Is this true? According to Jakub Marian: almost fully true. Jakub Marian made an interesting Map of European Union competency in English based on this 2012 Eurobarometer report (the data are from 2012, so Croatia is not included).
Jakub Marian’s remark
“Some native English speakers’ attitude towards learning foreign languages can be summarized as ‘why should I learn a foreign language if pretty much everybody speaks English?’. While it is true that English is among the most commonly learned second languages in the world, only a small percentage of the world population are able to speak it at a conversational level.
Europe is traditionally very English-oriented (in comparison with the rest of the world); almost all EU citizens have had at least some contact with English during their life. However, when it comes to actually speaking it with at least a rudimentary level of proficiency, the numbers are not as much in favour of those with the attitude described above”.
Jakub Marian’s map
The map shows the percentage of people who are able to hold a conversation in English.
Europeans are very widely exposed to the English language. Looking at the map we see that there’s a regional divide in how comfortable people are with really using it. In Northern Europe, most people can converse in English whereas in Southern Europe they are less able to do it. One big difference is that in smaller countries, television movies, series and shows imported from the United States or the UK tend to be subtitled into Dutch or Swedish whereas in Italy, France and Spain they are dubbed. Subtitling seems almost to turn entertainment into a kind of subsidiary language lesson. Also in Germany television programmes are dubbed. Nevertheless this country counts more well English-speaking people. In the UK and Ireland more than 95% percent of the population either speaks English natively or speaks it “very well” as a second language.
According to the report and the map, 90% of Dutch people are able to converse in English.