophonie,” made up of a long list of organizations, agencies, networks and peoples having the French language in common. For more than 50 years, these actors have been working together with the conviction that sharing a language goes hand in hand with the defence of certain common values.
This HillNote provides information about francophones and the place of French in the world. It also gives an overview of the institutional structure of the Francophonie, with a focus on the work of the APF and the role of the Parliament of Canada within this organization
The Francophonie by the Numbers
Under the umbrella of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), the Observatoire de la langue française studies the evolution of French around the world. According to its latest report [in French], published in 2022:
- there are 321 million French speakers in the world;
- French is the fifth most spoken language in the world;
- at least 143 million people are learning French or studying in French; and
- French is the fourth most used language on the Internet.
One of the strengths of the Francophonie is the geographic and demographic distribution of francophones around the world. According to the most recent data, while the majority of francophones on a global basis are to be found in Europe, nearly 43% live in Africa and the Middle East [in French]. Moreover, the OIF reports [in French] that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Algeria and Morocco rank second, third and fourth respectively among countries with the largest number of francophones in 2022.
To fully understand the linguistic dynamics of the French language, the OIF distinguishes those who speak French on a daily basis from the broader category of “francophones,” meaning those with a reasonable ability to express themselves in French.
While OIF data show that the number of francophones is highest in Europe, Africa is where French is spoken the most on a daily basis (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 – Geographic Distribution of Speakers of French on a Daily Basis, 2022
Source: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, La langue française dans le monde : synthèse 2022, p. 7 [in French].
Demographic growth plays an important role in the evolution of the Francophonie and the French language. According to the United Nations, “[c]ountries of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to contribute more than half of the [world population] increase anticipated through 2050.” On the other hand, the populations of Europe and North America are expected to decline during the same period. In addition, it is estimated that nearly 400 million Africans are between the ages of 15 and 35. For this reason, many have asserted that the future of French is African [in French].
The Institutions of the Francophonie
The institutional Francophonie consists of numerous bodies and organizations, the most active on the international stage being the APF and the OIF.
Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie
When it was founded in 1967, the APF, then called the Association internationale des parlementaires de langue française, comprised just 23 member parliaments, including Canada. Today, the APF brings together 91 francophone parliaments and organizations [in French] – called “branches” – from every continent. The most recent member is the Parliament of Montenegro, which joined in July 2022.
As the parliamentary arm of the Francophonie, the APF is a forum for debates, proposals and exchanges of information on all matters of common interest to its members. Its main objectives are to represent French-speaking peoples before the various bodies of the Francophonie, to promote democracy and the rule of law, and, of course, to champion the French language.
The APF’s work is twofold. First, parliamentarians meet regularly to discuss issues relating to the organization’s objectives. This work is accomplished primarily under the auspices of the plenary assembly, which meets once a year and adopts resolutions, recommendations and opinions that it presents to the OIF and heads of state at Francophonie summits. The plenary assembly is supported by four standing committees and three networks, which conduct studies on subjects related to their mandate, adopt reports and propose motions and resolutions.
Second, the APF is active at the grassroots level, carrying out parliamentary cooperation activities such as:
- information and discussion seminars for parliamentarians;
- special seminars for women parliamentarians;
- information and communications technology development programs;
- training for parliamentary officials; and
- the francophone youth parliament.
As a founding member of the APF, the Parliament of Canada plays an important role. In addition to assuming the presidency, it currently holds the following positions:
- chair of the Parliamentary Affairs Committee;
- rapporteur for the Cooperation and Development Committee;
- rapporteur for the Political Committee; and
- rapporteur for the Network of Women Parliamentarians.
As rapporteur, the Canadian Branch is currently leading initiatives related to the following issues:
- the impacts of climate change on island, coastal and riparian areas;
- the place of French on the international stage; and
- access to menstrual products for French-speaking women and girls.
At the most recent plenary assembly, which took place in Kigali, Rwanda, on 8 and 9 July 2022, three resolutions put forward by the Canadian Branch were adopted. They dealt with the economic empowerment of francophone women [in French], youth participation in parliaments [in French], and the competencies and conduct of parliaments in emergency situations [in French].
Organisation internationale de la Francophonie
Founded in 1970 as the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique, the OIF represents the governmental arm of the Francophonie and is represented on the international stage by the Secretary General of the Francophonie [in French]. From its offices in Paris and its regional offices around the world, the OIF has four missions:
- to promote the French language and cultural and linguistic diversity;
- to promote peace, democracy and human rights;
- to support education, training, higher education and research;
- to foster economic cooperation to bolster sustainable development.
The OIF represents 88 states and governments [in French] that are full members, associate members or observers. Canada, Quebec and New Brunswick are full members, while Ontario has held observer status since 2016.
Every two years, heads of state and government meet at a summit [in French] to discuss priority issues for the French-speaking world. The summit has taken place in Canada three times, in the city of Québec in 1987 and 2008, and in Moncton in 1999. The next summit is scheduled to take place in Djerba, Tunisia, in the fall of 2022.
To achieve its objectives, the OIF advocates the pooling of skills and expertise among its members. It offers programs on state capacity building, conducts electoral missions and finances numerous development projects in collaboration with international sponsors.
In addition to the OIF, the Francophonie relies on other organizations to promote the French language and its growth, including the following:
- The Agence universitaire de la Francophonie [in French] is an association of francophone universities. It works to improve cooperation and collaboration among institutions. It brings together 1,007 members in 119 countries. Its head office is in Montréal.
- The Association internationale des maires francophones (AIMF) [in French] is a network of local elected officials promoting the sharing of expertise among more than 300 members in some 50 countries. It invests in the sustainable development of its member cities and towns. Canada is represented by seven members, and City of Québec Mayor Bruno Marchand [in French] is currently AIMF vice-president.
- TV5MONDE [in French], a television network broadcasting around the world, offers content showcasing francophone creation and the French language. TV5 QUÉBEC CANADA is its Canadian channel with offices in Montréal. It operates independently but in collaboration with TV5MONDE.
Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie. Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie [in French].
Observatoire démographique et statistique de l’espace francophone. Observatoire démographique et statistique de l’espace francophone [in French].
Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Observatoire de la langue française [in French].
Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. The Francophonie in brief.
By Gabrielle de Billy Brown, Library of Parliament