From now on the Catalan language will be used in the Spanish Senate

For the first time in the post Franco era, Catalan, Basque and Galician will be spoken at the Spanish Territorial High Chamber’s plenary sessions. Although the languages will still be banned in the Government’s control sessions at the Senate, from now on they will be allowed in the Senate’s regular plenary sessions. Although these languages are official in many parts of Spain, up till now, only the Spanish language was permitted to be used in the Senate. Using these other official languages in Spanish-level institutions like the Senate is an historic claim from a wide range of Catalan society.

CNA / R. Pi / G. Pericay Coll

January 19, 2011 12:28 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- For the first time in the post Franco era, other official languages apart from Spanish will be allowed to be used in the Spanish Senate plenary sessions.  The new measure is incomplete though as it leaves the Spanish Government control’s sessions apart. All the political groups but two, the Conservative People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Nationalist and Populist Unión Progreso y Democracia (UPN), voted to change the Senate’s rules to enable the measure. The Spanish Nationalist forces reacted loudly against it descrbing the measure as “not normal”. “There is no demand for it”, said the People’s Party leader Mariano Rajoy. Conservative and Spanish Nationalist media argued that these measures were expensive and cannot be justified in times of crisis. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo calculated the cost of the measure at €350.000 per year, adding the costs of the translation equipment and salaries of the interpreters, while El País calculated in €250.000.

The Spanish Senate is supposed to represent the different territories within Spain and acts as a second chamber. Catalan, Basque and Galician are co-official languages in 8 autonomous communities out of the 17, and are recognised by the Spanish Constitution. However, these languages cannot be used in the Spanish Parliament, for instance, or often when private citizens or companies deal with the Spanish public administration.

Up til now, the Spanish Senate did not allow the use of any other language apart from Spanish in its plenary sessions. When a president of an Autonomous Community with a co-official language, such as Catalonia, was coming to speak in front of the Senate, he could use this language, but as a politeness gesture from the Chamber. However, this was not allowed for senators in the plenary. Only in a very particular commission, the Autonomous Communities Commission it was allowed. From now on, it is allowed in the plenary, but not in all the Senate’s debates. The Spanish Government’s control session will still only be in Spanish. This evening, Ramon Aleu, from the Catalan group Entesa (a Left-Wing ‘Catalanist’ coalition), was the first senator to use another language other than Spanish in the plenary session. According to Aleu, the new measure will mean that within 60 or 70% of the Senate’s debates, co-official languages will be allowed.

This measure is possible thanks to a change in the House rules, voted by all the groups but two. The People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Nationalist and Populist Party Unión Progreso y Democracia (Union, Progress and Democracy), voted against it. However, the leader of the PP in Catalonia and senator Alícia Sánchez-Camacho was using Catalan in the Senate Commission on the Autonomous Communities, where it was previously allowed. However she will not use it for the plenary sessions. The PP considers that “this does not happen in any normal country”, as the President of the PP Mariano Rajoy said today. He also said that he “did not perceive any demand to take this measure” and that “he is concerned about the real problems of Spaniards”.

Besides, the Spanish Nationalist media are reacting loudly against this measure putting its cost as the main argument against it. The new measure will cost, according to El Mundo newspaper, 350.000 euros per year, a figure that is actually pretty small considering  the Senate’s entire budget.

Catalan senators such as Aleu or Jordi Vilajoana, from the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) stressed that this measure was a matter of dignity and rights and that it was a historical necessity by large sectors of the Catalan society. Aleu said that talking about the cost is “trivialising an issue so important as having different languages”. Vilajoana underlined that the argument against it relating it to the cost is “outrageous” and that “the plural character and the collective richness of having different languages has no price”. He also added that it is normal that “what is normal in the street is normal in the Senate”.