Circular of 19 March 1996

concerning the application of law No. 94-665 of 4 August 1994 relative to the use of the French language

Journal Officiel of 20 March 1996

The Law of 4 August 1994 relative to the use of the French language was completed by several regulations : the decree of 3 March 1995 notably defining breaches of the law and related penalties, and the order of 3 May 1995 authorising five associations for the defence of the French language to take legal action.

This circular, dated 19 March 1996, supplements these regulations by defining the scope of the law, particularly as regards the use of the French language for the marketing of goods and services, during seminars and conventions, in companies and education.

Paris, 19 March 1996

From the Prime Minister to the ladies and gentlemen, the ministers and secretaries of State.

1 - Purposes of the Law

The law of 4 August 1994 relative to the use of the French language replaces the law of 31 December 1975, extending its scope and strengthening its provisions.
This text is the tangible rendition of the constitutional principle recognised in 1992 according to which the language of the Republic is French. It lays down the mandatory, but non-exclusive use of the French language in specific areas defined so as to guarantee the right of citizens to use their language in certain circumstances of their daily lives.
However, the aforementioned text neither includes nor provides for a list of terms or expressions which may be prohibited or whose use may be made compulsory.
Nevertheless, lists of terms recommended for use have been drawn up by terminology commissions. These lists are regularly published in the Journal Officiel. They may also be consulted on France Télécom's Minitel server. (36-17 NORMATERM)

2 - Scope of the Law

The law concerns private persons as well as public persons. However, some of these provisions are more restrictive for public corporate bodies and for private persons undertaking a public service assignment (see point 2.6).

2.1. The use of the French language for the marketing of goods, products and services

2.1.1 Articles 2, 3, and 4 of the law provide for the mandatory use of the French language in the designation, offer and presentation of goods, products and services as well as in general public information inscriptions and announcements.
The following are concerned:

1. All documents designed to inform the user or consumer: labels, prospectuses, catalogues, brochures and other informative documents, purchase orders, delivery notes, warranty certificates, instructions for use, menus and wine lists, bills, receipts, till receipts, playbills, transport tickets, subscription agreements (insurance agreements, financial service offers, etc.).
Instructions for use programmed into computer software programs and video games and displayed on screens or other audio announcements shall be considered to be instructions for use. Consequently, instructions for use concerning application software and operating programs must be written in French, whether they are written on paper or programmed into the software.
Bills and other documents exchanged between professionals, French and foreign private corporate bodies which are not the consumers or end users of the goods, products or services are not concerned by these provisions.

2. Inscriptions on products, on their packing or packaging.
In the case of goods and products with inscriptions which are engraved, moulded or woven in a foreign language, terms or expressions can be accepted without a translation, if they are terms or expressions that have become part of everyday usage or stem from the application of international conventions (e.g. on/off, made in, copyright).

3. All written, spoken or broadcast advertisements concerning the marketed goods, products or services.
Considering the exceptions provided for in Article 12 of the law in favour of motion picture, radio and television and musical productions in their original language version, the provisions of articles 2, 3 and 4 are not applicable to excerpts from the original work in a foreign language included in an advertisement broadcast by the television and radio services. This rule also applies to all advertisements broadcast in a public place.
Advertisements included in programmes or parts of a programme designed for the learning of a foreign language or which are designed to be fully broadcast in a foreign language (for example, advertisements which are part of programmes from foreign channels transmitted by cable or satellite or part of a foreign language radio or television programme broadcast by national operators for foreigners living in France).
It is obvious that advertisements placed in press publications which are printed entirely in a foreign language are not concerned by the foregoing.

4. Public information inscriptions or announcements.
The foregoing comprises information of a non-business nature provided in the form of inscriptions or announcements posted or made on public highways or in places open to the general public belonging to either private persons or to the public (railway stations, airports, bus stops, bus and coach stations, theatres, music venues, cafés, restaurants, museums, shopping centres, shops, etc.) and in public transport vehicles be they private or state operated.

5. Remarks and messages recorded with the brand.
The provisions of the law apply neither to corporate names nor to signs, business names, trademarks, trade names or service brands. Brands and offshoots of brands comprising one or more foreign terms may therefore be filed, registered and used in France without a translation.
Nevertheless, considering the provisions of the last paragraph of Article 2 of the law, the remarks and messages attached to the brand in a foreign language must, when used in France, include a translation in French which is as legible, audible or intelligible as the presentation in the foreign language.
This rule shall also apply even when these remarks and messages have been registered as part of a brand in compliance with copyright law.
Remark shall be understood to mean all descriptive remarks used to designate a characteristic of a good, product or service as well as all generic remarks or remarks usually designating, in everyday or professional language, a good, product or service.
Message shall be understood to mean any message designed to inform the public or draw its attention to one or more characteristics of a good, product or service.
The mandatory use of the French language is applicable immediately after the coming into force of the law to all remarks and messages attached to the brand or registered as part of a brand whatever the date on which the latter was filed or registered or came into service.

2.1.2. In all cases, a translation in one or more foreign languages may be attached to the French version. However, the presentation in the French language must be as legible, audible or intelligible as the presentation in the foreign language.
This principle implies that a remark, inscription or announcement made in another language must not because of its size, script, colour, sound volume or any other reason be better understood than the French version. Announcements or inscriptions used to impart information to the public should preferably be formulated first of all in the French language.
However, it is not required that the two presentations be similar or that the means of expression used by the two versions be parallel. Furthermore, the translation is not required to be a word for word translation, so long as the meaning and nuances of the original text are successfully conveyed.
The same rules apply to instructions for use whose presentations in the French and foreign languages must all be as comprehensible and as complete as each other. A text is considered to be incomprehensible if the reader is obliged to consult a version in another language to understand it.

2.1.3. The above provisions are applicable at the time of the marketing in France of goods, products or services whatever their origin.
The aim is to ensure the protection of consumers to enable them to buy and use a product or enjoy services after having obtained full knowledge of the nature, use and warranty conditions of the said product or service.
Nevertheless, the provisions of Article 2 of the law are not applicable to typical products and specialities of foreign origin: names of certain specific widely-known products (for example, chorizo, cookie, couscous, gin, hot dog, jeans, paella, pizza, sandwich, etc.) as well as the foreign names protected in France subsequent to international agreements (i.e.: gorgonzola, scotch whisky, etc.) may be used without translation.
During customs clearance, only the customs declarations must be made in French. Customs services may, wherever necessary, request a French translation of the documents attached to these declarations.
Export and re-export transactions or transactions carried out before the marketing of goods, products and services introduced into France are not concerned by the foregoing. Thus semi-finished products of foreign origin or products exhibited at trade fairs, shows and exhibitions exclusively reserved for professionals and which are not the direct object of transactions may be presented in a language other than French.

2.2. The use of French during events, seminars and conventions
Article 6 of the law defines the obligations binding on French nationals who organise an event, seminar or convention in France.

2.2.1 Scope
The organisers concerned are the actual organisers. Those considered as such include: the client and any other French body participating in the financing or organisation of the event, for example, a national organisation committee in France acting on behalf of a foreign company. A person governed by French law and charged with the scientific organisation, mainly in the form of gathering, selecting and evaluating contributions, is also considered to be an organiser. However, service providers called on for the logistics of the event (travel agencies, hotels, equipment rental businesses, etc.) are not organisers within the meaning of the law.
The law is drafted to cover all public meetings ranging from those organised to discuss scientific, economic, technical and cultural questions to those making a public presentation of an activity.
However, the law does not apply to private events or in-house corporate events, on the condition that the provisions set forth in Article L. 122-39-1 of the labour code are complied with (see point 2.3 hereafter).

2.2.2. Four categories of obligations are mandatory for the organisers:
All French-speaking participants must be able to express themselves in French. It is therefore a breach of the law to provide for all papers and discussions to be presented and held in a foreign language only. Notwithstanding the foregoing, except for cases where the event is initiated by a public corporate body or a person performing a public service assignment, the right of participants to express themselves in French does not necessarily imply the provision of a simultaneous or consecutive translation service.
Programme presentation documents distributed to participants before and during the meeting must be available in French. These documents concern mainly leaflets and posters announcing the event and registration documents or invitations addressed to prospective participants.
Preparatory documents or working documents distributed in a foreign language to participants must be at least summarised in French.
Papers or speeches presented in a foreign language and included in the published proceedings or minutes of the work sessions must be accompanied by at least a summary in French.

2.2.3. The foregoing provisions do not apply to:

1. Events, seminars and conventions exclusively aimed at foreigners irrespective of the nationality of the organiser.

2. Events to promote France's foreign trade.

2.3. The use of the French language in companies

Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the law amend the labour code in order to enable all French employees to use French as the working language. The said articles also stipulate that a foreign employee has the right to a translation of his employment agreement into his native tongue.

2.3.1. Scope
The use of the French language is mandatory for:

1. The employment agreement.
This concerns written employment agreements, whether they are performed in France or abroad.
Agreements outside the scope of this law include:
- Non-written agreements, such as certain long-term agreements;
- Agreements signed abroad even if they are to be fully or partly performed in France.
Where the position covered by the agreement can only be designated by a foreign word, without an equivalent in French, then a description in French of the said position must be attached to the document.

2. Company rules:
Given the provisions of Article L. 122-39 of the labour code, service memoranda and all other documents concerning general and permanent stipulations covering issues governed by company rules (hygiene and safety rules, rules relative to discipline) must also be drafted in French.

3. Labour agreements and union contracts and corporate or institution agreements.

4. Any document including obligations for the employee or provisions which the employee needs to know for the proper performance of his work.
Such essential documents include particularly accounting or technical documents required for the performance of a job (for example, maintenance manuals used by a maintenance department).
Furthermore, compliance with safety rules within the company means that user manuals and instructions for use concerning hazardous substances or machines of foreign makes destined to be used in a company in France must be drafted in or translated into French.
The documents referred to in paragraphs 2 and 4 hereabove may include a translation into one or more foreign languages.

5. Advertised vacancies or announcements for home work:
These concern offers published in newspapers, reviews or periodical publications concerning services to be performed on the French territory irrespective of the nationality of the author of the offer or employer, and services to be performed outside the French territory when the author of the offer or employer is French.
Author of the offer shall be understood to mean the recruitment agency or person whose address is on the advertised vacancy or position.

2.3.2. The following are exempted from the foregoing obligations:

1. Documents received from abroad or destined for persons of foreign nationality, particularly documents relating to the international activity of a company;

2. Advertised vacancies or contracts to be performed outside French territory, where the authors or employers are foreigners;

3. Advertised vacancies or contracts inserted in publications drafted entirely or partly in a foreign language such as publications drafted in border countries or designed for foreigners living in France.

2.4. The use of the French language in education
Pursuant to the terms of Article 11 of the law, French shall be the language of instruction, examinations and competitive examinations as well as theses and dissertations.

2.4.1. The law is applicable to both State and private (under State contract or not) educational institutions, and to all levels of education and all courses.

2.4.2. Nevertheless, the following are exempted from the obligations laid down by law:
- Foreign schools or schools especially set up to receive foreign pupils;
- Institutions providing instruction of an international nature. For example, institutions offering courses in foreign languages and in French and made up for at least 25% of foreign pupils or students;
- Instruction provided in foreign languages by associate teachers or guest teachers. This instruction may result in an assessment in a foreign language.
Furthermore, according to the procedure of thesis co-supervision, defined by a decree of 18 January 1994 from the Minister in charge of Research, the thesis shall be written in one of the national languages of the two countries concerned and complemented by a summary in the other language;
- Courses carried out as part of a programme to teach regional or foreign languages and cultures; areas concerned involve courses taught in regional or foreign languages in the European or bilingual section of an institution and representing at the most 50% of the total volume of teaching in these sections.

2.5. The use of French on radio and television
Articles 12 and 13 of the law amend the law of 30 September 1986 relative to the freedom of communication so as to encourage all services broadcasting from the national territory to use the French language and thus contribute to the development of the French-speaking community.
The Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (the French television and radio supervisory council), which is responsible for the application of the law of 4 August 1994 in the radio and television sector, is responsible for ensuring the mandatory use of French in all programmes and advertising messages deriving from radio and television agencies and services, apart from the exceptions allowed by law. In the event of observed breaches in this field, the council may enforce penalties laid down by the law of 30 September 1986.

2.6. The use of the French language by public persons
In certain cases, the law lays down for public corporate bodies and private persons undertaking a public service assignment more restrictive obligations than those defined for private corporate bodies.

2.6.1. Concerned bodies
The law is aimed at public corporate bodies, i.e., the State, regional and local authorities and public institutions placed under the supervision of the former, as well as private corporate bodies in charge of a public service assignment for the activities they carry out within the framework of this assignment.

2.6.2. The particular mandatory obligations for these persons are as follows:

1. Where inscriptions and announcements referred to in Article 3 of the law stem from public persons or persons charged with a public service assignment and a translation is deemed necessary - for example, if these registrations and announcements are intended in particular for travellers or foreign visitors - there must be at least two translations.
A decree shall specify the exemptions if any in the field of international transport, taking into account the technical and financial constraints connected with making the infrastructures and means of transport comply with standards.

2. Pursuant to the terms of Article 5 of the law, only contracts entered into by public corporate bodies managing activities of an industrial and commercial nature which are to be wholly performed outside the national territory may be written in a language other than French or contain foreign expressions or terms which have French equivalents. All other contracts, whatever their substance and form, to which a public corporate body or a person responsible for a public service assignment is party, shall include an original version in the French language.

3. Public corporate bodies or persons on a public service assignment who organise an event, seminar or convention shall be subject to the obligations laid down by Article 6 of the law relative to private organisers. They are further required to make provision for a translation service to enable, first, people speaking in French to be understood by all the participants, and second, those members of the audience speaking only French to understand the speeches made in a foreign language. A simultaneous translation service is not mandatory.

4. Article 7 of the law extends to private persons receiving public subsidies the obligation imposed on public corporate bodies or private persons in charge of a public service assignment to include at least a summary in French of publications, reviews and papers drawn up in a foreign language and which they distribute in France. The summary must be representative of the text in question and must not, for example, be limited to a repetition of the chapter headings.

5. With the exception of trademarks, trade names and service brands already in use before 7 August 1994, brands made up of a foreign expression or term cannot be used by public corporate bodies or persons undertaking a public service assignment. This applies to brands chosen by these entities to designate a good, product or service of which they are holders and which they use during the performance of their public service assignment.
The proscription does not apply to brands made up of a foreign expression or term for which there is no equivalent in the French terms approved within the framework of the rules relative to the enhancement of the French language.

3 - Ensuring Compliance with the Law

3.1 - Role of the Délégation générale à la langue française
The Délégation générale à la langue française, in charge of co-ordinating and promoting the policy in favour of the French language, is responsible for ensuring compliance with the law of 4 August 1994.
Consequently, it directs informative activities required to ensure the compliance of professionals and users with the legislation in force. When cases concerning breaches of this law are referred to it, it sends warnings to the entities at fault. It participates in monitoring measures taken by the departments entrusted with seeking out and reporting breaches of the law and ensures implementation of this text by public officers and agents.
Together with the Ministry of Justice, it examines authorisation requests filed by associations(see point 3.3) and monitors the activity of authorised associations.
Furthermore, it prepares each year before 15 September for Parliament, the report provided for by Article 22 of the law concerning the application of the law and texts concerning the status of the French language in international institutions. To this end, the different administrations and public agencies involved send to it each year before 1 July, information concerning the implementation of the legislation relative to the use of the French language in their services.

3.2 - Sanctions incurred and administrations in charge of identifying breaches.
Decree No. 95-240 of 3 March 1995 set down for the application of the law (published in the Journal Officiel of 5 March 1995) defined breaches of articles 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9-II of the law and fixed the corresponding penalties. They concern class 4 offences.
Breaches of articles 9-I and 10 of the law are respectively punished on the basis of articles R. 152-4 (class 4 offence) and R. 361-1 (class 3 offence) of the labour code.
Breaches of Article 12 of the law come within the remit of the Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel.
Non-compliance with the provisions of articles 5, 6 and 9-IV leads to the non-invocability of the texts or provisions drafted in a foreign language.
Further, any public subsidy may be withdrawn, in whole or in part, from a beneficiary who does not comply with the law. In the particular case of inscriptions exclusively posted in a foreign language on a good belonging to a public corporate body, the use of the good may be withdrawn from the offender.
Empowered to seek out and report breaches of articles 2, 3, 4, 6, 9-I, 9-II and 10 of the law are officers and agents of the criminal investigation department and, solely for breaches of Article 2, agents of the Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes (the directorate-general for fair trading, consumer affairs and fraud control), the directorate-general for customs and excise, the general tax directorate, inspector veterinarians, public health employees and technical staff, and regional medical health inspectors.

3.3 - Role of authorised associations
An order of 3 May 1995 by the Minister of Culture and the French-speaking Communities and the Minister of Justice (published in the Journal Officiel of 12 May 1995) gave authorisation to five associations for the defence of the French language so as to enable them to exercise the rights of plaintiff in matters concerning breaches of the provisions of articles 2, 3, 4, 7 and 10 of the law.

4 - Coming into force of the law

Pursuant to the terms of Article 23 of the law, the provisions of Article 2 were to come into force on the date of publication of the application decree and those of articles 3 and 4, six months after this date. Considering that decree No. 95-240 of 3 March 1995 set down for the application of the law was published in the Journal Officiel of 5 March 1995, the whole of the law of 4 August 1994 has been applicable in France since 7 September 1995.
Goods and products introduced into the national territory before 7 March 1995, date on which Article 2 of the law came into force, may continue to be marketed under their initial presentation until depletion of stocks and no later than 7 March 1996.
All questions concerning the application of the present circular should be addressed to the Délégation générale à la langue française.

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