European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has told a conference on the EU that “English is losing importance in Europe”.
He was speaking in Florence, Italy, amid tensions with the UK government over looming Brexit negotiations.
He said his speech was in French “because slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe and also because France has an election”.
He called the UK decision to leave the EU “a tragedy”.
“We will negotiate fairly with our British friends, but let’s not forget that it is not the EU that is abandoning the UK – it is the UK that’s abandoning the EU, and that makes a difference.”
The Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, French ex-commissioner Michel Barnier, is to give a speech on Brexit in a few hours’ time.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has accused some EU officials of trying to influence the UK’s 8 June parliamentary election.
France holds the decisive second round of its presidential election on Sunday.