The European Parliament passes a rule that may end labels only in Catalan

A product labelled only in Estonian could be sold in Catalonia, but not a product labelled only in Catalan. The new rule authorises the Spanish Government to force all products in Spain to be labelled in at least one official language of the EU, and therefore ban products only labelled in Catalan from being sold within Catalonia. The new European rule aims to authorise Member States to prevent products from being labelled only in a non EU language, such as Chinese or Arabic, but it has consequences at local level. Three Catalan MEPs pushed for an amendment, but it was rejected.

CNA / Maria Fernández Noguera

July 7, 2011 12:38 PM

Strasbourg (ACN).- At the moment a product in Catalonia can be labelled only in Spanish, only in Catalan or in both official languages, combined with any other existing language. In the future, it could be the case that in Catalonia, products can be labelled only in Spanish, in Spanish and Catalan, or only in French, English, Estonian, or Maltese, but not in Catalan. With the new rule passed this Wednesday by the European Parliament, the Spanish Government –or any other European Member State government– will be able to impose the law within its territory that all products be labelled in an official language of the European Union. However, it does not allow Member States to impose which one exactly. Three Catalan MEPs -Ramon Tremosa, from the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Party (CiU); Oriol Junqueras, from the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC); and Raül Romeva, from the Catalan Green Socialist Party (ICV-EUiA)– presented an amendment that takes into account the reality of languages such as Catalan and was thus including the exception for official languages in a given territory, but not at EU level. The amendment was rejected for technical reasons and the new rule was passed with the votes of the People’s Party and the Socialist Party.

The new rule approved this Wednesday by the European Parliament aims to protect European consumers without putting barriers in place to the circulation of European products within the European Union. Consumers will not, for instance, find products labelled only in Chinese or Arabic on their shelves, but they will find products labelled in Chinese and another EU official language, even though it may not be spoken in the country where the product is bought. It is expected that non-EU producers will quite likely label their products in one of the most spoken languages, such as English, French, German or Spanish. Therefore, a consumer from Greece, could find a product labelled only in Chinese and English, or in Arabic and French, but not in Greek. The new rule will also enable small European producers to sell their products abroad without the need for translation of their labels. For instance, wine-makers from Hungary would be able to sell their wine labelled only in Hungarian in Portugal, without having to translate the label into Portuguese. Therefore products made in the EU could circulate freely, without the need for translations. If, and only if, they are labelled in one of the 23 EU official languages, such as English, German, Dutch, Estonian, Maltese or Gaelic.

However, when it comes to non-EU official languages, a problem appears. Catalan is not an EU official language, despite being official and widely spoken in a territory with almost 13 million inhabitants. One of these territories is Catalonia, which has two official languages: Catalan and Spanish. If EU Member States implement the approved rule, products labelled only in Catalan will not be able to be sold abroad. However, the biggest problem is not this one, although the measure discriminates products labelled in Catalan. The biggest problem is that is also can turn products labelled in Catalan sold in Catalonia into illegal.

Currently, products sold in Catalonia could be labelled in one of the two official languages, or in both. Actually, taking for instance ecologic-agriculture products, 75% do not have Catalan language on their labels. If the Spanish Government decides to impose the new European law, labelling only in Catalan will be illegal in Catalonia. Therefore private Catalan producers would not be able to label their products only sold within the Catalan market in Catalan. Consequently, a Catalan consumer could buy a wine labelled only in Hungarian in Catalonia but not a wine produced in Catalonia and labelled only in Catalan, despite the fact that the Catalan language is an official language in Catalonia and the mother tongue of millions of citizens.

An apparently positive rule for the European Internal Market does not take into account the complex social and cultural reality of Europe, a precious heritage that the European Union aims to protect. In addition, it goes against the linguistic rights of millions of European citizens, who have Catalan as their mother tongue. The European Parliament not only does not protect Catalan, but it is helping to put it in dangerous position, as it can now be considered a secondary language in Catalonia when it comes to product labels. Barcelona-based beer company Moritz sent one beer labelled in Catalan to each MEP as a protest, as Moritz bottles are only labelled in Catalan.