Parliament passes law to protect Catalan in schools despite court ordered Spanish quota

Legislation states Catalan still working language although Spanish can also be used for teaching, but sets no percentages

Students reading in a school in inland town of Vic on April 19, 2022 (by Laura Busquets)
Students reading in a school in inland town of Vic on April 19, 2022 (by Laura Busquets) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

June 8, 2022 10:53 AM

The Catalan parliament has passed a law to protect the Catalan language in schools despite the judicial order to put an end to the current immersion system and introduce a 25% Spanish quota.

An ample majority in the chamber found consensus in passing legislation to counter the Supreme Court decision announced on November 23 last year which had until May 31 to be enforced.

The two government parties, pro-independence Esquerra and Junts, along with the main opposition party, the Socialists, and anti-austerity En Comú Podem, backed the bill on Wednesday after reaching an agreement on May 25, with 102 votes in favor.

Law avoids setting strict 25% Spanish quota

The deal consists of a law that still considers Catalan the working language in classrooms while establishing Spanish as a "curricular" language.

Parties found consensus by saying that Spanish will be used "according to the linguistic projects of each school" – which implies that rather than setting a strict 25% Spanish quota per classroom, teachers would be able to decide how much each language is used.

The law also states that "the curricular and educational use of Catalan and Spanish must be guaranteed and have an adequate presence in the curriculum and in educational projects." In addition, it specifies that "the scope of this presence must be determined exclusively using pedagogical criteria."

President Pere Aragonès said Catalan will remain the "backbone" of schools after having faced "threats" in the past few years. He also said Parliament, and not other institutions – referring to the Supreme Court – is the place where laws have to be made.

Junts MP Francesc Ten, in the same vein, said that "unilateral" moves by specific families, which filed complaints, and "judicial meddling" in schools' linguistic projects should now no longer be possible.

According to the Socialists, the text approved by lawmakers "preserves Catalan and at the same time also guarantees teaching in Spanish."

"We are strengthening educational criteria," said MP Esther Niubó, who said that the new system, like the old one, guarantees that both languages are mastered at the end of schooling. 

As for En Comú Podem, MP Jéssica González said that each school will set how "flexible" the Catalan language immersion system is in their school, and said Spanish will now not have a higher presence at the expense of Catalan.

CUP: pro-independence parties are "giving in" to courts

Far-left pro-independence CUP rejected the law, with MP Carles Riera claiming that the other parties in favor of a Catalan republic are "giving in" and demanded the withdrawal of the law. 

He added that in practice, it means the end of Catalan as the only working language in schools after four decades, since establishing Spanish as a "curricular" language is synonymous with establishing it as a "working language." Riera argued that not even the MPs who had reached the agreement were able to explain the difference between one concept and the other when asked by the media on May 25.

Unionists to take law to Spanish Supreme Court

Not all unionists favored the law either. The three unionist right-wing political parties have already announced they will take it to the Spanish Constitutional Court.

In Parliament on Wednesday, Ciudadanos said the bill was "a monument to the lies on which it is based."

The party's leader, Carlos Carrizosa, said that pro-independence parties defend "monolingualism" and "hispanophobia."

On the same page, far-right Vox says there is "a lack of freedom and imposition" in Catalonia, and accused authorities of "discriminating against Spanish, the common language of all Spaniards."

Its MP Joan Garriga said that the bill "aims to make Catalans uniform in the name of what they call cohesion."

As for the People's Party, its leader, Alejandro Fernández, said the Catalan language immersion in schools "is an abnormality all over the world, it is nowhere to be applied."

"It is illegal in the democratic world where two or more official languages converge," he added.