European Language Equality Network calls on the EU to levy sanctions against discrimination towards Catalan
ELEN Secretary-General warns that EU support for minority languages “has dropped off in the last decade”
The European Language Equality Network (ELEN) calls on the EU to levy “sanctions” on states that allow language discrimination. During an interview on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the approval of the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML), ELEN Secretary-General, Davyth Hicks, stated that the EU should sanction a state “when someone is arrested or beaten for using the official language in the country, as happens in many cases with Catalan". “We want the EU to be more active,” complained Hicks, “The EU has always been very supportive in a soft way, but this support has dropped off in the last decade.”
The Council of Europe approved the ECRML in 1992. However, coinciding with its 25th anniversary, a recent report of the European Parliament admitted that “the current complex political and economic situation in the EU does not favor such efforts” regarding languages. One of the main goals of ELEN is to reverse this trend.
The latest concern of this organization, which defends linguistic equality and the protection and promotion of less-spoken European languages, was the refusal of the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, to allow MEPs to speak in non-official languages on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the ECRML. Some of those MEPs disobeyed Tajani’s decision and, following the initiative proposed by the Intergroup of Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages of the European Parliament, they made their remarks in their mother tongues, some of them in Catalan.
“The EU has always been very supportive in a soft way, but this support has dropped off in the last decade”
Davyth Hicks · European Language Equality Network Secretary-General
"Multilingualism is an irrefutable fact. People will continue to speak their language and become increasingly more aware," said Catalan MEP Josep Maria Terricabras, co-chair of the Intergroup of Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages of the European Parliament, and the promoter of the initiative. After Tajani rejected the intergroup's proposal, the Catalan MEP complained about “the European Parliament president’s lack of support for multilingualism, compared with what he said before being elected”.
"The policy of the European institutions regarding languages is short-sighted," said Terricabras. In the long term, Hicks said that his organization was hoping to create a linguistic directive in order to strengthen linguistic rights and protect the European languages that are in danger. "But we are working step by step," he said. “Firstly, the EU should enforce infringement procedures when linguistic rights are not respected." In other words, the EU should impose sanctions when linguistic rights are not respected, like it does when states do not obey agreements regarding refugees or economic competition.
"Linguistic discrimination happens every day in the EU," said Hicks. Between 40 and 50 million Europeans speak a minority language. There are more than 80 languages in the EU. Only 24 are official, while 60 are regional or minority languages. Although compared to other continents Europe is largely linguistically homogeneous, according to UNESCO many European languages are "in danger". As a result of this concern, the ECRML was approved in 1992.
“Before the ECRML, there was nothing, highlights the ELEN General Secretary. “It is a relevant Charter, but it was especially relevant 25 years ago, when it was created,” he continued. The aim of the Charter, however, is purely cultural, since it recognizes the languages as "an expression of culture” and as “a contribution to maintaining and developing Europe’s traditions and cultural wealth", according to its preamble. Despite that fact, Hicks notes that “ratification of ECRML is part of the criteria for joining the EU”.
“It is the Member States' responsiblity to implement it properly. That is the problem. How can we ensure that the ECRML is well implemented?” asked Hicks. “It is a really good Charter, but it only works if States implement it properly,” he added. Spain ratified the ECRML, which came into effect in 2001 and, thus, it is currently part of the Spanish legal system. Therefore, Spain is legally committed to defending the use of regional and minority languages existing in its territory.
Language policy, still up to Member States
25 years after approval of the ECRML, Catalan MEP Josep Maria Terricabras notes that “not all States have ratified the ECRML”. For instance, France is one of the states that have not yet ratified it. Terricabras acknowledges that now “there is a greater sensibility towards minority languages” in the EU. However, “many of these languages are not minority, but minoritized,” he pointed out.
In the EU, "there is not yet a situation of normality regarding minority languages," stated Terricabras. “The problem," argued the Catalan MEP, "is that European institutions are based on the official languages of each Member State." In fact, it is the states that decide the status of the languages which exist within their territories. “I am sure that the EU would like to do more,” said Hicks, but notes that linguistic policy still remains the jurisdiction of each Member State. Therefore, “the EU cannot intervene,” he concluded.