Ciudadanos complain to European parliament over Catalan government stance on Spanish in schools

Party accuses Spanish government of being "complicit" in Catalan executive's "disobediance" 

Ciudadanos press conference in the European Parliament, Brussels, January 25, 2022 (by Natàlia Segura)
Ciudadanos press conference in the European Parliament, Brussels, January 25, 2022 (by Natàlia Segura) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona/Brussels

January 25, 2022 06:15 PM

Ciudadanos has submitted a complaint to the European parliament's petitions committee against the Catalan government, accusing it of "disobeying" the court ruling that says that 25% of lessons in schools should be taught in Spanish.

The right-wing party, opposed to Catalan self-determination, held a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, with their leader in the Catalan parliament, Carlos Carrizosa, also accusing the Spanish government of being "complicit" in the Catalan executive's "disobedience".

Carrizosa called on the European Union to urge Spain to ensure that the rule of law was upheld in Catalonia.

"Being here is a real anomaly," Carrizosa said. "It is not normal in an EU state for parents to have to go and ask for their rights to be respected."

Ciudadanos MEP Jordi Cañas said that "rights in Catalonia are not respected." "We can't talk about democracy when a public administration disobeys the law," he added.

A previous complaint lodged by the party on the same issue in 2021 was not accepted by the petitions committee. The new text, presented by Jordi López Gil, a local councilor in El Prat, argues that the right to have classes in Spanish in Catalan schools is not being respected, despite the Supreme Court's ruling.

"The regional government is not enforcing the ruling or the law and the central government is not doing anything to enforce it. Therefore, all we have left to do is to come back to the European Union to make sure that the rule of law and fundamental rights are respected," the text says.

Court ruling

In December 2020, the High Court in Catalonia ruled that at least 25% of teaching must be carried out in Spanish. That was upheld by Spain's Supreme Court in November 2021, with further rulings and protests following.

The Catalan government will have 10 days to ensure 25% of all lessons in Catalonia's schools are taught in Spanish once it is officially notified of the sentence by the High Court.

Catalan education minister, Josep Gonzàlez Cambray, described the ruling as "an attack on the foundations of the Catalan school perpetrated by a court far removed from the sociolinguistic reality of the education centers."

Schools "must continue to work as they have until now and must not make any change in their language projects," he said.

Lack of clarity

The decision from the Supreme Court refers to the education law introduced in 2013, when the People's Party was in power with an absolute majority.

However, that law is no longer in force, since the Socialists have since passed a new education law since coming into power in 2018. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has not clarified whether its own decision is still valid with the new legislation.

Gonzàlez-Cambray said that the ruling is "another anomaly," as it pertains to "an old law that is no longer in place.

For 40 years, Catalan has been the language used in classrooms in order to protect it as a minority language in Spain.

Declining use of Catalan in schools

Recent figures released by the Catalan education department reveal that 47% of teachers always or almost always speak in Catalan to 4th-year secondary school students – that is significantly lower than 15 years ago, when 63% did.

This is especially remarkable as Catalan is the working language at schools in order to protect it and avoid splitting society into two separate linguistic communities.

When Catalonia recovered its self-rule in the late 1970s after 40 years of a fascist dictatorship, its new authorities decided that classes in Catalan, rather than a choice between Catalan and Spanish, would ensure that students end their studies speaking both languages – considering that the latter is learned in society because it is the most widely used one and is studied as a foreign language at school.

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After 40 years of this Catalan immersion system, the language is understood by 94.4% of the country's population. Some 81% can speak it, 85% can read it and 65% can write it, with 64% saying they have a good command of all skills – all abilities are mastered by 97% of the population in Catalonia or more when it comes to Spanish, which suggests the system works in order to guarantee a high level of both tongues.

Yet, the study suggests that this pillar for Catalan's survival as a minority language might be trembling.

39% of pupils often use Catalan with teachers

According to the survey, made to some 50 schools towards the end of the 2020-2021 course and only to 4th-year secondary school (ESO) pupils, only 39% of students always or almost always speak in Catalan to their teachers in classrooms, which means a 17-point compared to 2006.

During group activities, only 21% of pupils often use it, which means a sharp decrease compared to 2006, when 67% of them did.

The figures reflect the same trend as that of a Barcelona local council study published in August, which stated that 28.4% of 15- to 34-year-olds in the capital used mostly Catalan (62.1% for Spanish), down from 35.6% in 2015 (56.5% for Spanish).

Another recent study, by the Plataforma per la Llengua, a lobby that defends the use of the language, states that around 4.5 million people usually speak Catalan, half a million less than in 2005.